Tony Parker Might Be The Most Overlooked Superstar Of This Era

Seeing as Hollywood has been out of original ideas for the last five or six years, I wonder if I could get a script green-lighted for a uniquely re-imagined Aesop’s Fable.

It’s the old one about the tortoise and the hare… except the tortoise in this story runs faster than that hare and just about anything else that lives in the forest.

Or I could take the bones of that idea and turn it into the biopic of Tony Parker — the NBA speedster who slowly eased on by each of his rivals until there was no one left to challenge his status as the best point guard of his era.

Twelve years, three NBA championships, one Finals MVP and five All-Star nods into his career as the on-court maestro of the San Antonio Spurs dynasty, Parker is only now beginning to be recognized as the Hall of Fame player he has been for the better part of the 21st century. He is only now beginning to get his due as a leading contender in a race he’s been winning for a long time.

Last night Parker put up 28 points and seven assists to lift the Spurs over the Lakers in Game 2 of their Western Conference First Round series. Despite playing with a banged-up ankle, neck and back, Parker slithered and slashed through L.A.’s defense — including longtime rival Steve Nash — for unorthodox layups and textbook floaters, and simple passes that lead to easy San Antonio buckets. And he didn’t commit a single turnover in the process. When the Lakers were clinging to one last gasp of life with five minutes to play in the fourth quarter, Parker scored nine in a row to pull the plug and put L.A. in what looks like an insurmountable 2-0 series deficit.

And you know what? Wednesday’s gem doesn’t even crack Parker’s top-10 list of playoff performances. For a man whose clutch scoring and playmaking ability has netted three title rings and a Finals MVP trophy at just 30 years old, Parker has done better than ripping up a two-time league MVP in a first-round game.
Those who are just starting to get the picture may not realize it, but as good as Tony Parker was on Wednesday, he has been better. And he will be better, because he is right in the middle of his prime.

Parker averaged 20.3 points and 7.6 assists this past regular season while shooting 52.2 percent from the field, just shy of his career-highs in all three categories. He shot a career-high 84.5 percent from the
free throw line. And while those numbers aren’t huge leaps from his career averages (17.1 ppg, 6.0 apg, 49 percent FG, 74 percent FT), for the first time in Parker’s career they were good enough to earn him prime real estate at the NBA’s royal table.

Remember, before injuries forced him out of the lineup for a stretch in March — and before LeBron James lead the Heat on a 27-game win streak around the same time — Parker’s name was heavy in the discussion for this season’s Most Valuable Player award.

During the same season in which Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose were lost to injury; in which Deron Williams disappeared for weeks at a time; in which Chris Paul started red-hot before leveling off; in which Jason Kidd finally started to look (and play) his age; in which Nash was exposed as a system player (really, how many Lakers did Nash make better? Earl Clark?); in which Jeremy Lin slipped into sanity; in which Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving and John Wall were still scratching the surface… Parker did what he always does. He maintained a consistent level of excellence that has put his team in the thick of the championship race.

No point guard has had a better year — except maybe Russell Westbrook — and this might not have been Parker’s best year.

Keep reading to hear why we consistently forget about Parker…

So how can one player be so good for so long in so many victories in so many big-stage moments and still be underrated a dozen years into his career? Oddly enough, Parker’s legacy has suffered mostly because of his good luck.

Because he was drafted onto a team that already had Tim Duncan and David Robinson — that had already won a championship two years before he arrived and would win another title two years later when he was just coming into his own — Parker was never seen as a stand-alone star.
He didn’t take over a lottery team and turn them into a contender, like Rose did in Chicago or Paul did in New Orleans and L.A. He didn’t swoop into town and quarterback a revolutionary offense that reinvigorated a franchise, like Nash in Phoenix or Kidd in New Jersey. He didn’t ravage box scores like Rondo or put together AND1-worthy highlight reels like D-Will.

Because Duncan was great before he met Parker, and Manu Ginobili was great even when Parker was on the bench, and Robert Horry is Robert Horry on every team he’s ever played on, and Bruce Bowen‘s defense overshadowed whatever offense he brought to the Spurs, Parker has never been given enough (if any) credit for making his teammates better. Instead, he has spent most of his career labeled as a good player who benefitted greatly from playing alongside Duncan and Ginobili while playing for Gregg Popovich.

Parker has been underrated because he has had great teammates and a great coach. Never mind the fact that all of his ring-bearing peers — from Kobe Bryant to Dwyane Wade to Paul Pierce to Dirk Nowitzki — would be significantly less heavy-handed without great teammates and great coaches.

So then why are those champions elevated to icon status while Parker has been demoted to sidekick for so long?

Half of it can be credited to Duncan’s impenetrable (and well-earned) reputation as the alpha and omega of the Spurs during Parker’s career. The other half is split between the ridiculous reputation the Spurs have for being a “boring” team, and Parker’s efficiently consistent style and stat lines.

When there is less flash than substance in an athlete’s repertoire, as well as nothing substantial to dispute his track record for winning, an easy place to turn is devaluing his accomplishments because he plays for a well-built, well-coached team. That’s how it is for Derek Jeter and Jimmie Johnson. That’s how it was for Emmitt Smith and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

All those athletes have done is win. Tony Parker is one of them. Maybe one of these days the world will figure out that isn’t common company to keep.

Do you believe Tony Parker is underrated?

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