The Tony Parker argument has been going on for a decade. Is Parker an elite point guard or is he simply a product of his environment? I’ve got a more reasonable approach to this — why can’t he be both? In fact, if anything, the environment could hamper the way he’s looked at statistically. Let’s jump right into it.
When we talk about an “elite” player, inevitably we look at the two most objective measures we can find — raw stats and championships. The fact that Parker has won four championships puts him in heady company, as only 26 other players have won five or more (including teammate Tim Duncan).
Raw statistics aren’t as kind to Parker (though we’ll take a deeper look at that shortly). Take a look at his advanced numbers against some of the elite point guards of yesterday and today (through age 31):
As you can see, Parker holds his own against these other talents. What’s interesting to note is how much more involved Parker has been offensively as opposed to the other guys on this list. That’s one reason why I made mention that his environment has hurt his numbers. Because the Spurs have been such an unselfish team, the ball isn’t in Parker’s hands as much as some of these other guards.
Even with that, there aren’t any numbers that pop out as big negatives against this remarkable set of players.
Now, let’s take a look at his raw numbers in a different light. I ran a search to see how many other players in NBA history could match Parker’s points, assists, steals and field goal percentage. Here is the list of players who have more than 16,050 points, 5,634 assists and 871 steals with a field goal percentage of 49.4 percent or better:
Wow. The kind of longevity and success needed to be on a list like that is impressive. Interestingly enough, Parker has played more regular season games (940) than Bird (897), Johnson (906) and James (842) at this point. Yet, he’s played the fewest minutes, sitting behind Magic by almost 2,600 minutes. That coach Pop and his DNP’s, I tell ya…
While Parker shouldn’t be punished for playing with two Hall-of-Fame players in Duncan and Manu Ginobili, he is treated that way in the national media. He’s gone from “that young French point guard” to “Eva Longoria’s other half” to “one of the better point guards in the NBA.”
Does it surprise you to know that Parker has never led the league (regular season) in any category? How about the fact that he’s only made six All-Star games (I know, only), four All-NBA teams (three second, one third) and has just his 2006-07 NBA Finals MVP to keep his four rings company on the awards list?
Parker ranks in the top 50 in NBA history in assists (5,635, 40th), assist percentage (33.0, 30th) and usage percentage (25.8, 45th). Again, that’s Parker being a product of the system he’s played in since he entered the league back in 2001.
Over the last five seasons, the Spurs have finished first in team assists twice (2012-14), fourth once (2011-12), seventh once (2009-10) and eighth once (2010-11). During that five-year period, Parker has finished in the top-10 in assists per game twice (sixth in 2012-13, eighth in 2011-12).
THE BIG PICTURE
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Parker will probably always be overlooked by the general media. The Spurs get respect from hoop heads and those who follow the game for a living, but they don’t get nearly enough credit in the mainstream. Any credit they do get ends up going to Duncan as one of the best power forwards to ever play or coach Gregg Popovich as one of the best coaches ever.
The truth is — and no disrespect to Manu here — that aside from Duncan, Parker has been the most important player over the last decade for the Spurs. His consistent excellence, his (usually) calm demeanor and his icy-cold floaters have been the perfect augment to Duncan and the rest of the Spurs.
In all likelihood, another point guard wouldn’t have fit in as well. Parker has been willing to blend in when needed and he’s been willing to take over when the situation calls for it. He’s been emotionally strong enough to suit up for Popovich and fundamentally strong enough to actually play for coach Pop. Could other elite point guards like Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook or Stephen Curry have pulled it off?
I don’t think so. While they all have their own qualities, they don’t have the perfect blend that Tony has, which has worked perfectly for the last 12 seasons. I’m sure most “best point guard” lists show the others first, but the Spurs would take Parker over them each and every time.