Despite winning four championships and running one of the model franchises in the NBA, the San Antonio Spurs remain the league’s most underappreciated commodity. This season they’re treating the strike-shortened 66-game schedule like a long business trip.
But despite their bland and boring approach nobody should sleep on the Spurs and their All-Star point guard Tony Parker, who is quietly having a most valuable season.
After defeating the conference-leading Thunder in Oklahoma City on Friday night, the Spurs and Parker can’t fly under the radar anymore. In a marquee matchup with Thunder All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook, Parker didn’t disappoint as he scored 25 points and had seven assists in the Spurs’ 114-105 road victory. Westbrook finished with 36, but took 29 shots to get there and missed some important shots down the stretch that killed the Thunder rally.
Parker was efficient for much of the night, making 10 of 22 shots from the field, including two crucial midrange jump shots late in the fourth quarter. His much-improved jumper has made his signature floater even more dangerous because now defenders can’t go underneath the screens.
“Tony Parker is playing on an MVP-type level. He’s just having his way,” Hall-of-Famer Magic Johnson said about the Spurs guard, who is enjoying arguably the finest season of his 10-year NBA career.
The 29-year-old playmaker tops the Spurs in scoring at 20.1 per game and has taken rein of a veteran San Antonio team that many experts dismissed at the beginning of the season because it was were too old (see Tim Duncan), too injured (see Manu Ginobili), and too fragile (see first-round exit in 2011).
Ginobili has missed more than half the season and Duncan is averaging only 14 points, but yet the Spurs are leading the Southwest Division and looking strong in securing one of the top four playoff spots in the conference mainly because of Parker. He is the reason why the Spurs are playing like the old Spurs instead of an aging bunch of guys ready to collect their pension plan.
Parker has done a masterfully job in finding a balance between scoring on his own and finding shots for his teammates, evidenced by his career-high 8.0 assists a game. In the win over the Thunder, Danny Green (21), DeJuan Blair (22) and rookie Kawhi Leonard (15) combined for 58 points, an encouraging stat moving forward because the Spurs don’t have to rely on the big three – Parker, Duncan and Ginobili – to generate all the offense. And the Spurs’ depth will only get better once Ginobili gets healthy and newly acquired forward Stephen Jackson (from Golden State) joins the team.
“The supporting players are better this year than last year,” says former NBA All-Star and current ESPN analyst Chris Mullin.
Earlier this season Parker passed Avery Johnson to become the Spurs’ franchise leader in assists, cementing his legacy as one of the all-time great Spurs. “It’s a great honor. To be mentioned in the same category is great,” Parker said. “When I first got here, all I heard was Avery Johnson and what he meant to this city, the community and the Spurs organization. So I feel honored and happy to be with Avery as one of the best point guards in San Antonio, as I owe a lot to Pop.
“He’s the one who has pounded me to be a good point guard and to share and know the balance between scoring and passing,” Parker said of the only head coach he has played for in the NBA.
The Popovich-Parker dynamic is more in sync than ever before because Pop now has complete trust in his point guard. It’s like your dad handing over the keys to the family sports car. With Parker sitting in the driver’s seat, the Spurs could be driving toward another NBA title.