It's often said that Tony Parker is a system point guard, thriving as a result of being in a situation with the San Antonio Spurs that maximizes his productivity and effectiveness. It is also often stated that San Antonio has reached its recent level of prosperity as a result of Parker's excellence at the point guard position.
Either way, it's mutually agreed upon that the Tony Parker-San Antonio Spurs pairing is among the league's most successful.
But as San Antonio prepares to shift into a new chapter of its history, it becomes increasingly harder to pinpoint expectations for Parker, who is not distinctly on either side of the transition.
Though Tim Duncan is expected to—likely—go out with a bang, while fans anticipate fourth-year Kawhi Leonard's continued rise to stardom, Parker—arguably the team's top talent—is far more of an X-Factor than ever before.
Much of what makes Parker so great doesn't show up on the stat sheet, and in an era where statistical analysis is reaching new heights, San Antonio's floor general has fallen by the wayside.
In any offense, the point guard is arguably the team's most important player. When he's also the most talented, then there's little room for debate.
Though the roster boasts a handful of qualified alpha dogs, Parker—as the floor leader—has emerged as the squad's frontman, possessing the leadership qualities and basketball acumen necessary to motivate, shepherd and in some cases carry the rest of the team.
In 2014-15, excellence in the intangible department will be expected from Parker, who has fulfilled his duties as team leader admirably since receiving the torch from Tim Duncan a few seasons back. With the offense running through him, Parker will need to set the tone for the season early on, re-establishing San Antonio as the team with the best ball movement and overall chemistry.
He'll also find himself as the lead architect in the clutch, and while San Antonio has its fair share of end-of-the-clock plays that highlight other stars—a Duncan jumper from the elbow is a team favorite, as we've seen against both the Clippers and the Hawks—Parker carries significant weight in the closing moments of key games. Whether in designed plays or broken-down sets, he has emerged as a dependable option in the clutch and will need to emerge with a similar, if not improved, flair at the end of games.
Overall, Parker will again step into two of the most important roles on a team: those of the point guard and the frontman.
Though the team will rely less and less on his production—the general trend with veterans in the Gregg Popovich system—don't expect to see the Spurs' dependability on his high IQ and leadership falter in any way, shape or form.
As the team readies itself for the next chapter in its history, an increased focus will fall on the next generation, namely Kawhi Leonard.
As a result, Parker—as we've seen in increasing amounts each year—will gradually slip further out of the spotlight even as he continues to serve as the Spurs' leader.
He's never been one to fall exclusively under a particular point guard label (i.e. pass-first vs. score-first) but will likely lean more toward the former, as Leonard takes on a greater scoring workload. Now, that's not to say Parker will disappear from the stat sheets entirely. If that were the case, then San Antonio's in for a long season. However, it would be misguided to suggest that he'll come anywhere close to replicating 2012-13's 20.3-point output.
Just last season his scoring average dropped to 16.7 on the year, his lowest since 2005. His assist average also dropped by nearly two dimes. But San Antonio didn't miss a beat, putting together a dominant regular season campaign and an even more impressive postseason run.
Should his minutes take another slight dip—last year he averaged less than 30 minutes of court time, a stat shared throughout the team—his production will slip even more.
And truthfully, that's okay.
The Spurs have so many offensive weapons at their disposal that the need for Parker to light up opponents pales in comparison to the roster's dependability on him as a leader.
Another slight statistical drop is expected and should do little to draw away from the high regard in which he is held.
That said, his efficiency cannot suffer. Consistently one of the highest-ranking point guards in field-goal percentage, part of what makes Parker great is his ability to thrive with limited opportunities. He'll need to remain shrewd when selecting shots and continue to use his unparalleled quickness to attack the paint.
However, aside from rare instances in which the team struggles to the point where they put Parker in one-on-one situations, the superstar will likely continue to sacrifice individual production for the success of the team.
Look for final averages hovering around 15 points per game and five assists in similar—sub-30 minutes—playing time.
Forget his role as the team leader. Forget the production that he'll provide the team.
What the Spurs need from Parker more than anything is the one thing that falls just beyond his control:
Recently, the 6'2'' Frenchman has dealt with his fair share of injuries, and in just about every situation San Antonio's supporting cast has stepped up to fill his role.
However, this year, with Patty Mills set to miss the majority of the regular season, Parker's well-being is of the utmost importance. Though Cory Joseph can certainly fill in for him on sporadic occasions, the lack of depth won't translate well in such a guard-oriented league.
But beyond that, it is absolutely essential that Parker enters the postseason 100 percent. Coming off a long year and entering his 14th season in the NBA, he's already at a disadvantage. Though there's little that he can consciously do to avoid injury, it's crucial that his minutes are continuously monitored.
Once the playoffs come around, the entire game changes. The need for Parker to take a greater scoring workload rises, and the Spurs' overall reliance on their star spikes.
In previous seasons, the Spurs' inability to enter the postseason at full energy has had consequences—e.g. Manu Ginobili's injury in 2011's matchup with Memphis or 2012, when they burned out against Oklahoma City after overworking themselves to maintain a winning streak to close out the regular season.
If nothing else, Parker needs to stay healthy throughout the regular season, so when the time comes for him to stand out in the playoffs, he's ready to take on the workload.