Tony Parker was the head of the snake for the San Antonio Spurs from 2012-14. He was their best player, and everything the Spurs did offensively was set up by his penetrations into the lane.
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His quickness and finishing ability combined with an ever improving jumper made him almost impossible to guard. When Parker drew the defense to him, it left shooters wide open and cutters going to the basket. The results were three-straight trips to the Western Conference Finals, and two straight trips to the NBA Finals, and the 2014 NBA Championship.
In fact, Parker put the Spurs ahead in 2013 Game 6 of the Finals verse the Heat with a 3-pointer and a spin cycle move late that all but won the Spurs another Championship.
Unfortunately, Father time seems to have caught up with Parker. His legs seem to just not be there some nights. In the Western Conference Semifinals against the Oklahoma City Thunder last year, he was way too inconsistent. With the Thunder swarming Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, and Tim Duncan, Parker was needed to be that 3rd scoring option.
In Game 3 verse the Thunder, Parker delivered 19 points, eight rebounds and five assists, but two games later in a pivotal Game 5 with the series tied 2-2, Parker had nine points on 4-of-12 shooting. In that Game 5 with home court on the line, Parker missed two jumpers where he was wide open and missed a free throw attempt as well, all in the final moments of the game.
Dec 25, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9) dribbles against the Houston Rockets in the first half of a NBA basketball game on Christmas at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
He couldn’t get around a younger in his prime Russell Westbrook and didn’t seem to have his legs underneath him for those important shots late in the game.
So with the Spurs acquiring Pau Gasol, they hopefully now have that 3rd weapon they need. Reminiscent of the 1999 Spurs, their best three players all are on the front line ala Duncan, David Robinson, and Sean Elliott. Avery Johnson did a good job running the offense, making buckets from time to time when left open, driving to the basket if an opening manifested itself.
Parker will have to be more like that, because except for occasional flashes like last year verse the Cleveland Cavaliers at home where Parker looked like 2012-14 Parker and amassed 24 points on 61-percent shooting to pace the Spurs. Parker is now a defensive first point guard looking to run the offense and get the ball to Leonard, Aldridge, and now Gasol.
He doesn’t have to do as much as he used to, and many times can’t do what he used to do. Patty Mills can provide the scoring for Parker and provide shooting to spread the offense, and hopefully first-round draft pick Dejounte Murray will develop and provide some important minutes manning the point.
Still without a top tier point guard for the first time since Parker arrived for the 2001-02 season, the Spurs will have to win in a different way. The ball movement still needs to be there, but two of the top three players now are in the post like they were in 1999, and so a slower post up type offense is to be expected.
Parker will have to be effective in different ways than in the past when he fueled the Spurs offense. Hopefully with the help from Gasol, Parker can provide stability and an occasional flurry to help the Spurs get over the top.
Last year showed he in not the same, but hopefully Parker can still be effective in a subtler way, and the Spurs can get it done with a bit of the 1999 style again.