Could Tony Parker's Injury Be a Blessing in Disguise for San Antonio Spurs?
Not in the sense that the Spurs are better off without Parker, because they're not. The crafty floor general averages 21 points and 7.6 assists on 53.3 percent shooting. That San Antonio also scores more while allowing fewer points per 100 possessions with him on the floor ensures the team isn't more dangerous with him out of the lineup.
But that doesn't mean it won't be better off in the long run.
With Parker expected to miss four weeks courtesy of a sprained ankle, a window of opportunity has opened for the Spurs.
Beginning with the obvious, San Antonio is now fated to have a fresh Parker come playoff time. Serious as this "sprained ankle" may be, sprains in general aren't season-threatening, and aside from a few initial gingerly taken steps, Parker's return will go unimpeded.
We all know that Gregg Popovich does a great job resting his players, even if it costs the team a quarter-million dollars to do so. Nothing, however, can replace the luxury of being afforded an extended vacation.
Understandably, fans and pundits alike will be worried about Parker grasping the pace of the game upon his return, about him being able to push the ball in the way that has allowed him to be effective. Those are valid concerns.
Yet Parker's an 11-year veteran. He won't be sitting on the sideline sipping sodas and scarfing down donuts. He'll be as game-ready as possible upon his return.
It's also worth mentioning that while the Spurs both score more and allow fewer points with Parker on the floor, their marks without him are hardly panic-worthy. San Antonio scores 107.6 points and allows 101.1 per 100 possessions when down Parker, which would still rank in the top 10 of each category.
Looking at Parker's backups, specifically guys like Nando De Colo and Patty Mills, extra playing time at this juncture only benefits them and the team. Navigating life without Parker adequately simulates the pressure-cooker environment they'll be exposed to when called upon during the playoffs.
Mills especially has been prone to breakout performances. He averages just over 10 minutes per game, but he has dropped 15 or more points on three occasions this season, each time in less than 25 minutes of action. His 15.8 points per 36 minutes are, at the very least, proof he can be extremely potent in bursts.
Nando De Colo is bound to get his feet wet during this stretch as well. In limited action (11.8 minutes a night), he's proved to be a crafty playmaker and adequate defender. Like Mills, his per 36 minutes averages are impressive, standing at 10.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.4 steals.
Unlikely as it seems that either player will be relied upon heavily in the postseason, more prominent roles now, even if temporary, are only going to increase their overall value to San Antonio. For a team that's already headed to the playoffs no matter what, the importance of such an advantage cannot be underestimated.
Am I grasping at straws here?
Perhaps, but let's not pretend that a fresh (and healthy) Parker isn't a gargantuan asset come playoff time.
Speaking of the playoffs, the Spurs are now in danger of losing the top spot in the Western Conference. With 21 contests to go, San Antonio holds but a three-game lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder and a 4.5-game lead over the Los Angeles Clippers.
What if the Spurs fall behind one or both of them? What if Parker's absence doesn't just jeopardize their ability to finish with the West's best record for three years running, but eradicates it?
Personally, I'd assert that it's cause for celebration. And just to answer your question, no, I'm not on anything. Instead, I recognize that snagging the top seed in the West could be more of a curse than a blessing.
The Los Angeles Lakers are now a mere coin toss (47.3 percent) away from making the postseason. Barring an unforeseen collapse by multiple teams, Hollywood's finest will sneak in as the eighth seed. That's not a first-round matchup the Spurs, Thunder or anybody else looks forward to.
It doesn't matter that the Lakers have toiled in obscurity for 75 percent of the season. Postseason basketball is a different being. Rotations are shortened, superstars prepare to shine and, sometimes, will trumps skill.
In other words, a playoff series—no matter who it's against—could favor the Lakers.
I don't care how poorly Los Angeles has played all season long. I don't want to face a team that boasts the likes of Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash in the same starting lineup. And I sure don't want to face a team that could possibly have a healthy Pau Gasol coming off the bench. Did I mention the Lakers have Kobe too?
By no means am I implying the Spurs wouldn't stand a chance. They're 2-0 (so far) against the Lakers this season, and they have the best record in the NBA for a reason. They could very well torch the Lakers the way they did the Clippers only last year.
Truthfully, there are no "easy" matchups in the Western Conference. The bottom half of the playoff picture reads like a who's who of potential Cinderella stories. The Memphis Grizzlies, Golden State Warriors and even Houston Rockets aren't exactly pushovers or surefire beats.
Still, if you're the Spurs, you would rather face a tumultuous Grizzlies team, inexperienced Warriors or Rockets convocation or a perennial middling conclave like the Utah Jazz over an outright desperate Lakers outfit. That's just common sense.
Who would the Spurs rather face in the first round of the playoffs?
Even if you're of the mind that a "fresh" Parker is only good in theory and believe that the injury stands to render him stale, it borders on impossible to refute the dangers of finishing atop the Western Conference. Facing the Lakers is a lot different than the Miami Heat facing, say, the Milwaukee Bucks.
Of course, tanking isn't a valued art among postseason-bound teams, nor should it be. It's not an act the Spurs should embrace either.
What they should embrace is life without Parker and all the potential benefits they'll potentially reap because of it.
At least for right now.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports and 82Games.com unless otherwise noted.
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