One of the cool things about writing for SB Nation is you get to meet and work with really cool people from all different walks of life. We’ve all got our teams and that makes us unique, but we’re all basketball fans at heart and that makes us like unified and stuff.
So when Nick posted in our Slack a few days ago about reaching out to someone on our Spurs sister site, Pounding the Rock, to get the lowdown on Charlotte’s newest backup point guard Tony Parker, I jumped at the opportunity because one of my favorite dudes in the industry, Matt Geovanny, writes for them. If it feels very Pawn Stars-y that’s because it IS just like Pawn Stars and I am Rick Harrison in this scenario. Anyway, we as basketball fans know all about Tony Parker but Matt and the guys at Pounding the Rock really know Tony Parker. Here’s Matt and I’s talk about what to expect from Charlotte’s newest Hornet.
1) So the Hornets have not had a reliable backup point guard since Jeremy Lin. Are they getting that with Tony Parker?
Despite the love that Spurs Nation has for Tony, now and always, it was difficult to us deny how poorly he played last season. After Coach Pop decided to hand the reigns over to Dejounte Murray, Tony failed to seamlessly transition into the backup point guard role despite getting to play alongside Patty Mills and fellow Big Three member Manu Ginobili. He never quite found his footing in his new role, posting career lows across the board.
That being said, one must take into account the fact that Tony was returning to the court for his 17th season at age 35 drastically sooner than expected after suffering a ruptured left quadriceps tendon. We’re talking about a 6-month recovery for a devastating injury, so despite all the rest prescribed by Dr. Popovich, expecting Tony to return to his old form was not a realistic ask.
I think Tony heads into this season with a chip on his shoulder, especially after the Spurs effectively told him his role, had he returned, would’ve been reduced to that of a glorified assistant coach. He’ll be a year removed from injury and will be coming off a restful summer with new digs and renewed purpose. I’d be surprised if Tony Parker is anything less than a reliable backup. He’s out to prove he’s still got it, and I think there’s more left in the tank than the Spurs gave him credit for.
2) How concerned should we be about Parker’s age? Should we go ahead and assume he’s going to miss a decent number of games either due to injury or because he rests?
Parker’s played over 70 regular season games just once in past five seasons (72 during the 2015-2016 campaign), and while some of that is attributable to Coach Pop playing it safe, Tony’s been known to sit out a few games here and there thanks to minor, nagging injuries. However, I would expect this season to play out much differently. James Borrego might be a disciple of Gregg Popovich, but he is not the man himself, and I don’t expect he’ll give Tony as many nights off as he’s been used to in recent years. And due to the aforementioned chip on his shoulder, I doubt Tony will want to sit out over a dozen contests. You can’t build a rapport with your new teammates while being sidelined every other night, and so I think Tony’s age and (fingers crossed) injury history shouldn’t worry Hornets fans too much.
3) For his career, Parker is a 32.6 percent 3-point shooter but from 2013-16, his percentage was solid and even about 40 percent for two years straight. What was different about those years, and can he be expected to replicate it again?
One of the seasons you’re referring to is the 2014-2015 season, which was the final rendition of the “Beautiful Game” Spurs which saw them fighting through injuries all season to defend their title, only to end up the sixth seed and bow out to the Clippers in as epic a first round series as you’ll ever see. That Spurs team was still a well-oiled machine offense, resulting in numerous open shots on seemingly every possession, which I’m sure contributed to Tony’s career-high 42.7 percent 3-point shooting.
The following season, when Parker shot 41.5 percent from distance, was LaMarcus Aldridge’s inaugural season in San Antonio in which the Spurs won a franchise record 67 games and still wound up as the second seed in the West thanks to the 73-win Warriors.
Can that shooting success be replicated? I think that’s largely dependent on amount of ball-movement and also how much attention his Hornets teammates can draw away from him at the 3-point line. But some of the onus will fall on Tony this offseason as well. Unlike last year, Parker’s heading into the season knowing he’ll be the backup point guard, and so he needs to tailor his game accordingly and work on adding a more reliable 3-point shot to his arsenal now that both his ability and responsibility to be a dynamic playmaker are no longer factors. If that’s a priority for him, then Parker should be more reliable spot-up shooter this year.
4) How well will Parker fit next to a guy like Malik Monk, who’s going to take a lot of shots from deep and likely instigate a lot of offense from the bench?
Tony Parker has turned in a Hall of Fame career playing alongside Manu Ginobili, aka The Demon Blade, who happens to take a lot of shots from deep and instigate offense from the bench. Patty Mills is much the same way, although he’s not quite the playmaking catalyst that Manu has been, or Malik Monk is capable of being. Some of the Spurs’ best lineups prior to Tony’s injury in last year’s Western Conference Semifinals included Tony Parker and Patty Mills sharing a backcourt. Parker doesn’t always need the ball in his hands to be effective, and at this point in his career he should benefit greatly playing alongside Monk, who can take some of the playmaking pressures off of him.
5) What about his relationship with Nicolas Batum? They are obviously close, could they bring out more from each other?
Parker’s friendship with fellow countryman Nicolas Batum was clearly a major factor in the Wee Frenchman opting to play in Charlotte, and while I can’t guarantee Tony will once again play like a Finals MVP or that Batum will suddenly produce at a rate equivalent to the $24 million he’s being paid, there is something to be said about going to battle with those you consider family. Boris Diaw and Tony Parker played four seasons together in San Antonio, and their off-court friendship resulted in mesmerizing displays of basketball chemistry on the court. They won’t make each other All-Stars, but Batum and Parker will almost always be on the same page next season, and even a minuscule impact in that regard can go a long way towards affecting the Hornets locker room, their in-game decision making, and their win/loss column.
6) Finally, let me preface this question by saying that Matt, you and I are friends and I only want the best for you, be it in basketball and in life. And I know you may not want to answer this but how will it feel watching Parker play for another team this season? Also bonus question that I take absolutely no joy in asking, how does it feel watching the Spurs crumble from within like the Roman Empire (okay I lied, I did kinda enjoy that sorry man)
Tony Parker leaving the Spurs still feels surreal to me, and even now the realization that he’s gone hasn’t quite set in. Like maybe if I turn on my TV in October I’ll see him there on the bench with Manu, waiting to check in and run our second-unit. Since I was 8-years-old he’s been the starting point guard for my favorite team, and we Spurs fans have never had to see a member of the Big Three suit up for another franchise. So this season will feel very different, and I can’t say I’m looking forward to those first highlights of him in a Hornets jersey.
But I also wish nothing but the best for him in Charlotte. I hope he thrives in his new role on his new team, and that he proves to the basketball world that he still has something left in the tank. The Spurs have outlasted countless dynasties in their 20-year run. None of those teams, from the Kobe-Shaq Lakers, to the Dirk-Mavericks, to the Big Three Miami Heat, built a reign that lasted as long as the Spurs’ did. Those teams were a flash in the pan compared to the classy yet boring franchise from southwest Texas which had become synonymous with “death and taxes.” It’s only fitting that the one team that which was finally able to dismantle the Spurs was…the Spurs. That was the only way this was going to happen. From within. The San Antonio Spurs withstood twenty years of legendary players and teams, but were ultimately done in by a quiet kid from California and his uncle. How’s that for a storybook ending.