HANG TIME, Texas — The first inclination when you hear that Tony Parker will likely be back in the starting lineup tonight is to figure the Spurs’ offense will get a boost from their sparkplug point guard. He is, after all, their leading scorer, assist man and firecracker.
But the truth is that where Parker’s presence was felt most during the three weeks he was sidelined with a sprained left ankle was on defense. While our ace stat man John Schuhmann has noted that the Spurs have refocused in specific areas to get back to a top-three defensive ranking overall, the team has suffered at that end of the floor in his absence.
Look no further than a 136-106 thumping by Portland, a 107-83 loss at Minnesota (without Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard) and even allowing lowly Cleveland to cruise into San Antonio and make things far too interesting before losing 119-113.
As Schuhmann points out, the Spurs have concentrated more this season on contesting shots and that’s an area where Parker has shined, along with cutting off opponents’ penetration into the lane.
It was another good friend, the dapper Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News, who went into Parker’s individual numbers to show how critical he is to the defense.
He found that Parker’s minus 4.0 on/off total on defense (the amount of points the Spurs give up per 100 possessions when he’s on the court compared to off) is third-best on the Spurs, trailing Tiago Splitter (minus 6.8) and Leonard (minus 4.8) but ahead of Duncan (minus 3.5).
Also, opposing players register a 13.3 PER (15.0 is average) with a 43.5 effective field-goal percentage while matched up against Parker, according to 82games.com. For comparison’s sake, Memphis guard Tony Allen, widely considered one of the NBA’s top perimeter defenders, holds his opponents to a 13.6 PER on 51.6 eFG.
“Defensively, he’s been unnoticed, really, coach Gregg Popovich said while Parker was out. “But he’s done a hell of a job on that end of the floor guarding difficult players every night. His leadership has been very important to what we’ve done. I trust him the way I used to trust Avery (Johnson). Offensively, you guys have all seen it. So all three of those aspects of the game (defense, offense, leadership) have been apparent all year long.”
So while the Spurs will be happy to have Parker put some juice back into their offense tonight, it’s sinking his teeth back into the defense that will give them a real bite.