On a nightly basis, guys like LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden and Stephen Curry are among the most-talked-about players in the NBA. With good reason, of course, because they are some of the premier players in the league today.
But for nearly two decades, another player has seemingly flown under the radar. Four-time NBA champion and six-time All-Star Tony Parker has never really gotten quite the level of respect he probably deserves.
After 17 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, Parker is currently in his first campaign with the Charlotte Hornets. He shockingly signed with the Hornets during the offseason, accepting a bench role behind star point guard Kemba Walker.
Nevertheless, Parker is having a solid season for the Hornets, averaging 9.4 points and 3.8 assists in 18.6 minutes per game. But the leadership he has provided the younger players has been his most important contribution.
The veteran floor general certainly has plenty of wisdom to impart. He has played in nearly 1,500 games (regular season and postseason combined), averaging 15.6 points and 5.6 assists per contest in the regular season and 17.9 points and 5.1 assists per game in the playoffs.
In his 17-plus regular seasons, Parker has 19,291 points and 6,971 assists. He is 50th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list and 17th in career assists. Additionally, he ranks 22nd among active players with 1,047 career steals.
Obviously, Parker has been around long enough to find himself on such lists. He will turn 37 in May, and only eight active players are older than him. That includes such names as Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Kyle Korver and Dwyane Wade.
The aforementioned names are part of the NBA’s last generation, of which Parker is the most underrated player. But just why is that?
Maybe it’s because he’s not the most flashy player. But then again, neither was Tim Duncan, who is considered by many to be the greatest power forward to ever play the game.
The difference between Duncan and Parker is about nine inches and 65 pounds. But both were major parts of the Spurs’ dynasty that began in the late ’90s and lasted until just a few years ago. Both belong on San Antonio’s Mount Rushmore.
Instead, Parker often gets overlooked. The way he plays the game is so smooth, even if the things he does aren’t always as visually appealing as rim-rattling dunks or blocks that get sent into the stands. But his basketball IQ is off the charts and his stats — some of which were detailed above — are impressive enough to grab one’s attention.
Playing under legendary coach Gregg Popovich for most of his career definitely helped Parker grow as an NBA player. Playing alongside future Hall of Famers had an effect on his play as well. But he was also a tremendous asset for his teammates, as he gave Popovich another coach on the floor.
The same is true for Hornets coach James Borrego, who is in his first year as a head coach after previously serving as an assistant in San Antonio. It is invaluable for him to have someone like Parker to put on the floor in clutch situations, as he told the Charlotte Observer in October:
“I think his poise, his demeanor, his pace, it just calms everybody down. People find the right spots. They’re in rhythm. It’s not helter-skelter.
“He’s been doing this for 17 years. This is a pro at the highest level in big competitions. He’s not fazed out there.”
The words “not fazed” describe Parker better than perhaps any other two words one could come up with. The moment never seems too big for him. In fact, the bigger the moment, the more he seems to relish it.
He has been doing this for nearly two decades now. And while he may have lost a few steps, you can’t teach someone to have a high basketball IQ. It just comes naturally.
In today’s game, Parker seems to be one of the last of a dying breed. However, maybe that’s why he has had such a great career: He’s not like everybody else.
But make no bones about it: Parker is a phenomenal player whose presence will be missed whenever he chooses to walk away. He may be the most underrated player from the last generation, but it’s not too late to marvel at the things he’s still able to do on the basketball court.
Tony Parker returns to San Antonio on Monday night for what will be an emotional evening.