The San Antonio Spurs have a serious problem that no other contender is currently facing. They’re starting a 34 year old point guard, who has really shown his age coming down the stretch of this season, making him even more of a liability come playoff time. Tony Parker has been the key to so much of the Spurs’ success over the years. Between his midrange jumper and crafty moves in the paint, Parker made a career out of exploiting the small spaces in defenses. Parker has been in a steady decline since the Spurs last championship in 2014. This year, Parker is averaging his lowest PPG total and APG total since his rookie year in the NBA.
Parker has never had high assist numbers, but his penetration has been key to the Spurs offense for many years. His ability to drive and kick, would break down defenses and lead to the famous Spurs ball movement.
Going back and watching Tony Parker highlights from the 2014 Finals, you can see the difference in play. Watch the clip from about the 2-minute mark, Parker is able to penetrate the lane and find an open Kawhi Leonard in the corner for three. He sucks in almost all five Heat defenders with the exception of Dwyane Wade who is practically in the paint himself.
This was Tony Parker at his best. In the 2014 Finals, Parker led the team in scoring at 18 PPG, averaged almost five assists, and one steal. All while shooting 48 percent from the field and 41 percent from three. (He only shot 12 threes, but still an impressive number). Parker was arguably the most important player in the Finals that year, besides Kawhi who had the monumental task of slowing down LeBron James. He was the catalyst that got the Spurs going on offense.
That crucial piece that has been missing from this year’s team.
Fast forward to last Wednesday’s game against Golden State. Parker wasn’t even close to what he has been known for, or what he was in his last finals appearance.
Watch this clip from about the 10 and a half minute mark. Parker gets lost in a screen to free up Curry for an open shot, and then goes to the corner while Kawhi Leonard runs the offense. That was where Parker would find himself for most of the night.
Watching the whole game will show you just how much Tony struggled against a younger more athletic Warriors team. As discussed in the last episode of the 3-1 Lead, Parker has had trouble on the defensive end guarding Steph Curry and struggles even more on the offensive side when the 6’7” Klay Thompson is hounding him on defense. It’s very similar to when LeBron guarded Parker at the end of Game 2 in the 2014 Finals. Thompson has the size and recovery speed to keep up with Parker, who has lost quite a bit of the elite quickness he had in his prime.
Watching Parker struggle like this is hard for all Spurs fans to watch. Being in the arena that night you could feel the frustration that was coming from the fans, who still expect the performances of a prime Tony Parker. Watching Parker being subbed out for Patty Mills, who still has flashes of elite quickness and is a far better shooter than Parker, is difficult. Especially considering the sometimes inconsistent play of Mills, which can lead to a stagnant Spurs offense (i.e. the second half of the Golden State game).
This poses a very serious problem for the Spurs and Parker going forward. What do you do with a point guard who has veteran leadership, and valued championship experience, but diminishing physical ability?
The obvious answer would be to bring him off the bench and let him contribute and exploit a matchup against a second unit point guard. But, that doesn’t seem like an option the Spurs are considering.
This problem becomes even bigger when you consider that Spurs current options. They have a stud in Kawhi Leonard who is almost capable of running the offense but still struggles with his passing vision. And, Patty Mills, who is great coming off the bench, doesn’t offer the same vision as Parker either.
The Spurs are in a tough spot going into the playoffs and the elite play of the other point guards in the Western Conference doesn’t make the Tony Parker problem any less challenging. In a conference that has the two leading candidates for MVP (James Harden and Russell Westbrook) as their starting point guards, a proven floor general in Chris Paul, a former two-time MVP, Steph Curry, leading the best team in the conference, and Damian Lillard rounding out the bunch. Things aren’t looking easy for the Spurs or Tony.
It will be interesting to see how Gregg Popovich handles the point guard situation going forward. Parker and Mills can be somewhat effective together, but become a liability on the defensive end. Mills and Ginobili are a great guard combo coming off the bench, but you face the similar age and diminishing physical capabilities from Manu, who is best in limited spurts off the bench. Patty Mills and Danny Green would be a better combination if either one of them could create like Parker, but the combo would be essentially two shooting guards on the court.
The questionable ability of Parker will become even more of a problem as the Spurs get deeper into the playoffs. With a likely second round matchup against Houston and the tenacious defense of Patrick Beverly looming, what will the Spurs do about Tony Parker?
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