by Irv Soonachan / @SidelineOB

Tony Parker has an electric first step, but it’s not the most spectacular. Opponents fear his ability to get into the paint and tear through defenses, but a few others are more dangerous. In 10 years since joining the NBA he’s become an excellent shooter, though mainly from 15 feet in—many have deeper range. There are several point guards who see the floor better. In fact, among point guards of his generation there is one thing and one thing only at which Tony Parker is clearly the best: winning.

Parker wasn’t just the point guard of three Championship teams in San Antonio, he was a core starter and a three-time All-Star during the Spurs’ run. Since entering the NBA as an unknown 19-year-old from France (France!), he has played with increasing fearlessness every spring.

The NBA isn’t the only place he’s been tested, either ¾ he’s led his national team to victory in raucous European arenas, this summer guiding Les Blues to their first Silver Medal at the biennial Eurobasket Tournament since 1949. “He doesn’t get nervous, he just plays,” former teammate David Robinson once noted.

Veteran NBA coach Dick Motta said that you cannot possibly understand the pressure and magnitude of a big, late-series Playoff game until you’ve actually been there, and few have been there more than Parker.

And being among the best—if not quite the very best—at so many things has its advantages, too. Parker is a complete point guard. He can beat you in the paint, he can beat you with a jumper, he will find the open man, and most importantly he usually chooses the right option. Statistically he’s a 50 percent shooter every single year in a league full of point guards who can’t shoot, and every year he puts up solid assist/turnover numbers. He’s also the sparkplug who lifts up the Spurs’ energy level when the veteran team starts to sag.

Coach Gregg Popovich summarized it last season simply by calling Parker the guy who “keeps things copacetic” for a perennial Playoff team.

It wasn’t always this way. Early in his career Parker would hang his head after a poor first half, but now he comes back to attack you. Back then he was also a weak jump shooter, but over the past few years he’s conquered the midrange game and is now looking to improve from distance. If history is any guide, he’ll be drilling threes within a year or two.

It’s a shame that Parker has become better known for his tabloid exploits than his on-court play because as Tim Duncan has faded, the Frenchman has lifted his game to a higher level. On more nights than ever before, the Spurs depend on Parker and Manu Ginobili to get the job done, and on most nights, Parker answers the call.

SLAMonline’s 35th-ranked player in the NBA doesn’t put up the great numbers of those ranked above him, but in the face of the most crushing pressure the NBA has to offer, there are few people you’d rather see bringing the ball up. And there’s no statistic to measure the value of any point guard who can say that.

SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2011
RankPlayerTeamPositionPos. Rank
50Luol DengBullsSF8
49Andrew BogutBucksC7
48Ray AllenCelticsSG9
47Marc GasolGrizzliesC6
46David WestHornetsPF15
45Kevin MartinRocketsSG8
44Andrew BynumLakersC5
43Brandon JenningsBucksPG11
42Lamar OdomLakersPF14
41Gerald WallaceBlazersSF7
40Brook LopezNetsC4
39Joakim NoahBullsC3
38Carlos BoozerBullsPF13
37Kevin GarnettCelticsPF12
36Eric GordonClippersSG7
35Tony ParkerSpursPG10

Notes
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’11-12 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Maurice Bobb, Shannon Booher, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Sandy Dover, Adam Figman, Jon Jaques, Eldon Khorshidi, Ryne Nelson, Doobie Okon, Ben Osborne, Quinn Peterson, Dave Schnur, Abe Schwadron, Dan Shapiro, Irv Soonachan, Todd Spehr, Tzvi Twersky, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Ben York.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.