It was a simple question asked of Tony Parker back on media day when the Spurs opened training camp.
How do you follow the best season of your career?
“By doing it again,” he replied with that twinkle in his eyes.
One of those eyes, of course, was reason for concern after being hit with the sliver of glass during the infamous New York bar fight involving Drake and Chris Brown.
There was also fretting over whether he’d suffer a post-Olympic letdown and the natural inclination to wonder if the physically smallest member of the Spurs’ Big Three could continue to carry the load night after night.
No need to wonder any longer.
On the first three games of the Spurs’ Eastern road trip, Parker has put up 26, 33 and 32 points and has rediscovered the spark from last season.
The solution was basic: putting the ball into the basket. Through the first 11 games of the season, Parker had been getting his usual penetration into the lane and launching his regular share of his trademark teardrop shot. But many of those shorts just were not falling. Parker made only half his field goal attempts once in those first 11 games.
But over the past three, Parker’s range-finder has been dialed in as he’s hit 14-for-27, 15-for-23 and 12-for-17 in beating Boston, Indiana and Toronto.
This is the continuation of the Spurs’ metamorphosis from an offense build around Tim Duncan’s low-post presence into an attack that flows off Parker’s raw speed, ability to get into the lane and spread the ball around to his open teammates in transition.
It is a transformation that is necessary not only from a calendar point of view — notwithstanding the ageless performance of the 36-year-old Duncan — but to keep the Spurs evolving and moving forward in an era when the defending champions in Miami play a full-court game with five undefined positions. It is a style that minimizes the wear-and-tear on Duncan and maximizes the skill of Parker and even has all the faith of his career-long antagonist, coach Gregg Popovich.
“Absolutely. He knows what we expect out of him,” Popovich said.”
It is never going to be politically correct to call them Tony’s Team as long as the tent post Duncan is holding up the roof on the entire show. Parker is now the ringmaster more than ever and that means any bumps in the road will be attributed to him.
While it might have been easy to conclude that Parker was performing at a level below a year ago at the start of the season, there were other considerations. San Antonio’s top two forwards, Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Jackson, are sidelined due to ailments and fire-starter Manu Ginobili has struggled to find any kind of consistent rhythm since opening season on the injured list with a back problem. Parker, quite plainly, had fewer options at his disposal at the point.
In the last three games, it seems he has taken it upon himself to go on the attack and not let up. Parker not only played 46 minutes in the Spurs’ double-overtime win at Toronto on Sunday, but ultimately seized control of a game that was up for grabs. He got all the way to the hoop for a pair of layups in the first OT and then knocked down a couple of pull-up jumpers in the second OT that finished off the Raptors.
Just like that, the numbers are back to the level of last season’s superlatives and his assist percentage and assist/turnover rate are at a career best.
So never mind the fretting or the wondering. It’s a simple answer.
How does Tony Parker follow the best season of his career?
Just like this.