The Spurs' Derek Jeter
Parker has blossomed into consummate floor leader
Posted: Friday June 8, 2007 12:18PM; Updated: Friday June 8, 2007 5:13PM
SAN ANTONIO -- Tony Parker found himself in a switch and face-to-face with the defense of LeBron James in the third quarter of Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday.
Now, a lesser man may have moved the ball around. That wouldn't have been unusual; the Spurs are well-known for their ball movement. But the 6-foot-2 Parker would have none of it. Instead, he calmly took two dribbles, froze the 6-8 James in his tracks and fired an 18-foot jump shot.
The Tony Parker of the 2007 NBA Finals is a far cry from the wide-eyed 19-year-old who debuted with San Antonio in 2001. Back then he was just another junior member of the NBA, just trying to survive. He says he said "10 words" to Tim Duncan his entire rookie season while trying to prove to the already jeweled Duncan that he was worthy of being in the same lineup.
That mission, such as it was, is long since accomplished.
The vibrant point guard dominated an overmatched Cavaliers backcourt in Game 1, finishing with game highs of 27 points and seven assists. There was no fear in the 25-year-old Frenchman; he attacked the Cleveland defense early and often, using Larry Hughes and Daniel Gibson as turnstiles and tossing his now patented floater toward the rim like it were caught on a string, creating what was the Spurs' greatest mismatch offensively.
"He's lightning quick," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. "He's the only 'small' in the league who is top 10 in points in the paint. You just see that maturity he has on the floor that he didn't used to have."
Jacque Vaughn knows a little something about point guards. The 10-year veteran has been the understudy to the stars, including backing up future Hall of Famers John Stockton and Jason Kidd (Parker frequently grills Vaughn for information on his former leads). Vaughn sees the potential for Parker to be considered in that class. While Vaughn is quick to point out that Parker has far more weapons at his disposal than Kidd has ever had, there are qualities he sees in the Spurs' guard that separate him from the pack.
"Tony is unique as far as his speed and quickness," Vaughn said. "He is by far the quickest guy I have played with. Now J-Kidd would literally will us to wins. But Tony wants that. He wants to be a perennial All-Star in this league."
When asked for a proper comparison, Vaughn has one at the ready. Though not exactly in the right sport.
"To me, he is like Derek Jeter," Vaughn said. "He has the championship rings. He has the confidence of his coaches and his teammates. [Coach Gregg Popovich] believes in him. Tim believes in him. Everybody here believes in him."
Said Popovich: "Tony definitely has more responsibility than he has had in the past. He thinks a little more like a coach on the floor and is really helpful in that regard. That's probably where most of his development has taken place."
And there's more to come.
"He's still getting better," Vaughn warned. "Coach Pop pushes him all the time. I don't think we're close to seeing how good Tony can be."