Thursday, September 25, 2008

NBA Fanhouse: Current Top 50 - #25 Tony Parker

Once a spectacle of speed and decisiveness, San Antonio's mousy Tony Parker has turned himself into a bit of a "complete" point guard, degrading his dominance in certain skills to offer a varied arsenal. The shift hasn't exactly worked as planned -- Parker is less efficient this days -- but it has been necessary as the supporting cast of the Spurs weakens due to age (Bruce Bowen, Michael Finley) and free agent losses (Brent Barry).

For two seasons, '05-06 and '06-07, Parker actually had a claim as the king of the league's point guards. And while he's regressed over the past year, he's still among the invisible elite at the position.

What Parker did in '06 and '07: gave up the long jumper in large part, and focused on getting to the rim, where he finishes as well as any shortie. Prior to '05-06, one of every seven Parker FGAs was a three. For a poor outside shooter, that's too much. Over the two top seasons, Parker cut his threes to one every 30 shots. He barely took any threes at all. That's good.

But last season, he returned to the well: one out of 16 shots went for trois. It's low for the league's gunnerific point guards, but twice as frequent as Parker's apparent sweet spot. There was no individualistic reason for this: Parker shot an awful 25% on these, below even his awful 31% career mark. But at the team level, it makes sense that the injury to and brief trade of Barry had an impact: Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili create open threes, and someone needs to take them. Bowen continued to get (and hit) open shots, but he's taking less initiative from the corner than expected. By personnel, it seems Parker was forced into a little bit extra shooting work, and that didn't pay off for anybody.

The real problem with these threes: Parker is way too good under the rim to waste shooting possessions from inefficient spots. No PG in the league finishes in the paint like Parker, and almost no PG gets into the paint with such ease. Duncan's part of the Spurs' eternal "points in the paint" lead, but Parker's the difference-maker there. He shoots over 60% from inside, and has every season of his NBA maturity. 60% on a two-pointer, or 25% on a three? There's no question.

Parker does have to be careful not to become too predictable, though: his turnovers fluctuate, and that's one potential weakness in his driving game. He's not careless with the ball, but you're bound to offer up some easy steals when you put the head down every trip. No one cares about turnovers -- no one has seemingly noticed Jason Kidd has turned into the human "fast break the other way," and Steve Nash rarely gets chided for his carelessness with the ball. And Parker is much more protective than those two. But a turnover, if you can believe it, is worse than a missed longball.

When it seemed Parker had found his outside shot at age 24, I figured we could pencil him in as the third chipmunk in the coming Chris Paul-Deron Williams Wars. That outside shot didn't stay long. As such, while Parker is an unassailable talent and a remarkable floor leader, he's about the fifth best point guard in the NBA, instead of a challenger for the #1 spot. And again, he's only 26. Lots of wins left in this fellow.

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