HANG TIME, Texas — It’s easy to get overlooked when you’re in San Antonio.
First of all, because coach Gregg Popovich doesn’t care about getting noticed and does everything but throw a wet blanket over his team and the entire Alamo. The only thing that matters is winning.
Second, well, there is no second.
So it is that Tony Parker can once more be incrementally taking his already lofty game up to higher level and somehow people complain that he didn’t merit inclusion on the Western Conference All-Star team.
Did those critics stop watching after the first two weeks of the season when Parker was struggling to find the range on his shot? Have they not been able to appreciate that while the Spurs have again risen steadily and relentlessly to the point where they have the best record in the NBA (36-11) going into tonight’s game against the Bobcats it’s been Parker with his hand on the tiller?
As noted by the wide-awake Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News:
Parker has been nothing short of spectacular since then, averaging 21.2 points on 54.2-percent shooting in over the past 39 games. He has scored in double-figures in every one of those outings, the longest streak of his career.
Reset the cutoff to his breakout game at Boston on Nov. 21 (26 points, 12-for-17 shooting), and Parker is shooting 55.7 percent over the past 35 outings.
Parker’s 2012-13 stats, with his career-highs in parenthesis:
–20.1 points per game, second (22.0, 2008-09).
–7.5 assists per game, second (7.7, 2011-12).
–52.7 field goal percentage, second (54.8, 2005-06).
–58.6 true shooting percentage, first.
–23.3 Player Efficiency Rating, second (23.4, 2008-09).
–116 offensive rating, first.
–.215 win shares per 48 minutes, first.
“He is unbelievable,” teammate Manu Ginobili told reporters in San Antonio after Parker scored 31 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter to beat the Suns. “He is in that point of his career where he is so confident. He is doing so good that he can relax a little bit in the first half then when we need him, he starts making those jumpers and takes over.”
The trouble is that Parker can’t seem to outrun the enduring image of the impetuous 19 year old who entered the league full of questions about his toughness even though he is now an impervious 30.
Through all the years and all the big games and all the playoff series, Parker fell into and accepted the role as Pop’s public whipping boy and perhaps that image has stuck to the bottom of his sneakers like a wad of discarded gum.
Maybe that is why when the MVP talk turns away from LeBron James or Kevin Durant and in the direction of a point guard this season, it is Chris Paul who gets mentioned instead of Parker.
Through three different championship runs, Tim Duncan has been rightly portrayed as the tentpole in the middle of the lineup that holds up the Spurs franchise. In so many late-games situations, when the crowds are roaring and the air is sucked out of the building, it has been Ginobili who played the role of bull-in-china-shop with whatever-it-takes style.
For more than nearly a decade, Parker took the reins of the offense and took the flak for whatever went wrong. He would take the verbal blasting from Pop in timeouts and then trot right back out of the huddle with the same bemused smile on his face.
Even when Parker finally stepped into the spotlight with a performance that got him named MVP of the 2007 NBA Finals — the only time in four championships the honor did not go to Duncan — the significance was diminished in some eyes because a young LeBron’s Cleveland team was simply no challenge in a 4-0 sweep.
But all of that has changed in recent seasons as Duncan (36) and Ginobili (35) have edged closer to the end of their careers and required more monitoring and a lessening of their minutes.
Popovich shifted more of the focus and the burden of the Spurs offense onto Parker, because he knew his point guard was capable of doing more. When Parker responded with the all-around best season of his career a year ago, Popovich said the team would expect more this time around and Parker never blinked.
“Over the last few years it is becoming my team and coach Pop is always challenging me to become the franchise player who closes games and makes good decisions with the ball offensively for myself and my teammates,” Parker said. “I always take to heart Pop’s challenges.”
The challenge rose just a bit more when an illness forced Popovich to miss the Spurs’ last three games and Duncan also sat out with a sore knee. In their absence, Parker had games of 24 points-13 assists, 23-10, 31-7 and shot 32 of 51 (.627) from the field.
It’s easy to get overlooked in San Antonio when you’re Tony Parker. But it shouldn’t be.