Parker's Broken Hand Doesn't Quite Sink Spurs
Already struggling to find a rhythm, the Spurs sit in a scrum with the Suns, Thunder and Blazers, all trying to simultaneously hold off the Rockets, Hornets and Grizzlies and trying to avoid first-round match-ups with the Lakers or (suddenly juggernaut) Mavericks. It's a race for the No. 5 and No. 6 seeds, essentially, with Phoenix in pole position.
The Rockets et al seem to be on the precipice of falling out of the race -- the Hornets have lost four straight, Houston's 4-6 over its last 10, and Memphis is 5-5. As each day passes, the Spurs, with a 5-1/2 game lead on the Rockets, look more solid in the top eight. But that's just math -- there are actual basketball reasons the Spurs are still alive.
The key reason goes by the name of George Hill. The second-year guard out of IUPUI has gotten plenty of opportunity to show his stuff -- for the past 21 games he has started alongside Parker in the S.A. backcourt. Like Parker, Hill is more scorer than set-up man. And like Parker, he's quite good at scoring -- since February 1, Hill is averaging 16 points a game on an effective field goal percentage of .536. That's just brilliant work, and while either an increased load or the loss of Parker as the opponent's backcourt focal point may damage the efficiency, Hill has still shown an ability to be a great boon for the Spurs offense.
There's also the rebirth of Roger Mason. So often a hero last season, Mason has been relegated to spot duty behind Parker, Hill, Manu Ginobili and Richard Jefferson this season. (If the R.J. acquisition hurt one person the most, it was Peter Holt, the Spurs owner who has to fork over the massive tax bill that came with the R.J. trade. If a second person is considered, that's Mason.) Let us not forget how solid a shooter Mason has been over the past 2-1/2 seasons -- for the Spurs last year, he shot 42 percent from beyond the arc, taking nearly five such shots a game. Steve Kerr like what. On a lighter load this year, he's still shooting well, with an effective field goal percentage of .511.
This isn't to say the Spurs will become title contenders as Parker mends. But face it -- the Spurs weren't going to become title contenders with Parker healthy. If anything, S.A. could have hoped to secure a non-Lakers first round match-up, and get stronger as the playoffs wore on. They can still do that -- Hill-Mason isn't a devastating drop-off from Parker-Hill (it's big, but not devastating) -- and guess who could help make them get stronger as the playoffs wear on? Tony Parker, who could be folded back in right around the time the Spurs saddle up for the Jazz, Nuggets or Thunder. Again, this scenario doesn't lead to another Tim Duncan champagne bath. But the macro view of this season changes little, unless you really thought the Spurs were ready to make a serious run.