Tony Parker - Career - San Antonio Spurs - First Championship

First Championship

"...when we gave him his first workout, we didn't think he was tough enough – and we sent him home. And then we set up another interview, another workout... and he was fantastic in that one."

-Gregg Popovich, after the 2007 championship

Prior to the 2001 NBA Draft, Parker was invited to the San Antonio Spurs summer camp. Parker's first experiences were daunting as coach Gregg Popovich had him play against Spurs scout and ex-NBA player Lance Blanks. Parker was so overwhelmed by Blank's tough and physical defense that Popovich was ready to send him away after just 10 minutes. But after seeing a "best of" mix tape of Parker's best plays, Popovich decided to invite Parker a second time. This time, Parker made a better impression against Blanks; the Frenchman later described Blanks as a "one-man wrecking crew". But while Popovich decided that Parker was worth the gamble, the Spurs still had to hope that other teams would not pick Parker during the draft. As it were, Parker's name was barely mentioned in the pre-draft predictions and the point guard was drafted 28th overall by the Spurs on draft day.

After initially playing backup to Antonio Daniels, Parker was made a starter and made 77 regular season appearances in his rookie season, averaging 9.2 points, 4.3 assists and 2.6 rebounds in 29.4 minutes per game. When he played against the Los Angeles Clippers on 30 November 2001, he became the third French player ever to play in an NBA game, after Tariq Abdul-Wahad and Jerome Moiso. Parker brought to the Spurs a greater tempo in their game, getting his teammates better looks at the basket whenever he was involved in transition offense. He could also hit open jump shots, and this created greater space for the big men on the team, Tim Duncan and David Robinson. By the end of the season, the rookie led San Antonio in assists and steals, and was named to the All-Rookie First Team for 2001–02, becoming the first foreign-born guard to earn the honor. Although the Spurs were eliminated during the playoffs, Parker's performances did not go unnoticed.

In 2002-03, Parker played in all 82 regular season games as San Antonio's starting point guard on a team that was largely revamped from previous years. He improved his regular season statistics significantly, averaging 15.5 points per game (ppg), 5.3 assists per game (apg) and 2.6 rebounds per game (rpg). Parker's role as the team's playmaker was reflected in his leading the team in assists on 49 occasions. During the 2003 NBA All-Star Weekend, Parker represented the Sophomores in the Got Milk? Rookie Challenge, and also participated in the inaugural 989 Sports Skills Challenge. In the post season, Parker recorded two career bests in scoring as the Spurs, led by Tim Duncan, defeated the New Jersey Nets 4–2 in the finals, and Parker earned his first NBA championship ring. Despite the victory, Parker struggled with inconsistent play throughout the playoffs, and was often substituted for the more experienced guards Steve Kerr and Speedy Claxton late in the games. Throughout the season, Parker also felt that he was often criticized too harshly by coach Popovich; in retrospect, coach Popovich admitted he was critical of his young playmaker, stating he wanted Parker to build a thick skin and mature sooner than his peers.

Read more about this topic:  Tony Parker, Career, San Antonio Spurs

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