Is Tony Parker the Most Under-Appreciated Star in the NBA?

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistMay 29, 2013

There's been no stopping Tony Parker in the 2013 playoffs.
There's been no stopping Tony Parker in the 2013 playoffs.Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to Tony Parker, fast don't lie.

The longtime San Antonio Spurs floor general isn't flashy like Russell Westbrook or Kyrie Irving; you won't see him starring in Uncle Drew commercials anytime soon.

Instead, in true Spurs fashion, he'll just keep on keeping on as one of the most under-appreciated stars in the NBA.

His quickness, on full display throughout the 2013 playoffs, is what makes him elite. Despite being on the wrong side of 30, Parker remains one of the fastest players in the league.

In fact, Parker may be the NBA's fastest point guard, at least based on one measure. He ran 20.9 miles an hour during a stretch of in-game sprinting in the 2011-12 season, according to data recorded by STATS LLC cameras (as reported by Zach Lowe for Sports Illustrated). Ricky Rubio, the next closest point guard, topped out at 19.4 miles per hour.

As he repeatedly proved during the 2013 Western Conference Finals, that speed can be a lethal weapon for San Antonio. He's able to slip behind screens and get wide-open looks for mid-range jumpers before defenders even know what hit them.

That's basketball at its most fundamental level. 

And yet, since Parker tends to do his damage via backdoor layups and pick-and-roll jumpers instead of crossovers and behind-the-back passes, he's often left out in discussions of the NBA's top two or three point guards. I'm just as guilty as anyone of that wrongful neglect.

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The 2013 playoffs should be a wake-up call, though; Parker's as good as they get in the Association.

It's easy to forget this now, but the Spurs point guard was playing at an MVP-caliber level before spraining his ankle against the Sacramento Kings on March 1. He averaged a ridiculous 26.1 points, 8.3 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game in February, helping the Spurs keep pace with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the best record in the Western Conference.

Parker's ankle sprain, which sidelined him for three weeks, largely ended his MVP buzz. It also cast doubt upon the Spurs' chances of advancing deep into the 2013 playoffs despite their sterling regular-season record.

Two months later, the Spurs booked their fifth trip to the NBA Finals since 1999, in no small part due to Parker's on-court brilliance. He went from recording a playoff career-high 18 assists against the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals to lighting up the scoreboard with 37 points on 15-of-21 shooting two games later.

The Grizzlies touted the league's second-best defense throughout the regular season, but it was no match for Parker's dribble penetration in the playoffs.

The Frenchman's phenomenal play against Memphis spurred all sorts of hyperbolic declarations from basketball observers. After watching Parker's Game 4 performance, Jalen Rose tweeted that Parker ranks behind only LeBron James and Kevin Durant as the third-base player in the league.

As explained by Bleacher Report's Dan Favale, bestowing that title onto Parker "borders on unfounded and, quite honestly, ruins what Parker has been able to accomplish."

There's no need to resort to hyperbole when discussing Parker and his 2013 playoff run. He's been operating with the kind of surgical precision that only comes with years of experience.

Manu Ginobili calls it "corporate knowledge," according to ESPN.com's J.A. Adande. The Spurs' core of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili has been together for a full decade at this point, giving them the requisite confidence at the end of close games.

That all starts with Parker. He's the one able to correctly diagnose a defense and know exactly what to do in response.

There's a reason he's one of the five active players with at least three championship rings to his name, along with Duncan, Ginobili, Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher. He's one of only three active players to have won at least three titles and a Finals MVP award (in 2007).

Would Parker have been able to rack up those accomplishments without Duncan and Gregg Popovich by his side throughout this career?

There's simply no telling, but it doesn't matter one bit. As Duncan and Ginobili enter the twilight of their careers, Parker has taken on a more prominent role with the Spurs. 

That on-court responsibility hasn't led to a wave of off-court popularity for Parker, but the Spurs wouldn't have it any other way. They've long been the most under-the-radar elite team in the league. 

While the Miami Heat hold rallies to predict the number of championships they'll win, the Spurs "shroud themselves in camouflage," in the words of HoopSpeak's Ethan Sherwood Strauss.

There's no hiding for Parker anymore. The grandest stage of all, the 2013 NBA Finals, awaits.


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