LOS ANGELES -- San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker slipped out of the locker room alone headed toward the court Friday to warm up in advance of his team’s 116-107 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
On the way out, Parker stopped to field a question regarding an excursion the day before to Warner Brothers Studios, where he shot hoops with actors George Clooney and Matt Damon.
“Y’all are nosey,” Parker joked, clearly eluding the question.
In similar fashion, with a smile on his face, Parker continues to sidestep Father Time, while crossing up the quiet rumbling from outside the organization that, at 34, maybe the point guard can no longer shoulder the responsibility of leading what has been one of the NBA’s top franchises over the past 20 years.
Some of the metrics measuring team offensive and defensive efficiency bore that out over San Antonio’s small 12-game sample size, headed into Friday’s win over the Lakers. For instance, in the 206 minutes Parker played for the Spurs headed into Friday, the team produced an offensive efficiency rating of 107.7; they had a rating of 107.2 in the 370 minutes without the point guard on the court.
On the defensive side, the difference is even more pronounced as San Antonio’s efficiency improved from 105.5 with Parker to 98.2 without him.
But instead of letting the analytics bog down everything, consider perhaps the most telling statistic: San Antonio owns a record of 8-1 when it opens with Parker running the point, versus a mark of 2-2 when he’s not on the court.
As one of seven double-figure scorers against the Lakers, Parker tied season highs for points (16) and assists (7) in helping the Spurs to their fifth consecutive victory.
“I think more than anything, he gives us kind of an anchor for time and score, when things are a little bit out of kilter, or [we’ve taken] six jump shots in a row, and not attacking the rim or mismatches that haven’t been taken advantage of,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’ll see some of those things on the court, and get us back in the flow that we need to be, or put the ball where it needs to be -- those kinds of things.”
That’s precisely what San Antonio needs as it adjusts to philosophical changes brought about due to a variety of factors, such as Parker’s advancing age and the retirement of Tim Duncan, not to mention increased reliance on offensive production from rising star Kawhi Leonard. The Spurs also continue to find more ways to implement another high-volume scorer in power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, as well as new addition Pau Gasol.
So despite Parker carrying the title as San Antonio’s longest tenured player, interestingly, he’s the one Popovich has asked over the past two seasons to make the most drastic changes to his game.
A six-time All-Star, Parker led San Antonio in scoring four consecutive seasons (2010-11 to 2013-14) with averages of 17.5 points, 18.3, 20.3 and 16.7 before his offensive production in 2014-15 fell to 14.4 points per game, as Leonard led the Spurs in scoring (16.5). Parker saw his scoring average dip to 11.9 points per game last season as Leonard (21.2) and Aldridge (18.0) became the club’s bona fide scoring threats with Popovich asking the point guard to become more of a facilitator.
The Spurs utilized Parker on just 21.2 percent of their offensive plays last season, his lowest usage rate since his rookie season. It’s now on Parker to make the most of his chances.
“I just have to figure it out and pick my spots when to be aggressive and try to find my teammates, the great scorers around me, and just try to do the best job I can to run the team; make sure we get great shots and not too many dry possessions and make sure to keep the tempo going,” Parker said. “I’m fine with that.”
Parker missed three games from Nov. 4 through Nov. 9 dealing with right knee soreness originally suffered in the season-opening win at Golden State, and the Spurs lost two of those contests. But reserve guard Patty Mills stepped in and performed well in Parker’s absence, sparking questions as to whether such a move would eventually become permanent.
Popovich interrupted the query before it was completed.
“Are you trying to start a quarterback controversy?” Popovich asked on Nov. 5. “You need to be more clever. It’s my job to make those decisions when the time comes. A guy misses one game, and you guys try to make him ‘The Lou Gehrig Story.’”
Parker actually quashed all that with his play.
In the three games leading into Friday night, Parker connected on 17 of 29 shots from the floor, scoring in double figures each of those contests, in addition to dishing out a total of 16 assists. Parker distributed five of San Antonio’s 17 first-half assists Friday against the Lakers, and in doing so, moved to No. 27 in NBA annals, passing Norm Nixon with his 6,387th career assist.
Then, in the fourth quarter Parker nailed a 3-pointer that put San Antonio ahead by 11 (96-85).
Parker also moved into 71st all time in games played (1,089), surpassing Ben Wallace.
“We need him on the floor, even though Patty is doing great,” veteran guard Manu Ginobili said on Monday. “Tony has been the point guard of the team for 16 years. It’s not something you can say, ‘OK, go take 10 days [off]’ and we’re not going to feel it. For sure we need him on the court, and especially at this time when we are building. It’s somebody else that knows exactly what’s going on. He knows the plays very well. We are getting to know how to play with Pau and the second unit. We need as many bodies as possible.”
Leonard agreed, saying “for sure,” when asked whether Parker played a key role in keeping the Spurs organized in games.
“He’s a great point guard, very smart, knows where guys’ spots are out on the floor,” Leonard said. “He’s been here before. He knows what Pop expects, and if one of us gets out of line or is doing well, he tells us. It just makes us better.”
Parker hopes to take a similar approach to the big screen, and what better place to start than Los Angeles?
After a little more prodding, Parker admitted to participating in “a little shooting contest” on Thursday with Clooney and Damon on Clooney’s personal court at the Warner Brothers lot. One of the original investors in the film "The Birth of a Nation," Parker -- despite his affinity for cinema -- isn’t planning on a career in front of the camera after time expires on his decorated NBA career.
No, Parker plans to handle any work performed in film similarly to how he’s now conducting business behind the scenes with the Spurs.
“I don’t do acting, just producing,” Parker said.