With the full roster back in tact, it’s impossible to blame the Spurs continuing struggles on injuries. Since Leonard’s return, the team has been substantially better, but with recent losses to teams like the Raptors, Bulls, and Clippers, the Spurs are still a level below last years team.
The main difference between the current Spurs and the team that rolled all the way through the 2014 NBA playoffs is 32-year-old Tony Parker, the French point guard who’s been quarterbacking the offense for the last few seasons.
Jan 6, 2015; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker (9) shoots the ball against the Detroit Pistons during the first half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Parker is only averaging 14.3 points per game and under five assists, well under the 17 and six he’s averaged throughout his career. His PER (14.6) has fallen below 15 for the first time since his rookie season, not to mention that the veteran Spurs player has one of the worst defensive ratings on the 15 man roster.
To ignore Parker’s impact on the outcome of Spurs game would be just that, ignorance. In Spurs wins, Parker is averaging 16 points per game, five assists and shooting 49% from the field. In losses? Just 10 points per game, four assists, and 42% on field goals. His offensive rating is 107 in wins and an extremely underwhelming 89 in losses.
While there may be a few other small things rusting the machine a little bit, Tony Parker is by far the biggest reason the Spurs are losing too many games. His inconsistency can’t continue, not into the playoffs at least. The San Antonio offense revolves around fluid ball movement, but without Parker’s penetration, it’s been difficult to make the first move on any given possession.
Given his age, it might not be much of a surprise that Tony’s production has declined this year, as most point guards don’t dominate well into their thirties.
But at times this year, Parker has shown that he is very much still capable of playing at a very high level, and those generally have resulted in successful nights for the Spurs. While he’s always used his quickness to split through defenses, Parker has developed a great amount of skill, from acrobatic finishes to his soft floater to his exceptional mid range game. He has given himself the tools to be effective even as his athleticism declines, but seems to have lost some confidence in them.
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According to Basketball Reference, Parker’s shots from 10-16 feet away from the basket are down to just 39%, well below the 45% that he has hit for the last three years (and the Spurs reached at least the Conference Finals in all of those years). There’s no reason that Parker can’t hit these same shots he’s been dropping for a while now, and it’s especially mind boggling considering he’s hitting his three-point shot at an unprecedented rate of 51 %.
The main issue then, seems to be psychological. When you make it past thirty in the NBA they tell you you’re old and declining, and some guys start to listen. All of the sudden, confident veteran stars start over-thinking every shot that they take and start missing the baskets they’re accustomed to draining on a regular basis.
This may be the case right now for the four time NBA champion, and it certainly needs to be the number one concern for Popovich right now to get Parker back on track.