Parker showcases his growth vs. his double

Column by Buck Harvey

Tony Parker isn’t there yet. He still needs to go to Utah, and maybe to Oklahoma City and Miami, and continue to see the game as clearly as he has.

But he’s close, and Sunday outlined how far he’s come.

There was a time, after all, when Parker and Devin Harris were supposed to be at about the same place.

Now they are back at a familiar one, the playoffs. The last time, in 2006, Harris’ Mavericks eliminated the Spurs in seven games.

Harris smiles at the memories, and he should. “I’ve always played well against the Spurs,” he said.

He did in Game 2 of that series. Thrust into the starting lineup, he outscored Parker and averaged over 20 points when Dallas won three consecutive games.

Parker had his moments, too. He scored more than 24 points three times despite a sore thigh.

Still, he also had only 22 assists over the entire seven games, and this is why it’s always been tricky to measure Parker. His success seems to make his flaws more glaring.

Even when he was a teenage starter, even when he earned All-Star berths, the holes in his game were clear. He was shaky just a year ago, too, in the first-round loss to Memphis.

But he keeps taking steps, and he admitted to one Sunday. Last summer, he said, Gregg Popovich told him he had played harder for the French national team than he had against the Grizzlies.

Parker reacted as he has for a career, finding another way to get better. Harris is unsure if that is true, wondering if the team around Parker is what changed.

But one scout said this Sunday: He can’t remember anyone getting better, year after year, until reaching such a high level when nearly 30 years old.

The game has slowed for Parker now, even as he speeds past defenders. He sees the floor and what should come next, and he did that Sunday afternoon.

He took an inadvertent blow from Harris, then got back up to score 28 points. Parker was relentless, taking advantage of the space his shooters provided, and it was reflective of his season.

When the crowd chanted “MVP, MVP,” it was justified. Parker should finish in the top five, if not top three.

Harris once had the same promise. He was about Parker’s size and his double in quickness. The Spurs saw all of this early; he once scored 20 points in a fourth quarter against them.

Better yet, he could defend Parker. In Game 2 of that 2006 series, Parker had more turnovers (4) than assists (1) and was outscored by Harris.

Little wonder, when the Mavericks eventually traded Harris out of the Western Conference, Parker was relieved. “I’m really happy for that trade,” he said.

The real compliment was the trade itself. There were other pieces involved but, essentially, Harris had gone for Jason Kidd.

Most in the basketball world thought Mark Cuban was crazier than usual for agreeing to the deal. Wasn’t Kidd aging and Harris just beginning?

What has happened since says something else. Kidd helped win a title, and Harris’ career has flatlined. He starred initially with freedom in New Jersey, making an All-Star team once, but he hasn’t come close to what Parker is.

Maybe, as he says about Parker, the makeup of his team has changed him. But another scout questions whether the commitment has been there.

Parker agrees to none of this. He said Sunday that Harris is “the key to their team. He makes them go … I know he’s going to bounce back.”

But that’s the Parker who is almost there. He knows a series can change and that there will be adjustments. And that there’s always another step to take.
Twitter: @Buck_SA

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