Tony Parker only trails Magic Johnson when it comes to winning percentages amongst history’s best point guards. At 70%, his clip of domination trumps that of Celtics two-way wonder Dennis Johnson (65%), the “1960s LeBron” Oscar Robertson (62%), and Bad Boys architect Isiah Thomas (58%). Watching him skin the Grizzlies to the tune of 24.5 PPG and 9.5 APG in the Western Conference Finals has plenty wondering where he ranks historically.
Sadly, not as high as you might think.
As the Spurs best player for the past four years or so, and the owner of a Finals MVP, Parker is criminally underrated. Whenever sports outfits take to ranking league point guards, his name is routinely left off the list, even with the Spurs consistently ranking as one of the best NBA teams much because of his quick-footed brilliance. But the league has seen hoards of talent at the point position, which only becomes more apparent with a brief retrospective.
Career: 25.7 PPG, 9.5 APG, 7.5 RPG, 1.1 STLPG
Professor triple-double occupies a level of eliteness all his own. At 6-foot-5, he was big enough to overpower undersized point guards of his time, and it would probably not be much different today.
Career: 26.7 PPG, 6.2 APG, 3.7 RPG, 2.2 STLPG
Iverson is probably a top-5 offensive force. If his last four years weren’t factored, he would have averaged 28 points for his career (which would be good enough for 3rd-best all-time). He’s also averaged more assists per game than Parker despite being labelled a shoot-first point guard.
Career: 18.9 PPG, 6.1 APG, 2.3 RPG, 0.8 STLPG
Frazier was a talented defender that could also get things done on the other end. Had historic performances when it mattered most.
Career: 12.6 PPG, 8.7 APG, 6.3 RPG, 1.9 STLPG
Kidd is an NBA champ and would have a nicer collection of hardware if it weren’t for Shaq. On multiple seasons he almost averaged a triple-double, and his career stats would be better padded if not for a late career dropoff.
One of the biggest knocks against Tony is that he’s been surrounded by Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich for his whole career. Being a part of one of the most successful franchises has helped his winning pedigree. But, by the same coin, Parker has also most likely hurt his stats by choosing to stick to proven San Antonio schematics. At 18, for example, he averaged 25.8 points, 6.8 assists, and 6.8 steals for the French Under-18 national team. The closest he got to that in the NBA was during the 2008-09 Playoffs when he averaged 28.6 points, 6.8 assists, and 1.2 steals.
In terms of strengths, Parker’s efficiency and field-goal percentages usually stand out, but when ranked for NBA careers they don’t hold up as well. For his career, Parker ranks 165th for true shooting percentage with 55.05%. That’s pretty good for a league that has seen thousands of players on its courts. But it puts him below Devin Harris, Scott Skiles, and B.J. Armstrong―not exactly snipers. And he’s significantly below top-rated point guards like John Stockton (60.81%), Steve Nash (60.54%), and Chauncey Billups (58.08%).
With Billups, Parker is one of only three point guards to be awarded a Finals MVP since the 1990s. Certainly an impressive distinction. But his efficiency is also lacking upper echelon regard. His Player Efficiency Rating (19.1), though strong, is nothing compared to those of Oscar Robertson (23.17), Kevin Johnson (20.70) or even Allen Iverson (20.92).
Tony ranks better when looking at how integral he is in a system that values machine over cog. When he’s on the court, the Spurs outscore the opposition by 10.7 points per 100 possessions as stated by ESPN. It plummets to 2.2 points per 100 possessions when he’s sipping on Gatorade.
He’s also ranked 91st all-time for Win Shares on a per 48 minutes basis. But again is light years behind Chris Paul, Magic Johnson, John Stockton, and Oscar Robertson as seen on Basketball Reference. The Frenchman gets closer to supremacy when ranked for Assist Percentage (at 29th all-time with 33.04%), but is outclassed once again by big names like John Stockton (50.24%), Mark Jackson (39.41%), and Tim Hardaway (37.93%). It doesn’t help that he sits below less celebrated players like Jose Calderon (39.57%) and Stephon Marbury (36.08%) either.
It certainly takes a special player to do this on a closeout game:
Tony Parker (37pts) hit 15-of-21 FGAs (71.4%), just an absolute clinic tonight. Shot chart twitter.com/nbastats/statu…
— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) May 28, 2013
Parker’s legacy is also helped by the fact that he’s only one of eight players (and only one of three point guards) to post more than 3,000 points, 800 assists, 500 rebounds, and 150 assists in the postseason. But the league has seen celestial talents at the 1, and a closer look doesn’t seem to put Parker in the top 10 with Magic, Oscar, Stockton, Jackson, Thomas, Kidd, Payton, Johnson, Cousy, and Frazier. In fact, he might be closer to being No. 19 or 22. Elite for today, and elite even in the all-time sense, but Parker won’t ever crack the upper echelon of history.