Far and few are point guards who can endure 14-plus NBA seasons’ worth of wear and tear and still start for a Championship team. Indeed only one player—Jason Kidd (2011)—has ever done it.
Will Tony Parker join his company in 2015-16?
Parker’s innate ability to pull this off is by now unquestionable. A four-time champion, he most recently led the Spurs to the summit just 15 months ago, and last season was brilliant in flashes—most notably in March when the Spurs sliced through all comers including the eventual champion Golden State Warriors. The table seemed set for a run at a fifth title of the Parker/Ginobili/Duncan era.
Then, in April, the wheels came off. Lingering ankle, Achilles and quad injuries hamstrung Parker’s effectiveness in the first round against the Clippers. It was no surprise Los Angeles’ Playoff series win coincided with by far the worst Playoff run of Parker’s career. That nightmare punctuated the worst regular season since Parker’s rookie year in many statistical categories.
The nagging injuries, painful remnants of the quicksilver dervish Parker once was, are a major reason for the drop-off. But natural aging has caused some of the slide, too. All 33-year-old veterans have to figure out ways to compensate for lost quickness, but outside of an Andre Miller here, a Pablo Prigioni there, not too many have to figure it out against the gauntlet of velociraptors who are now at the top of Parker’s position. Moreover, the 6-1 Parker isn’t blessed with the same size and strength that the 6-4 Kidd had during the Dallas Mavericks’ 2011 title run.
But this is the Spurs. San Antonio will scheme to minimize the time Parker spends chasing the likes of Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and Steph Curry. In the regular season that will mean less time for Parker on the floor, but with the end goal in mind he will be more than willing to downgrade to a more secondary role.
Expect coach Gregg Popovich to use the season’s first few months to finetune the spacing of a revamped Spurs lineup that will surround Parker with more mobile and better shooting big men like LaMarcus Aldridge and David West. As a result of the heightened attention his frontcourt mates will receive, Parker will benefit from more open driving lanes to help offset his diminishing first step. Expect more corner three-pointers, an increasingly potent part of his game, as well.
Don’t let Parker’s recent shooting woes for Team France during this month’s EuroBasket tournament fool you. While some of France’s big men are quite mobile, none of them command the defensive attention Duncan, Aldridge and West do. Parker’s shot will come back around with the right teammates.
He and Popovich will do everything in their power to make sure it’s rolling come next April, when he, Ginobili and Duncan plan to start a final post-season together. “We’re going for a last try, a last crack at it to try to win it all,” he said this summer.
Tony 2.0 can’t get to the cup anything like Tony 1.0 once did, but he still has a Top 40-worthy mix of savvy, skill and talent to drive all the way to the Larry O’Brien trophy. Whether his body can stand up to that final push is a different question.
|SLAM Top 50 Players 2015|
Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2015-16—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.