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Snub Him Not

By Jeff Koch on January 18, 2013.

To call Tony Parker a “shoot first” PG (a sort of short hand backhanded compliment in the NBA) is to miss the point. The Spurs’ offense is built around ball movement, player movement, spacing, execution, and a million other things we’ve mentioned a million times in these recaps. But, really, what the Spurs offense is built around is Tony Parker. Shoot or pass, it doesn’t really matter what you want to call Tony Parker. The point is: he orchestrates one of the most brutally effective and efficient offenses in the NBA with a maestro’s touch.

If you watch enough Spurs games, you can predict how most every offensive possession is going to start. Parker brings it up, passes it to a big at the top of the key, who then passes it off to either the 2 or 3 guard, while Parker curls around the entire court, through several screens, and receives the ball back at the elbow extended. At this point, the defense is already in a vulnerable position because of Parker’s speed, ball handling, and ability to knock down the jump shot from there. But pushing the possession along, Parker’s quickness and brilliant understanding of the offense will almost always leave an defense vulnerable. He forces so much collapsing and scrambling, that over the course of a 24 second possession, a hole will eventually be found (and usually exploited). Put some shooters out there, and it’s even more deadly.

Parker shoots and scores a lot because that is often the best option created by his movement. If a team deigns to shut that down, then he passes, and the weakness is found somewhere else. But Parker’s scoring is not an offshoot of selfishness or lack of vision, it’s a design of the offense. His assists have gone up over the last few years, but his scoring hasn’t really gone down. It’s a function of an even better understanding of the offense, better shooters, more trust from Pop, and just hard work on his game.

There are better point guards in the game (though not as many as most pundits would have you believe), but no better fit for the Spurs.

This was on display tonight. Without Parker in the game, the Spurs’ offense was really ragged. Especially to start the 4th quarter. It looked as if the Spurs had seized control of the game. Parker went to the bench for his rest, and the Warriors gained a bit of momentum and drew even. It was really just a matter of holding it down until Parker could come back. And once he did, the team took back the game. The two plays that iced the game: Parker finding a wide-open Danny Green for a corner 3 off of a zone defense, and Parker hitting an absolute dagger from the elbow extended to effectively end the game.

The bigger question for Spurs’ fans to grapple with: at the end of their respective careers, and with a little time for perspective, who will be remembered as the better player: Parker or Ginobili? Manu certainly owns the hearts of Spurs fans, but with his ability to stay healthy, his mastery of the offense, his (eventual) longer career, Parker may very well have the better career.

How lucky that we get to cheer for them both.

Some more notes from tonight’s win over the Warriors:

–Credit Mark Jackson. This Golden State team looks so much tougher and just better than the teams from just a few short years ago, without much change in talent. They obviously play better defense, and have the same potent offense (even playing without Curry). They will be a tough out in the playoffs.

–Tiago and Diaw are both playing extremely well right now, giving us an awesome big man rotation. Diaw seems to have found the balance of playmaking and scoring, knowing just how aggressive to be and when. And Splitter is growing into a great player before our eyes. He’s just a beast down low on both sides of the court, and can easily play the anchor role on both sides of the court when Duncan rests. What I like best, though, is that both seem to be improving their rebounding numbers. 9 for Splitter and 9 for Diaw tonight.

–Leonard also had a great rebounding night, but seemed really out of it everywhere else. It’s hard to remember that he’s only a second year player sometimes, what with his preternatural maturity and skill set. Like I’ve said many times before, it’s great to have Jackson to back him up, and to come in and play well when Leonard is struggling. Which he did tonight.

–It’s also a nice contrast to Danny Green, who has a much lower overall ceiling than Leonard, but at this point in his career, is just more reliable night to night. Particularly when he’s making that 3, Green is a superb fit for this team. At this point, he’s closer to Bowen than anybody else has been since.

–Mills was again the back-up PG in the first half, but Pop must not have liked what he saw, because De Colo got the nod at the start of the 4th. But that didn’t last long, and he went with Neal as the de facto PG for a few minutes until Tony came back in. He also switched up the big man rotation in the second half so that Duncan would play with the second unit rather than Splitter. In the third, Diaw replaced Duncan instead of Splitter, so that Duncan could spell Splitter when Parker wasn’t on the floor. Just a minor tweak in the absence of Ginobili.

Quick turnaroud as the Spurs play the Hawks in Atlanta with an early start time. Atlanta lost in Brooklyn tonight, so both teams will be traveling. Atlanta also suffered a big injury as Lou Williams went down with a knee injury. It should be an interesting “Rotation Roulette” game for both teams, and one of those games where both teams are fighting the schedule for a win.

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