When word came down that Tony Parker would miss up to four weeks with a sprained left ankle, it seemed inevitable that the bottom would fall out on San Antonio's season. After all, prior to Parker's most recent injury, the Spurs had gone a pedestrian 7-7 when their point guard was on the shelf over the last few years.
Reports of San Antonio's impending demise have been greatly exaggerated. Not only have the Spurs gone 5-2 in Parker's absence, but the team also owns the best record in the Western Conference with just 15 games left to play.
On the surface, it doesn't make much sense that the Spurs would be able to survive (and, at times, thrive) without their star point guard. In his 12th NBA season, Parker just may be in the midst of his best campaign ever.
Parker is averaging 21.0 points per game (10th in the NBA) and 7.6 assists (tied for fifth in the NBA) this year, and his Player Efficiency Rating of 24.38 is the sixth-best mark in the league.
For as much talk as there is about the "system" that Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich employs, it's clear that Parker is the focal point of the San Antonio attack. Parker's usage rate of 28.2 percent is the 10th-highest in the league, and his assist rate (percentage of field goals that he has assisted while out on the floor) is at a staggering 40.9 percent.
So why hasn't San Antonio collapsed yet?
Well...much like the Boston Celtics in the wake of Rajon Rondo's season-ending knee injury, the rest of the Spurs roster has found a way to compensate for the loss of their star point guard. Then again, they don't have much of a choice—their head coach's "next man up" doctrine won't allow them to rest on their laurels.
"There are two choices; you can cry and moan or you can play the game and compete," said Popovich in an interview with Tully Corcoran of Fox Sports Southwest.
Second-year player Cory Joseph is starting at point guard in Parker's absence, but the team has adopted something of a "playmaker by committee" approach.
Over the past two weeks, eight different Spurs—Joseph, Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, Gary Neal, Patty Mills and Kawhi Leonard—have had at least one game in which they've finished with four assists or more.
According to 82games.com, the Spurs score 7.2 more points per 100 possessions than their opponents when Parker is on the floor, and the 30-year-old Frenchman is holding opposing point guards to Mario Chalmers-like production.
The past has shown that it's unlikely for the Spurs to be successful in the long run if Parker is out for an extended period of time. Fortunately for San Antonio, it appears as if their point guard will return to the lineup slightly ahead of schedule.
And with Parker back at the reins of the Spurs' offense once again, it'll be clear exactly how much he means to San Antonio as the team begins to gear up for the second season.