Five points. 22.8 seconds.
The San Antonio Spurs were that close to the 2013 NBA Championship.
But the storybook ending occurred for the other team. The lead—one whose guarantee of victory was so certain that the championship trophy was wheeled to the sideline—was squandered. A Miami Heat miracle led to an overtime, a Game 6 win and, eventually, the championship after an equally exciting and disappointing Game 7.
Yeah, they were that close to the coveted fifth title. And Tony Parker was that close to finishing his incredible, MVP-caliber campaign on a high note.
But the questions regarding whether the championship window was still open became frequent, and the vast majority agreed that the Spurs had let their final opportunity slip away.
However, as long as Tony Parker sticks to the following checklist, the team will have another shot at glory, come playoff time.
Continue Attacking the Basket
Tony Parker excels in just about every statistical category. He scores with the best of them, and you'd be remiss to ignore his apparent distributing prowess.
However, while it is abundantly clear that he's a capable scorer and passer, it's also easy to see that he is not the best—statistically speaking, that is—in either field.
So how can one make the argument for Parker as a potential MVP candidate and the best point guard in the league?
While his scoring totals may remain below a handful of other point guards, Parker did indeed rank first at his respective position in one category—field-goal percentage. Parker, a 6'2'' point guard, scored with the efficiency of a big man who rarely leaves the paint on offense.
The low-percentage shots that guards take, as compared to their taller teammates, are reflected in just about every point guard's percentage. Every point guard, that is, other than Parker.
His season average of 52.2 percent ranked well above anyone else—he was the only one at his position to make more than he missed.
The primary reason for this would be Parker's tendency to take it to the rim. His remarkable finishing ability made him a threat from inside, more so than when he lingered around the perimeter or the elbow.
He should by no means abandon his mid-range jumper. It's beyond effective and a necessary facet of his game. But Parker should always look to go inside when given the opportunity.
Despite his lack of athleticism—compared to other league-leading talents like Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook—Parker is perhaps the league's biggest guard threat inside. When he shoots, he scores. When he doesn't score, it's likely because he passed it to a teammate who added two or three points to his own total.
Parker is a unique talent, and the Spurs—whose philosophy is predicated on efficiency—are blessed with the league's most efficient guard.
As long as he continues to look for high-percentage shots inside, he'll remain an offensive juggernaut and a nightmare for opposing defenses.
Don't Shy Away From an Increased Role...
After another age-defying season of excellence, it doesn't appear as though Tim Duncan is ready to renounce his superstar status yet. That said, the 37-year-old's playing time will be strictly monitored.
A diminishing role from Duncan's end spells an increasing one from the team's other star—Parker.
For years, Parker played in Duncan's shadow. Even though Parker was still an above-average point guard, there was no disputing that it was Duncan's team.
Recently, Parker has enjoyed a share of the spotlight, though it was still unclear as to whose team it was. Parker's MVP-caliber year in 2012-13 was matched by an All-NBA First Team appearance by Duncan.
But in 2013-14, there will be little debate: The Spurs will be Parker's team.
That, however, is both an honor and a responsibility. He's undoubtedly ready to be the team's focal point, but he has to understand how much more important it is now that Duncan is his sidekick and no longer his equal partner.
As a player who has commanded the role of "distributer" for the majority of his career, Parker's ego may be too small to put himself on a pedestal over his teammates. However, it is imperative that he steps up and accepts his newfound responsibility.
He'll need to be the one to take the last shot, just as he'll be the one to take over when the team needs a jump start.
San Antonio's success now relies heavily on Parker, and he must not shy away from the spotlight now that it will be pointed primarily toward him.
...But Continue to Utilize Your Assets
The growing stardom must not inflate Parker's ego too much. While he should expect a larger role, he'll need to continue to work alongside the team's myriad of other contributors in addition to his individual responsibilities.
After all, Parker's situation is different from that of, say, Kobe Bryant, whose assets are limited. San Antonio has a long list of talented contributors, and while Parker will certainly headline it, his name won't mark its end.
For starters, Duncan will still be a top big man when given playing time.
He'll likely see less than 30 minutes per game, but when he is in, he'll work in tandem with Parker to constitute one of the league's most dynamic one-two punches.
Parker must also aid in the development of Kawhi Leonard. Increasing the small forward's role will be crucial to the team's future in addition to its present.
He has displayed a defensive prowess, and his offensive game isn't too shabby. Parker must actively seek out the team's third-year star, as Leonard provides the team with athleticism that isn't very common.
It will also fall upon Parker's shoulders to continue the ball-movement philosophy that has helped three-point threats like Danny Green emerge as stars. With Green and Marco Belinelli among others, he must work to draw double-teams that will open up space for the team's top shooters.
Even Tiago Splitter must continue to be utilized, as he can easily slip back into his bumbling ways when not actively involved.
It will be imperative to the team's success that Parker succeeds on an individual level, but he'll need to continue to spread the ball around if the Spurs truly intend to make another title run.
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