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Russell Westbrook struggles more than usual to score efficiently against the Spurs, but will Parker's absence result in smoother sailing tonight?
Sorry I'm a tad late with this ... but perhaps some good halftime reading?
As the leader of the Spurs' offense, Tony Parker's absence on the floor is perhaps most noticeable on that end. But in tonight's matchup with the hyperactive Russell Westbrook it's not just that facet of the point guard's game that will be missed.
A player most recognized for his scoring prowess, the most underrated aspect of Parker's skill set has been his ability to defend effectively at maybe the most demanding position on the floor (something Aaron Stampler mentioned here in his recent post). He's by no means considered elite in anyone's defensive measures, but he affects the game from that side of the court more so than he has throughout his career.
It was a popular topic of conversation on Friday night following the lightning show Damian Lillard set off in the AT&T Center: Would the presence of Tony Parker have made a difference in a 30-point blowout? There are different ways you can make an argument it would have, but it requires a different frame of thought. Maybe he could have sparked an early run that caused an early timeout from Portland and threw the Blazers off tilt. Perhaps Parker's tendency to wreak havoc and cause the opposing point guard to work his butt off to fight over, under and through screens would have had an effect on the energy a guy like Lillard had through the fourth quarter. But then again, if karmic atmosphere remained the same, it also could have been that on that night nobody, not even Parker, was slowing down the Portland point guard.
But regardless of the impact Tony has attacking the paint and his positional counterpart, his defense has been nearly as important — especially against Russell Westbrook. The Thunder point guard is as athletic a specimen as there is in the league, but against Parker he's been mostly pedestrian. I'm not going to pull up synergy numbers to tell you that Westbrook likes to isolate and attack. If you watch basketball you don't need numbers to tell you that. But what you might need them for is to explain that Parker is one of the league's best at defending against an isolated offensive player.
In 16 career regular season games against the Spurs, Westbrook barely clears the 36-percent shooting mark on average, and that number didn't change much during last season's Western Conference Finals. While that has quite a bit to do with the way Parker plays offensively, Westbrook doesn't lack energy. Dealing with Parker on that end of the floor doesn't affect his willingness to relentlessly bombard the opposition with his freakish forays to the rim.
But that's where Parker's defense and the team's scheme comes into play.
"He did a great job at both ends of the court. Defensively, he's been unnoticed, really. But he's done a hell of a job on that end of the floor guarding difficult players every night," Gregg Popovich said prior to tip. "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 have been apparent all year long. Up until the injury, there wasn't a point guard playing better than him in the league. There were people being talked about more, but nobody playing better than him at that point."
Parker, against the isolation, allows just .7 points per possession at a 35 percent clip. Even against the pick and roll — a situation that's difficult to defend given the number of bodies typically involved — Parker's giving up only .81 points per possession and less than 40 percent shooting. If you can defend these aspects of a game well, you have a chance to effectively guard Westbrook ... but only if you have help.
Part of what makes Parker an effective defender in these areas is who he's got behind him. With Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan at your back you can afford to play the scheme rather than forcing a more individual style of defense. With Parker out it will be interesting to watch Westbrook's game tonight and how efficient he can be without Parker on the floor.
Stats courtesy of Synergy. And thanks to Dale Dye for pulling the numbers.