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Tony Parker: UCLA Basketball's Next Star?

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Part 4 of 8 reviewing the players focusing on UCLA's best returning player.

Can the senior Tony Parker be a more consistent player and a leader?
Can the senior Tony Parker be a more consistent player and a leader?
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

After Thursday night's performance against Oregon State, it's probably time to argue that Parker may be the best low-post player in the Pac-12.

Scout wrote that.  Forgive me for being presumptuous but I don't think most UCLA fans and observers understand what Tony Parker has gone through during his time at UCLA to get to this point.  Tony's path at UCLA has been anything but smooth.  Last year if you were rooting for a player it was probably the senior Powell who overcame being an afterthought of Howland or the great kid with the incredible attitude of Welsh.  No one thinks of Tony except maybe as a goofball at best or lazy and inconsistent at worst.

Most don't appreciate that Tony has gone through the worst sort of culture shock both on and off the basketball court.

Now going into his senior season, he is set up to be the star of the team.  Will he be up to being a senior leader?  Will he live up to the McDonalds All American status that he arrived at UCLA with?  Most importantly, will he be consistent?

The Littlest Giant (On the Court)

When Tony arrived at UCLA he faced something he had probably not seen in his life before or since.  A big man that was wider and heavier than him.  Yes, then Josh Smith was not just overweight but fat (as Marques Johnson famously quipped: "Whoever listed Josh at 305 is dyslexic.")  For Tony, Josh represented someone who he could literally not move out of the paint, had a back to the basket game, and manhandled Tony in practice.  Of course, Josh was so overweight and unhappy that he could hardly stay on the court and eventually quit during the season.

In a sense things did not become any more normal his second year.  Tony was probably the only former McDonald's All American Center to have a point guard who was not only taller than him but a better rebounder.  Yes, Kyle Anderson was an extremely unusual player in that he was a great defensive rebounder and a true point.  Parker had occasional success but was mostly a forgotten man for another relative freak, Travis Wear, a 5 who ran the floor well and was a master of the 18 footer.

Even last year, a number of experts were praising Thomas Welsh as a person who might by the season ends pass Tony. In some ways the exact opposite kind of big man to Tony Parker in that he is over 7 feet tall, skinny, good shot blocker, and a good mid-range jump shooter.

Yet, by the end of the season even the experts had to admit Tony was a dam good low post player.

This Isn't Georgia

This spring I was in Atlanta and I was talking to someone from Tony's church growing up who worked in the travel industry.  He emphasized to me what a tough cultural adjustment Tony must have had coming to LA.  Unlike, say Kyle Anderson, Tony had to be in a bit of cultural shock in LA.  New Jersey and LA are different but New Jersey still has a big city mentality.  Where Tony grew up there is not such a mentality.  (Watch his college announcement for a glimpse, where we "sophisticated" city folk mocked him for the funniest thread of the year because of the hokeyness of the announcement.)  His fellow Georgian, Jordan Adams, had spent some time away from his family at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia.  Tony came from a very tight family, ESPN even detailed their family talks about Tony's college decision.  Ultimately one of the factors that Tony led to UCLA for is the oldest reason in the world.  A boy following his girl.  But even this was tough for Tony as his girlfriend goes to SUC. (Tony may be different but he is not stupid.  No intelligent person goes to just SC to play basketball.)

Ben Howland was not exactly warm and cuddly or sympathetic to Tony's cultural adjustment.  Really, Tony was a third string and overweight center and a complete afterthought as Howland coached for his job.  Tony deserves a lot of credit for sticking to it and working hard at UCLA.

So yeah, I am rooting for Tony.  He is a bit different but he is our guy.  I mean how can you not love a guy who does this to Steve Alford at the post UAB press conference (5:34 mark)?

"He[Bryce] has that in his game.  Coach Alford didn't pass much so I think he focuses on being a better passer than him. . . . "

To which a smiling Steve Alford replied: "Get them out of here. It's a good time to get them out."

BEST GAME

That press conference was after his best game the Round of 32 at the NCAA Tournament.  UAB said Bryce Alford is not going to beat us and played Tony 1 on 1, result:

Tony Parker led five Bruins in double figures with a career-high 28 points and grabbed 12 rebounds as 11th-seeded UCLA beat 14th-seeded UAB 92-75 on Saturday to advance to its second straight Sweet 16.

With the Blazers worried first about Alford who hit 9 of 11 from 3 to beat SMU in the last game, Parker had room to roam helping UCLA outrebound UAB 41-26 with a 52-22 scoring edge in the paint.. . .

At one point, UCLA connected on eight straight shots helped by Parker dunking and scoring in close. . . .

UCLA: Parker turned in the most points by a Bruin in the tournament since Kevin Love had 29 against Western Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on March 27, 2008, a game after Alford had 27. ... The Bruins have shot 50 percent or better in nine games this season. They shot 60.3 percent (35 of 58).

ALFORD'S USE OF PARKER

This part gets interesting.  Let's go back to the best game by talking about the game before it when Parker well stunk.  1-6 2 rebounds and 2 turnovers.

Parker, too, had come a long way since a lethargic performance against Southern Methodist in the second round. For the first time all season, he sat in the decisive minutes while UCLA used four late Bryce Alford three-pointers and one controversial goaltending call to squeak by.

"I sat out at the end of this game too," Parker said after the Bruins defeated the 14th-seeded Blazers.

But this time, it was because he powered UCLA to a safe lead.

. . . Parker played with an edge Saturday. Powell had challenged him to get 30 points and 10 rebounds. He stayed in Parker's face for much of the game.

"I don't know what toothpaste he uses," Parker joked afterward. "But it wasn't effective."

It's funny and Parker has improved.  Should Alford get credit?  However, Fox made the point that Parker is not consistent.  Should Alford get the blame?

A few numbers on Parker.

  • UCLA was 11-4 in game when Parker played 26 or more minutes or more than his average of 25 a game.  (The losses were to better teams UNC and Gonzaga and very close games to  Alabama and UC Berkeley)
  • Parker was the ONLY Bruin to shoot over 50% from the field last year (54%) but shot 156 times less times than Bryce Alford ,the worst shooter (39%) with more than 72 (2 per game) attempts
  • Only Thomas Welsh assisted at a worse rate than Parker

What does this mean?  Parker's performance for UCLA is underrated and Parker is without a doubt the best returning player.  The numbers do not tell the story as Tony may be most important for his defense.  The two games that Parker did not play UCLA opponents shot over 50% and UCLA was killed.  The Oregon games are a great example. Without Parker Oregon shot 62% and with Parker Oregon shot 39%.  UCLA's defense really needs Parker on the floor.

UCLA also needs to get Parker more shots.  Throughout the season Chrissorr and I kept saying pound the ball inside.  It was a key to our better wins.  At times Alford agreed and publicly stated it often.  I personally believe if Tony is getting the ball more he will be more engaged and will play better on both ends of the floor.  Further if teams have to play Parker honest, it opens up the outside for Bryce and Isaac Hamilton.  SMU focused on Tony and shut him down.  That helped open it up for Bryce and let Bryce have a career game.

So yeah Tony improved but he was not consistent.  At times UCLA forgot about Tony on offense and watched Bryce and Isaac Hamilton chuck up shots.

Alford gets a C- for his use of Tony Parker.  Your best percentage shooter should not take a 150+ less shoots than your worst percentage shooter.  A junior should be more consistent.  It is also scary that UCLA's two best defenders, Norman Powell (NP4) and Parker, are Howland leftovers.  How much of that defensive skill was learned from Howland?

THE FUTURE

How much of Tony's improvement is from Tony and how much credit goes to Steve Alford?  Unlike NP4 who I am willing to give a lot of the credit to Steve Alford, I am not sure on Tony.  This season will likely give us an answer.  For without NP4, Tony legitimately may be the number one option and best player next season.  However, there is a simple way to stop Tony: double, shoot, triple team him when he gets the ball.  Tony does not pass out of the post.

If Tony becomes a good or even decent passer out of the double team, Alford should get some credit and UCLA will be a better team for it.  If Tony still is inconsistent and struggles with double teams or UCLA goes games forgetting about him as an option, then Alford failed Tony and UCLA.

It also is a bit scary for UCLA fans if for the third year in a row the best player is a former Howland recruit as Parker is the last Howland recruit.  Parker will be a player to watch and, with his quotes, listen to next year.