Regardless of whether the San Antonio Spurs can capture an incredible five rings in 14 years or if the Miami Heat firmly establish themselves as a blooming dynasty in these NBA Finals, Tony Parker will walk away as the world's best point guard.
Right now, Parker is the most irreplaceable player on either the best or second-best basketball team in the world. He has been the most aggressive offensive player in a monstrous finals that contains at least six players who are guaranteed to one day make the Hall of Fame.
Parker is, and has been for a majority of his career, one of the hardest players to defend in the world. There are basically no weaknesses when he has the ball (he doesn't threaten defenses from the three-point line because he doesn't have to, not because he can't) and the Spurs' entire offense is designed to squeeze as much production from him as humanly possible.
Parker has had the good fortune of having been drafted by a great franchise, paired with a great player in Tim Duncan and nestled into a great system. He has also learned under one of the greatest coaches in the modern NBA.
Consequently, he is typically passed over by the public when it comes to any "Best Point Guard Alive" debate. The fact remains, however, that since winning the 2007 NBA Finals MVP, Parker has been nothing short of brilliant, routinely maximizing his ability on the grandest stage while still improving each year.
Over the past eight or nine years, point guard has been the most loaded position in the sport. That includes transcendental athletes like Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose, to franchise-lifting leaders like Chris Paul and Steve Nash, to unanswerable problems like Rajon Rondo, to the next generation's crème de la crème of Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard.
The league hasn't been short on offering astonishing floor generals for a long time.
While Paul has been accepted as the league's best point guard for at least the past five years (all footage from his 2008-09 campaign, in which he averaged 22.8 points, 11.0 assists, 5.5 rebounds, 2.8 steals with a 50.3 field-goal percentage, 36.4 three-point and 86.8 free throw), belongs in a heavily guarded museum), it's Parker who has supplanted him as the game's best.
Parker is in his 12th postseason as the starting point guard for the Spurs. In March of 2010, he broke his hand, thrusting George Hill into the starting lineup for eight of San Antonio's 10 playoff games. Parker still came off the bench to average 17.3 points in 33.5 minutes despite straining a tendon in his right foot during the regular season finale.
He has been sublime this postseason in posting insane numbers and showing off the various ways he can succeed against the best defenses in the league.
Against the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference Finals, Parker went from being a scoring blur to playmaking craftsman in the blink of an eye, as if he adapted to Memphis' adjustments before they had a chance to execute them on the court. He averaged 24.5 points, 9.5 assists and 2.0 steals, shooting 53.2 percent from the floor.
So far this postseason, Parker is ninth in total minutes, third in points, second in assists, eighth in PER, fifth in usage percentage and fourth in win shares.
Most of these numbers are an accumulated tally, which seems unfair being that he has played more games than most other players in this year's playoffs, but isn't that the point? That he's played more games? That he's been crucial in helping his team advance in every round?
No matter how well he plays, Paul will always be in his way. Reputations are hard to shake loose once they're hardened in the NBA, and Paul being the league's best point guard is a perfect example.
Here's how Parker and Paul stacked up for the 2012-13 season. Being that they're the best players on their respective teams, group success is factored in.
Tony Parker: 66 starts, 32.9 minutes, 20.3 points, 7.6 assists, 3.0 rebounds, 5.0 free-throw attempts, 23.10 PER, 27.7 Usage Percentage, shooting split of 52.2 FG%, 35.3 3P% and 84.5 FT%, 9.3 Win Shares, Second Team All-NBA, All-Star.
Chris Paul: 70 starts, 33.4 minutes, 16.9 points, 9.7 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 4.6 free-throw attempts, 26.4 PER, 22.6 Usage Percentage, shooting splits of 48.1 FG%, 32.8 3P% and 88.5 FT%, 13.9 Win Shares, First Team All-NBA, All-Star.
On their way to winning the Pacific Division, the Los Angeles Clippers finished the regular season at 56-26, but fell in six games to the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round.
San Antonio went 58-24 in the regular season, winning the Southwest Division, then losing just two of 14 playoff games before reaching the NBA Finals.
Paul is a remarkable basketball player and one of the all-time great conductors of an NBA offense. He also happens to be one of the most feared late-game shot-takers in league history, an absolute stud with the game on the line and the ball in his hands.
He can get off just about any shot he wants. In Game 2 of Los Angeles' slugfest against Memphis, Paul sunk a game-winning floater that held an unfathomable degree of difficulty. But as great as Paul is, we're now eight seasons into his career and his postseason failures can't be overlooked any longer.
When he was a member of the New Orleans Hornets, anyone arguing for Paul as the best point guard would say he lifted his team higher than it deserved to go each year. But that point gets weaker as the talent around him gets better and his postseason narrative stays the same.
Paul is nowhere near the reason his teams haven't had success in the playoffs, but when tabbing a player as the absolute best, his team's performance must eventually be accounted for as well.
Let's compare the two some more in looking at who creates more problems for the defense.
Paul's spent the last two seasons in cruise control, going entire quarters setting up teammates as opposed to looking for his own shot, depending a bit too much on the elbow jumper (which, admittedly is automatic) and passing up open three-pointers.
Parker is relentless with the ball. Whenever a high screen comes, the roll man's defender panics, knowing that if he's out of position, Parker will beeline straight toward the rim or pull up for an open jumper.
Let's look at these two pick-and-rolls from Game 2 in Miami, with Parker being guarded by the best perimeter defender in the league, LeBron James, in both.
As soon as he sees James go below Duncan's screen, Parker confidently pulls up and drains the open jumper.
On the next possession, San Antonio sets up a side pick-and-roll in the same place. James goes underneath again, but gets knocked off balance by Duncan's screen. Parker sees a sliver of an opening and attacks it, scoring on a layup about a half-second later.
San Antonio's entire offense right now is geared towards putting Parker in positions to succeed, whether it be with a high or side screen-and-roll, or running him along the baseline through two picks to catch a pass and attack the basket.
Could Paul do this? Maybe, but he doesn't.
Paul treats the game like a mother on Thanksgiving who is responsible for cooking the feast, setting the table and making sure everyone has a good time. All his duties are exhausting. On the other hand, Parker likes to show up, smile and then proceed to stuff his face.
Much more is to take place in the future, but looking back on this era 25 years down the road, it's going to be extremely difficult to say any point guard was better than Tony Parker.
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