Tony Parker suffered a left ankle sprain in a Spurs' blowout win against the Sacramento Kings this Friday. The injury occurred during the third quarter of the game and you can be pretty sure every San Antonio Spurs fan had their tongues and stomachs in knots when they saw it occur. Parker is one of the few legitimate MVP contenders and the catalyst of the team this season. The team can only go as far as he takes them, but it seems he won't be carrying the team for a while at least.
What do the Spurs do now? The team has many options available with the loss of Parker. Coach Gregg Popovich has the luxury of 13 more games this month and only two of those are away, which is great news if the majority of your team is role players. The following players can be options to replace Parker in the starting lineup while he's out.
Nando De Colo – He seems like the most likely candidate. He started and played well against the Phoenix Suns despite the box score. Nando is a cross between Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili and his ball movement will help out the starting unit for the team. The starting five for the Spurs are mostly role players or guys who can't create their own shots consistently. With those elements, ball movement and player motion is essential and De Colo is the prime point guard for that spot.
Gary Neal – I'll have to say Neal is the least likely candidate to take this role on a full time basis for the injury, but don't be surprised if Coach Pop lets him take the responsibility for a game or two. Neal is a sharpshooter, but that's the only thing he can do. With Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard on the court, Neal's inability to dribble the ball safely or pass would slow down a team that wants to get as far away from a slow tempo game as possible. His "trigger happy" mentality any time a defender gives him space would also hurt the team, as the Spurs' big men set picks to create movement and confuse the defense while Neal would most likely throw up a shot after a pick is set.
Patty Mills – Mills is the fan favorite-towel waving-spark plug off the bench and he's been playing well with the minutes and situations he's been given. Mills can bring a little bit of everything the other point guards can, except that speed is clearly on Mills favor. Mills' energy is better served up for the bench and his speed can bail out Manu Ginobili during ball handling duties. Mills is versatile enough that he can also play the shooting guard position if necessary. While his talents would thrive in the starting unit, he's a better option off the bench and could be a greater insurance policy in case the starting point guard is having trouble.
Cory Joseph – He's been having a great season with the Austin Toros with his 19.4ppg and 5.5apg, but he doesn't bring anything close to that with the San Antonio Spurs when he's called up. He tends to get foul prone once he enters the game and doesn't show the same emotion he does in Austin. He'll be a decent option off the bench, but he needs to show more to handle the top starting guards in the NBA.
Manu Ginobili – He's a shooting guard with a point guard mentality. He's played the backup PG spot for years in San Antonio and could be an option in the starting unit. There would still be ball movement and the same sets that Tony Parker brings with the Spurs. The team would go extremely tall with Ginobili, Green, Leonard, Tim Duncan, and Tiago Splitter on the court. This would be a good defensive team also because Green or Leonard could switch over to guard the point guard and leave Ginobili guarding his natural position. The bench, however, would lose a ton of spark and scoring that no one could make up for. Ginobli had a team high 15 assists against the Sacramento Kings off the bench on Friday, what player could replace those kinds of numbers? He's one of a kind that, like Mills, is better suited for bench play.
Nando De Colo is the best option to replace Parker in the starting unit. He may not come close to his production, but all De Colo has to do is keep the team balanced and winning until Parker does return. He'll have the protection of 4 other guys who know the system around him and can help him out on the defensive end. With the talent and teamwork around him, De Colo may have more opportunity to thrive as a starter than he would off the bench. A pick and roll combination with Tiago Splitter is something the Spurs consistently use with point guards and Nando would be right at home with his passing abilities.