Tony Parker is one of the best players the San Antonio Spurs have ever had. His time to come off the bench for the benefit of the team may be now.
The San Antonio Spurs enter this season as one of the few, true contenders in the NBA today.
In Gregg Popovich, they have arguably the greatest head coach of all time, although there is heated debate about that particular opinion.
They seem set to once again challenge the dominance of the Golden State Warriors this year, and they’ll do so with a settled roster and head coach.
One move that may be worth looking at, however, is the possibility of moving point guard Tony Parker to the bench.
Now 34 years of age, Parker still brings tremendous output for somebody of his age. This is especially true when you consider all of the top guards in the league today.
But age catches up to all players, and there’s good reason to see him have a reduced role this coming season.
It makes sense for a number of reasons, one of which being that this is already a transitionary period for the Spurs as it is.
Duncan is gone, and Manu Ginobili is likely gone at the end of this coming season as well. That’s a huge change for a team that has had the same core for over a decade.
So moving Parker to the bench at this time as well makes sense from that standpoint at least. But the statistics would seem to back this up as well.
Parker scored the fewest points per game last season (11.9) since his rookie year. In the playoffs that number dipped again to 10.4, his lowest mark ever in the postseason.
Parker has always been a scoring guard, and now that he’s slowing down in that department, does it not make sense to have him come in and burn second units the way Ginobili does?
Leonard and Aldridge are more than capable of holding down the scoring punch as it is, especially with Danny Green spotting up around them.
Something else that backs up this case in Parker’s three-point shooting and how it correlates to the success the Spurs’ bench had in this area last season.
Parker shot 41.5 percent from beyond the arc, the second-best mark of his career (lightyears better than his career average of 32.7 percent as well).
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Although that number tumbled terribly to 25 percent during the playoffs, it’s clear he’s a better long range shooter than ever before.
The Spurs’ bench ranked second in this category last season (37.8 percent), trailing only the Chicago Bulls.
By adding Parker to their second unit, it can become even more fearsome. This is especially true when you consider that, in theory, the Warriors sacrificed depth for star power this summer.
The starting unit San Antonio put out last season (which included Parker) also ranked second in three-pointers made, so the drop-off here would not be significant.
Parker played his fewest minutes per game last season (27.5), so perhaps Popovich was scaling his minutes down in preparation for a move like this?
Becoming a more specialist three-point threat off the bench late in his career is something Jason Kidd did, and it worked out well for him.
Parker never was the fastest, strongest or most athletic guard, and that’s especially true now. Pairing him with the crafty Ginobili for longer stretches could see Parker become a specialist for this team.
Another key area where Parker saw his output drop was in his Player Efficiency Rating (league average 15).
His 16.2 was not a bad number to post at all, and in fact it was an improvement on the year before (15.9). But it was his lowest mark since the 2003-04 season.
His usage rate when on the court of 21.2 percent was the lowest since his rookie year as well. For a point guard, that’s a figure of heightened importance.
The Spurs have always been a unique team in that they were the first to really advocate and sustain beating you as a collective, rather than with star power.
As a result, the point guard position, though the most important in the NBA today, never seemed to have as much importance for them.
Parker was a huge key to their earlier success, a deserved six time All-Star and a future Hall of Fame player. But the Spurs can survive without a star man running the point, such is their make up.
We’ve seen from the above numbers why it makes sense to bring Parker off the bench, for the good of the team. But inserting Patty Mills to the starting line-up at this point also makes sense.
As we’ve just pointed out, this is not a conventional team. Leonard or even Green can take the ball up the court. So too can Patty Mills, or even Ginobili when he’s on the court.
Mills is one of the most underrated players in the league, and he’s still only 27 years of age. He too is a solid three-point shooter (career 38.9 percent), but he has only averaged more than 10 points in a season twice in seven years.
His importance to the second unit is clear because of his ability to heat up straight away and seemingly always make the right play.
It helps that he has an offensive plus/minus box score of 2.1 for his career so far as well, further proof that offensively he will make the right play when called upon.
For context, the point-piling Parker has a career average of 1.9 in this category. Mills also averaged 20 minutes a game last year, easily a career high.
His Player Efficiency Rating was right around league average as well(14.6). The time would appear right for Mills to move into a bigger role with the team. He can surely handle it.
None of this is to say that Tony Parker as a player is finished in the league. Far from it in fact. The time now feels right to change his role here, as he becomes the veteran leader of this team in Tim Duncan’s absence.
On the court he is still capable of giving this team so much on any given night. Curbing his minutes and bringing him off the bench to school second units as the deep Spurs make another run though?
That sounds like the perfect way to gradually bow out of playing for this team — the right way, with dignity intact and with both player and team getting the most out of each other.