Tony Parker is on one of those occasional scoring benders he likes to put together. He scored 42 on Saturday in a mammoth win over the Thunder, and dropped 37 on Wednesday as the San Antonio Spurs reeled off their sixth straight win, five of them over legit playoff contenders. Parker has done this before: back in 2008-09, he unleashed a hellacious opening week that included a 32-point game and a 55-point outburst. Later that season, he had 37 and 39 back-to-back, then later 30 and 42.
Parker is, of course, a point guard, and for the longest time the idea of a point guard taking enough shots to score 30, 37, 42, 55 points was darned close to heretical. Just five years ago, the media gave Steve Nash two MVPs for reviving the ideals of purity in the point guard. This isn't to say that Nash didn't deserve the awards, but that through his purity (as manifested in his assist totals), the common perception of his value was ... emphasized. (As someone who thinks Shaq ought to have won MVP in 2005, I resisted using the word "bloated" there.)
For basically the entire reign of Nash, what we'll call 2001-2010, purity in point guards was highly desired. "Court vision" became almost as ubiquitous a draft gush as "length." Lead guards like Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis and Gilbert Arenas were denigrated, sometimes fairly and sometimes not. The source of this thirst for purity is debatable; don't think that the fact that Cousy, Stockton and Nash -- three prominent white players on great, primarily black teams -- symbolize the ideal itself is irrelevant. The NBA point guard position isn't all that dissimilar from the NFL quarterback position in this respect: whether subconscious or not, race tends to play a role in the general sentiment of a player's fitness to lead other men. Long-held biases are resilient. See Bomani Jones' superb Cam Newton draft retrospective for more on the subject.
But something odd happened last season: the world fell in love with an impure point guard, Derrick Rose. Without the two championships the world's last beloved impure PG -- Isiah Thomas -- had won, Rose assimilated all corners en route to a dominant MVP vote triumph. His personality played a role; it wasn't February before Rick Reilly was touting Rose's MVP credentials by using his innocence and accessibility to fans as a platform. The fact that the Bulls were so wonderful, and that on many nights Rose was the only Bull who looked like an actual NBA player on the offensive end, certainly helped his case. But largely, the sporting world forgave Rose for the impurity embedded in a 25-point, 8-assist average. Just five years after Nash's second MVP, the NBA community embraced an impure point guard and him its king.
... which leaves me wondering why Parker has never gotten a similar level of respect.
To be sure, Rose in 2010-11 was better than Parker has been most seasons, with the possible exception of the 2008-09 mentioned up top, which is pretty close to a push, all told. It isn't as if Parker has failed to achieve wonderful team success with three championships and a Finals MVP award. (You can't fake it in the Finals, and those MVP awards rarely go to the wrong player. There was no way any Spur but Parker would win it in 2007.) Since Parker's 2001 debut, the Spurs have more wins than any other NBA team.
There's certainly plenty of credit bifurcation in San Antonio: Tim Duncan is rightly considered a legend, and a huge reason for the team's success. Manu Ginobili similarly earns deserved accolades for continued excellence. But over the last few seasons, campaigns in which Duncan has aged rapidly before our eyes and Ginobili has missed swaths of games, Parker has been there, playing at a high level and keeping the Spurs competitive against every opponent. Yet he's never finished higher than No. 8 in MVP voting, hasn't made the All-Star team since 2009 and owns just one All-NBA honor -- a third team bid in 2009. He's been an incredible player for 10 years now, with great team success and excellent numbers ... and to date, his legacy is almost equally his marriage to Eva Longoria and alleged affair with Brent Barry's wife as it is his on-court performance.
It's not hard to imagine that if Parker had fewer 30-point outbursts and more 12-assist games, no matter what the Spurs actually needed (which has usually been his scoring), he'd have earned more positive notoriety by this point. If there's a bright light to be had, it's that Parker is just 29, so there's plenty of time for a Jason Kidd or Chauncey Billups style twilight, where Parker's leadership and veteran savvy (two fuzzy but point guard-y ideals) can earn the respect his powerful performance has never managed to grab en masse.
Seeing Rose, styled in the mold of Parker, earn universal acclaim is a positive step forward in our collective reception to point guards who do not emulate Stockton or Cousy. But that Parker had to suffer while the league was blinded by Nash's stylistic purity is unfortunate, and we can only hope that the Spurs' continued power leads to more laurels for the Frenchman's head.
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