Parker's similarity to Duncan, who was born in the Virgin Islands, is unmistakable. Although neither went through the mainstream U.S. sports system, both men play with a wisdom beyond their years, and both seem to inspire the same reaction in opponents. "I hate that little son of a gun," Houston Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich said after glimpsing Parker in the preseason, "just the way I hated Duncan the first time I saw him make a reverse pivot."
Like Duncan, Parker has an efficient style, free of the bells and whistles that many U.S.-born pros picked up on the playgrounds. "He's a little like John Stockton-straight vanilla," Popovich says. Parker makes opponents look bad with cleverness more than athleticism. "One great thing about him is that he has different gears," says Orlando Magic coach Doc Rivers. "He understands the importance of not going 100 miles an hour all the time. He sets people up, which makes him seem even quicker than he actually is."
That deceptiveness allows Parker to penetrate the lane consistently, and once there he displays remarkable vision. In a 106-90 win over Portland on Nov. 3, he zipped into the middle and found himself surrounded by four Trail Blazers, but somehow he found Porter alone on the wing for a three-pointer. Some teams have sagged off Parker and dared him to shoot, but that strategy has only given him room to bury 40.0% of his threes through Sunday. After Parker burned the Hornets for 22 points on Nov. 8, hitting four of seven treys in a 105-95 San Antonio victory, Charlotte point guard Baron Davis said, "Somebody told me he couldn't shoot. Somebody was wrong."
Opponents are starting to take a new approach to Parker, trying to eliminate his passing options once he penetrates and force him to finish. Because he's scrawny he has a hard time scoring when he gets banged, and because he's a rookie he has an even harder time drawing a foul call. His lack of bulk also puts him at a disadvantage on defense, so Duncan or Robinson must come over to help him when a bigger guard posts him up. "The coaches tell me, 'Leeft, leeft,' " Parker says, referring to his need to pump more iron. "I am leefting, but so far not too many muscles."
Parker's success is as much of a surprise to his French followers as it is to the rest of the NBA. He was a promising player but not a superstar in France, averaging 14.7 points and 5.6 assists last season for Paris Basket Racing of the top French league. "People in France expected nothing of him," says Olivier Pheulpin, who is covering Parker's season for L'Equipe, the country's largest sports publication. "We have had other players, Tariq Abdul-Wahad and Jerome Moiso, who have gone to the NBA and done very little, and there was no reason to believe Tony would be different."
Now that Parker has surpassed expectations, he has become a French version of Ichiro Suzuki, the Japanese baseball star who made his countrymen proud with a dazzling rookie season for the Seattle Mariners. One difference: While Ichiro had an army of Japanese journalists chronicling his every move, Parker has, well, Pheulpin. "But Tony is very popular for someone who plays a sport that France cares nothing about," Pheulpin says. "I did an interview with him that filled the front page. That usually happens only for soccer players who are World Cup heroes."
Parker's fans back home might be surprised to find that he has one less-than-glamorous duty. On game days Parker must bring two dozen doughnuts and one cup of coffee to the morning shootaround. The coffee is for shooting guard Steve Smith, and the doughnuts, for all the Spurs, are glazed—unless Duncan makes a special request for coconut. "The older players tell me this is something a rookie must do," Parker says. "I don't want to know what happens to me if I don't do it."
Parker has little to worry about. "I don't think he'll forget," says Porter. "The kid's been pretty good at making deliveries."