The San Antonio Spurs are off to a flying start as we reach the midway point of the 2010-2011 NBA season. One of the players largely responsible for San Antonio's great success thus far has been point guard Tony Parker, who has improved his all-around game this year and is enjoying one of the better seasons of his highly successful NBA career.
The Frenchman has taken on more of the offensive load this year, as the Spurs' offense has shifted from being heavily reliant on world class power forward Tim Duncan. San Antonio has opened things up on the perimeter, meaning more chances for Parker and shooting guard Manu Ginobili to make plays, and it's paid big dividends.
San Antonio's sterling 37-7 record can't be outright contributed to one player, but it's always fun to make the case for a great team's most valuable player. Is it Tony Parker's turn to stand out as The Man in San Antonio? I'll weigh both sides of the debate and try to come up with an MVP for the NBA's best team.
The Spurs have put up the fourth-most assists in the NBA at this point in the season, and Parker is their leading assist man, averaging 6.9 a game. He has the ball in his hands the most on offense, and his distribution has been a big part of why the Spurs have enjoyed such a breakthrough offensive year. Parker has also avoided turning the ball over in bunches, as his assist to turnover ratio is a strong 2.7 on the season.
His scoring is obviously a big part of the San Antonio offense, but Parker's court vision and ability to get the ball to teammates in scoring positions is what best makes his case for team MVP.
Manu Ginobili has forever been the Spurs' biggest weapon off the bench, entering games and providing scoring in bunches from the two guard spot. This season, he's changed roles a bit, as he's started all 44 of the Spurs' games thus far this year, and has had what I'd consider the biggest impact on San Antonio's success.
He leads the team in scoring with 18.5 points per game, and has teamed with Parker to make the Spurs' back court a consistent perimeter threat. While Parker has done a great job running the offense, Ginobili has become the must-stop player for opposing teams. His great play has pulled double teams away form Tim Duncan on the inside and to me, he's got a very strong case for Spurs MVP.
One of the big improvements in Parker's game has been his efficiency in shot selection and his shooting in general. He's currently enjoying the highest field goal percentage he's had since the 2006-2007 season, at .519 percent from the field. And it's not due to an increase in his shooting, as he's only averaging around 14 shots a game, which is right in line with his career averages.
He's also shot the ball much better from beyond the arc, as he's currently knocking down threes at a 34 percent rate. That would be the second highest percentage of his career if the season ended today, trailing only that '06-'07 season.
His efficiency from the field is a big reason why the Spurs' offense has been so productive, and a big part reason why Parker has become a leader of the offense this year.
The Spurs' attack on offense has been so level throughout the season that it almost seems unfair to try and select a single most valuable player on their team. Much of the talk has focused on Parker's strong season, as well as Ginobili's positive reception to a full-time starting role.
But there is still Tim Duncan, ever present in the paint and still plugging along with his 13 points and almost 10 rebounds a game. San Antonio has also gotten a much better year out of veteran swingman Richard Jefferson, and reserve guards George Hill and Gary Neal have had big impacts coming in off the bench.
Simply put, Tony Parker is hard to point to as the MVP because there are so many players making a difference for the Spurs. If he was being asked to carry a big load on offense and was ultimately delivering big points per game as well as still dishing out passes left and right, the case would be simpler. But San Antonio is such a team-driven machine that it's hard to pick one guy.
Last season was one marred by injury for Parker, as he only played 56 games and an average of 30 minutes per game. That was the second-lowest amount of time on the court per game for Parker, the second-lowest save for his rookie season all the way back in 2001-2002.
This year, though, Parker has been on the court for 33 minutes a game and has held up well throughout the first half of the season. He's avoided the injury bug, which has been a big reason why the Spurs have been so successful: they're extremely healthy.
Durability is a desirable quality in the NBA, and Parker has got it back in 2010-2011, another reason why he's arguably the Spurs' biggest leader at this point.
Tony Parker has found a solid backcourt supporter in the unheralded George Hill, who was a nobody coming out of IUPUI but has found himself a successful NBA reserve. It's a blessing for the Spurs to have another point guard capable of posting 11 points a game off the bench, while also continuing to distribute the ball and harass opposing guards.
Hill's emergence for the Spurs is a huge boost to Parker, who can get needed rest on occasion and not be forced into carrying a huge load of playing time and productivity night in and night out. This sense of comfort brought about by Hill has both helped Parker's game, but also should take away somewhat from his status as the team's MVP. It means Parker isn't on an island, and therefore lends some credence to the idea that point guards have a clear path to success in the San Antonio offense, not just Parker.
Opposing point guards have had mixed success all season long against San Antonio, and a big part of that is Tony Parker's strong defense. Yes, point guards have averaged 20 points a game against the Spurs, but they've also turned the ball over about four times a game while being held to an average of .411 percent shooting from the field.
That's a big check mark in Tony Parker's corner in terms of his ability to disrupt the offensive games of his opposing playmakers. And it's another reason to consider the guard for team MVP honors.
In the past, Parker has had spurts of elite level play that have made him seem like one of the game's best point guards and a player capable of carrying an offense. He would balance those types of stretches out, however, with slumps where his shooting and production would drop off and he'd be less of a factor in the Spurs' attack.
In '10-'11 he's avoided these type of stretches, which is a main reason why he's in the conversation for the team's MVP distinction. But it seems like something that could remain right around the corner, as he's becoming more and more of a focus for opposing teams' defenses. If he gets into a slump, the onus still will fall to Tim Duncan on the inside, plus the outside shooting of Ginobili and others.
It's not directly basketball related, but Tony Parker has had to deal with the very high profile divorce he's going through with his celebrity ex-wife Eva Longoria, which has dominated the tabloid pages and kicked up accusations of marital infidelity and other unsavory things. This has swirled around Parker since basically the beginning of the season, but he's managed to get through all the difficulties he's run into in his personal life and re-dedicate himself to his job.
He has played his best games thanks to a renewed focus on the sport, and that's a big change for a player that's well known by many Americans for his marriage, not as much his athletic endeavors.
Parker and the Spurs have been in big games, NBA title games, huge must-win playoff games, etc. They seem destined to play more big games as this year goes on thanks to their NBA-best record.
But I still don't think Tony Parker is their go-to guy in crunch time of a big game, despite his great season here in 2010-2011. He's been great at picking the right shots and finding the open man, but when the game is on the line, I think plays are ultimately drawn up for Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili before Parker.
Duncan is still a high quality post player despite being at the tail end of his career. Ginobili is a sniper capable of getting red hot from distance. Parker is well-rounded, but I don't think he's the go to guy. It's hard to name him team MVP when the close-and-late plays are going elsewhere in San Antonio, which they might come playoff time.
Tony Parker is a great player enjoying a great season on a team that leads the NBA and is destined for a playoff run. But I think ultimately he falls a bit short of the team's MVP distinction because of the breakout campaign being enjoyed by Manu Ginobili this year, as well as the other reasons I went over.
He's done a great job distancing himself from the distractions that may have surrounded his year, and he's excelled in shooting efficiency and distribution.
But Manu has had a bigger effect on the Spurs offense, which has become more and more reliant on strong play from the perimeter guards as Tim Duncan has aged.
The Spurs still boast of a Big Three, but this year, so far it's been Ginobili who has been the biggest of the three.