Not the same ol' Tony Parker

May, 30, 2012
5/30/12
12:04
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Tony Parker
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Tony Parker at the rim. He once made a name for himself there, but his game has changed.

We've seen it his entire career: Tony Parker is blazing fast, beats people off the dribble, and somehow makes one crazy twisting layup in traffic after another. That's how he scores.

And then, at some point there was a big mess of articles about shooting coaches a few years ago, and voila, the man can shoot the 3.

So, if he can destroy people at the rim and from 3 -- the two most efficient spots on the court -- of course he can quarterback the most efficient NBA offense maybe ever.

Let those other teams, with their big-name stars, sweat the difficult long 2-pointers, the bane of stat geeks everywhere. Let dumber, less efficient teams have their stars dribble the hell out of the ball, advertising to the defense where the attack will come from, while the rest of the team, essentially no use at all, watches. That is not what San Antonio does. That's not Tony Parker's game.

Only, it's a total crock.

First of all, despite those articles about shooting coaches, Parker has never been a very good 3-point shooter. His career average from downtown is a pedestrian 31 percent -- and he has essentially given it up. His first few years he shot hundreds a year. He hasn't attempted more than 70 a season since 2005. This past regular season he made a grand total of 14, and that required 61 tries.

And those wild layups still appear now and again. On Tuesday night he did uncork a spin move, followed by a floater that drew some oohs. There was an actual layup in traffic in the second quarter, which made the highlight reel. But that's not how Tony Parker beat the Thunder in Game 2. Just like Michael Jordan famously added old-guy elements to his game as he aged, so has Parker.

When he assaulted the Oklahoma City Thunder for 34 points on 21 shots in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, he had essentially none of his patented twisting, high-speed layups. He almost never navigated the forest of big men. (When he tried, they often got to it, resulting, twice, in goaltending calls.)

Players make more shots, we have learned from a century of coaches, and confirmed by a few years of SportVu optical tracking technology, from catching and shooting. Off the dribble, it's tougher, which of course San Antonio knows: The Spurs' offense is a love song to this reality.

Who could forget Manu Ginobili faking an open 3, dribbling at the hoop, only to wrap a pass behind his back to the open Parker in the right corner for the lovely catch-and-shoot 3?

Now, here's the surprise:

Who would believe that of Parker's game-high 16 made shots, that was the only make that was off the catch.

Despite several of his jumpers being credited as assisted, even on those Parker dribbled at least once, and sometimes as many as three times before letting it fly.

Of his 16 makes, 15 were off the dribble, and a full dozen were identical:
  • Mid-range to long 2-pointers, the exact shots stat geeks hate.
  • Off the dribble, the exact shots stat geeks and coaches normally shy away from.
  • Mostly as the ball-handler in the pick and roll, but sometimes simply Parker creating entirely for himself with the dribble attack, in pure Hero Ball style.

In other words, yes the Spurs are incredibly efficient, with their ball movement and selflessness. Yes, they take a lot of catch-and-shoot open 3s. And even on possessions where Parker dribbles a ton, the ball still moves easily from player to player, not unlike on Steve Nash's Phoenix Suns.

But as a scorer, Parker's simply not much of a catch-and-shoot guy, nor is he getting tons of efficient layups or 3s. He dribble-probes like a professional ballhog, uses screens to get open, and takes and makes a lot of tough-for-most guys longish jumpers off the bounce.

At one point he caught the ball for a wide open 3, but dribbled in a step to commit the double stat geek efficiency sins of a) opting for the almost-as-hard-but-not-nearly-as-rewarding long 2 and b) turning a catch-and-shoot opportunity into one off the dribble.

Why does this work? Why can Parker, unlike so many other NBA players, be the efficient high-volume scorer who takes over a big playoff game while dining almost exclusively on inefficient shots?

It's an open question. Perhaps, given the same looks again, he'd normally miss many more.

Or maybe it has a lot to do with the fact that he's open for just about all of them. Sure it's off the dribble. Sure it's a long 2. Sure those shots are created like tough shots are created. But if the guy who's supposed to be bothering his shot, typically Russell Westbrook, is a yard behind the play wrestling with Tim Duncan ... well, that's a wide open shot. And that's a great shot, even if it's not as exciting as a twisting layup in traffic.

Henry Abbott | email

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