“If you want to make it to the NBA, you have to be tough. You have to have a big heart.”
Perhaps no other player in the NBA illustrates this quote by Tony Parker than Tony Parker himself. It’s not often that you see a small player getting into the paint with ease and scoring over renowned ‘bigs’ in the league. Not since the days of Allen Iverson has there been such a diminutive guard dominate the floor.
Parker was seconds away from winning a fourth ring with the San Antonio Spurs last season. The Miami Heat needed all seven games to finish off the Spurs, who threw away a 3-2 lead; Ray Allen’s buzzer beating 3-pointer notwithstanding. But it was Parker who kept the Spurs alive in the series with two big shots – an incredible shot-clock beating solo effort that led to a jump shot in Game 1 and a 3-pointer to tie the game in Game 6.
Every time the Spurs are written off in the NBA, they deliver and force even their harshest critics to swallow their words. People said an ageing squad would get nowhere, that they didn’t have the resources to go far. Yet, they almost topped the Western Conference, and in fact swept the Grizzlies to lift the Western Conference title. And it was Tony Parker leading the way, averaging more than 20 points and 7 assists per game – his second best ever season with the Spurs in terms of numbers.
While most of the NBA’s players had a summer off to rest their weary bodies, the Frenchman showed that he had unfinished business after a blistering performance in the FIBA EuroBasket championship, where he averaged a tournament high 19.0 points per game. An overtime 75-72 win over the favourites Spain in the semi finals and an 80-66 win over Lithuania in the final saw France win the FIBA EuroBasket title for the first time. It was a tournament where he also won the MVP award and was selected to the All-Tournament team.
It will be interesting to see how Parker approaches the new season with the Spurs. Ever since he was signed up by the Spurs in the 2001 draft, his rise from a near-reject at a summer camp to the starting line up of a title winning team has been nothing short of astronomical.
He has constantly developed various facets of his game to develop into a lethal guard. From perfecting his mid-range jumpers to his defensive contributions, Parker’s quick thinking and experience has helped him score some unbelievable shots in and around the paint and guarding some tough players every game. And Coach Gregg Popovich has stood by Parker when it comes to clutch plays and all round leadership on the court.
With Tim Duncan seeing lesser minutes and Manu Ginóbili starting to fade, Parker will have to step up his game in the coming season. Some may say that he has peaked after 12 years in the NBA. At age 31, not many would argue with that. But Parker still has a lot more to offer this Spurs side. So much so that Popovich would probably build the team in a way that he can get the best out of Parker.
But something that will need to be factored into his plans will be fatigue. After winning the gold medal, he said, “It was very hard for me physically. I am very tired now. It’s been a long season.” Indeed, it was a very long season that saw him play for almost 11 months. Parker’s knee could be an issue and will have to be handled with care. We might not see Popovich play Parker his usual quota of minutes early in the season unless he wants him to burn out just before the playoffs. He may even sit out the 2014 World Cup in Spain. Very simply put; he needs some rest and he has definitely earned it!
Parker’s plays are of paramount importance to the team’s success. Be it setting up some unpredictable pick-and-rolls with Duncan or even making the defender second guess whether he’s going in for the layup (or even a floater) or the pull up jumper, Parker has come out on top time and again against some of the best defences in the NBA. Although known to take a shot himself than find an open man, it has seen varying degrees of success in the regular season and the Playoffs. It will be up to him to dictate the pace at which the Spurs will play this season. From being a slow outfit, they have slowly increased the pace over the past few years to become a significantly faster team on the court.
For the moment though, there is nobody who can replace Parker in the Spurs squad – in terms of skill, experience and leadership. And there’s no denying that he’s one of the most formidable point guards in the league. Only time will tell if he can help Duncan and Popovich carry this team to another championship in 2013-14.
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