When evaluating the individual performance of the San Antonio Spurs players this season, Tony Parker has become an enigma. A couple years out of his prime, Parker’s counting stats are down; however, when Parker has played well, he’s raised the team’s ceiling and made them harder to defend.
Parker is still great at running the pick and roll. Over 44% of all possessions Parker uses are classified as “Pick and Roll – Ball Handler” on the NBA’s stats page. Parker is scoring 0.94 points-per-possession on these plays, ranking him in the top 20% in the league. Only three other players run pick and roll as the ball handler more than 44% of time and score at least 0.93 PPP – Chris Paul, Eric Bledsoe, and Kemba Walker. Having a player who can reliably run the pick and roll is incredibly vital in today’s NBA and the Spurs have two (Kawhi Leonard is the other, ranking in the top 10 percent in PPP when running pick and roll, but running it less often than Parker) .
While Parker’s role is no longer to be the primary offensive threat, when he is aggressive on offense the Spurs as a whole benefit. In the 15 games that Parker has shot 60% or higher from the field, the Spurs have gone 13-2. These are games that Parker is looking for his shot, too, as Parker shot at least 8 field goal attempts in 12 out of 15 of those games. Similarly, the Spurs do well when Parker is able to get to the foul line. The Spurs have had a record of 13-2 this season when he attempts at least 3 free throws. Further, only three games occurred where those two conditions overlapped, meaning that in games where Parker either shot 60% from the field or attempted 3 field goals, the Spurs are 23-4. When Parker is aggressive on offense, it gives space to Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge to get to their spots more comfortably and with less defensive pressure.
Another factor in Parker’s impact that is harder to quantify in stats is Parker’s knowledge of the Spurs’ system. This is Parker’s 16th season with the Spurs. He has been a key player in several championship runs and he has seen the team change styles multiple times. He joined the team in Tim Duncan’s prime, then later became the focal point of the offense, and has since deferred to Leonard for that role. Parker’s experience alone makes him valuable on the court. He may not be able to get to the basket as quickly as he once did, but his knowledge of the game and of the system allow him to continue to be an impactful player.
One of the factors that has contributed to Parker’s inconsistency this season has been the number of games he has missed due to various injuries. Of the 70 games the Spurs have played, Parker has only suited up for 52 of them. It wasn’t one injury that sidelined him for all 18 games either, but rather smaller maladies throughout the season, illustrated by the fact that he has not missed more than 4 consecutive games at any point this season. Basketball-Reference lists the 13 games from January 27th to February 26th as the longest stretch that Parker did not miss a game. Even this stretch of games was broken up by the All-Star Break, highlighting the dilemma Parker has faced all season and especially now – are fresh legs or consistency in game’s played more important heading into the playoffs. The Spurs will surely weigh both options carefully, when Parker is playing well he makes the team more dynamic, something they have seemingly been missing lately and will need to re-gain to make a deep push in the playoffs.
All stats are from nba.com/stats unless otherwise noted.