Much has been written already on the exceptional season Tony Parker is having this year. Some are even speculating that he belongs in the MVP discussion, an unprecedented first for the San Antonio Spurs' point guard.
Of course, those fans may be a bit biased. But, their sentiment holds a kernel of truth: even with LeBron James and Kevin Durant in the lead for MVP consideration, Tony Parker isn't far behind. His performance of late has epitomized the delicate balance between scoring and distributing that defines elite point guard play.
As we all know, however, winning an MVP award is about more than just being great—or even having a dominant team. Having a real shot at the Maurice Podoloff Trophy means you have to be better than all the other guys. Objectively speaking, Parker hasn't done that quite yet.
But...he has a chance.
Parker's per 48-minute production is exceptional: he ranks fifth in assists with 11.2 and 13th in scoring with 27.9.
That might not sound impressive at first—there are obviously some pretty solid ballers ranked ahead of Mr. Parker in each of those categories. However, none of the players yielding more impressive assist numbers (Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo, Jose Calderon and Ricky Rubio) outpace Parker's scoring.
Who will be MVP at season's end?
Parker's control and decision-making have been commensurate with his production. The only MVP-caliber player with a better assist-to-turnover ratio is Chris Paul. Indeed, some will suggest that Paul deserves an edge over Parker in the MVP voting, but this is where numbers fail to tell the entire story.
Imagine, for a moment, that Parker played with high-flying bigs like Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Does anyone really doubt he would tally a couple more assists per contest?
Others will maintain that Parker doesn't hold a candle to stat machines like LeBron James, Kevin Durant or Kobe Bryant. Based on a purely quantitative analysis, those critics would be correct.
Based on a careful assessment of Parker's play, though, they couldn't be more wrong.
It is notoriously difficult to amass a robust stat sheet when playing for the Spurs. On top of the fact that coach Gregg Popovich keeps a tight lid on each player's minutes, his team concept reduces the number of individual opportunities a guy like Parker might otherwise have.
The roster itself features 11 players averaging at least 7.2 points per game, demonstrating a commitment to sharing the ball that's virtually unheard of among even the deepest teams. There's little question that Parker would find himself averaging another five or six points per game under different circumstances.
While Parker has the responsibility to keep the ball moving, he doesn't have the added benefit of playing alongside another elite scorer—especially with Manu Ginobili sidelined for most of the season. He becomes a magnet for defensive attention without an equivalent decoy to free him up.
Durant has Russell Westbrook. James has Dwyane Wade. Those sidekicks score 24 and 23 points per game, respectively. Opponents can't afford to load up on just one superstar.
Even Bryant benefits from sharing the floor with two of the most elite seven-footers in the game.
Parker may have a lot of help, but that help isn't playing at an All-Star level. It isn't a coincidence that opposing defenses flood the paint with bodies when Parker penetrates toward the rim. This is life for a superstar without a sidekick.
Skeptics should do themselves a favor and put their box scores away. After watching Parker in action, it becomes abundantly clear why so many pundits keep mentioning him in the same breath as more conventional MVP picks.
He's played masterfully against the best teams—and the best point guards in particular. Just ask Paul and Westbrook.
Parker is still an underdog in this race, and he has much to prove. Bigger names and better numbers stand in his way, and it goes without saying that no one earns an MVP on the basis of novelty.
Still, he has a chance.