Golden State Warriors: Blueprint for Slowing Down Tony Parker


April 26, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker (9) moves to the basket against the defense of Los Angeles Lakers small forward Earl Clark (6) during the second half in game three of the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

“San Antonio Spurs basketball” defines effciency and playing to your strengths.

As control of the offense shifted from Tim Duncan to to Tony Parker, Parker has expanded his offensive game, but only within the boundaries of efficiency. Though a late season ankle injury derailed his bid, Parker was among the lower-ranking MVP candidates throughout the season.

Parker, along with most other Spurs, rarely attacks without advantage. Of course, a player as skilled and quick as Parker, finds himself able to create advantageous situations far more than most players. According to Synergy Sports, Parker ranks 14th in the league in isolation points per play, 24th off screens, 15th in hand-off situations, second on cuts and 11th in the bread, butter, jam, plate and accompanying glass of milk of his offense, the pick and roll.

The pick and roll comprises 46.2 percent of Parker’s offensive possessions, and is the main the central component of San Antonio’s offense. San Antonio, which finished seventh in offensive efficiency during the regular season, either finishes or initiates many of its offensive possessions with a Parker-Duncan pick and roll, and generates opportunities for other players off defensive attention to this action.

Along with the high pick and roll, San Antonio uses a variety of sets to put Parker in position to score.

Here is the end result of a drag-screen/pin down play the Spurs often run. Parker, a 47.2 percent mid-range shooter, is wide open for the jumper, but also has an open lane towards the middle of the key as his man recovers from the baseline. If Pau Gasol steps down to help, Duncan, a 43.3 percent mid-range shooter, will be wide open. If Dwight Howard steps up to cut off Parker, Tiago Splitter will likely have an open dunk as Parker’s defender chases Parker.

On this play, Parker takes and makes the mid-range jumper but could have easily scored off the drive. His touch around the rim, as well as the ability to find open looks in the paint based off his speed and hesitation moves, make him one of the best finishing guards in the league, evidenced by a 67.8 percent field goal percentage in the restricted area.

Here, Howard covers the pick and roll the same way the Warriors will ask Andrew Bogut to do. He drops into the paint, denying the drive, but leaves Parker open for a mid-range jumper. This is a better result for the Lakers than an open driving lane would be, but just as Ty Lawson did in the first round, Parker will be able to convert a high rate of these open opportunities–perhaps more.

Parker’s main flaw is his inconsistent shooting from behind the arc. This season, he made 37 percent of his left corner three-pointers, an impressive 47.6 percent of his right corner threes and only 21.1 percent of his above the break attempts.

Perhaps more telling are Parker’s limited attempts.  He has only taken 68 three-point shots this season.  Of course, leaving Parker open for jump shots is simply not a good strategy. Though Synergy ranks him as the league’s 132nd best spot-up shooter, he still scores 1.01 points per play off these looks, a respectable points per-play (not to be confused with per possession: per possession factors in scoring opportunities off offensive rebounds, so per possession statistics for offenses will always show a higher offensive rating than per play) of 1.01.

The method for slowing Parker has been in development since a mid-season game against the Spurs, when, suffering from a fortunate bout of creative coaching, Mark Jackson started Klay Thompson on Parker. While he lacks the speed of top defenders like the recently-overcome Andre Iguodala, Thompson’s size allows him to disrupt point guards throughout possessions by forcing them to create more space for passing and driving lans, and open shots.

In the first round, Jackson showed a clear willingness to cross-match Thompson on to the quicker Lawson, but did not fully commit to the strategy, as it often forced Stephen Curry to guard Andre Iguodala. With Brewer in the game, the Warriors were generally able to switch without repercussions, but did not always take advantage of the opportunity.

Here, Lawson cannot get around Thompson as he comes off the screen, and pulls up for the three-pointer. Thompson is long enough to contest the shot after sagging a couple feet off of Lawson to prevent the drive.

Against San Antonio, the Warriors should have an easier time switching Thompson on to Parker. Curry will be able to guard Danny Green for many minutes without fearing foul trouble or giving up a significant size advantage to a main offensive piece like he did against Iguodala.

If the Warriors are to have any hope of stopping Parker and the Spurs’ offense, Bogut will have to consistently be as physically active and mobile as he was during his best stretches against Denver. Even if the series long exposure inspires Iguodala level defense from Thompson, Parker will find ways to the rim.

Against Parker’s calculated rim attacks, Bogut, the last line of defense, must constantly be in position to deny scoring opportunities without forcing extra Warriors players to rotate down defensively, forcing Parker to kick to the perimeter, not to open shooters, but as an outlet from a contested shot.

Draymond Green’s offensive play in the final games against Denver makes another intriguing option possible. So long is he is not too heavy a burden on the offense, Green may be the Warriors most effective pick and roll defending big man.

Unlike Carl Landry and David Lee’s defense often suggest, the four-year college player already has a high-level understanding of pick and roll defense, and has the mobility to act upon this knowledge.

Green saw more action as a perimeter defender than big man defender against Denver, but is one of the few Warriors who could effectively hedge and recover against Parker and Splitter, Boris Diaw or even Duncan, who would likely take advantage of Green in the post.

The Warriors’ best option may simply be to force Parker to score and avoid compromising their rotations.  Parker scored efficiently against the Lakers in the first round, but by overcompensating, the Lakers played right into the Spurs’ desires.

San Antonio has put together a roster of shooters capable of taking advantage of any significant opening, and big men who can score in several situations. When defenses focus their attention on Parker, they open many more scoring opportunities for San Antonio’s vaunted offense.