Anthony Parker: A Ball-Handler?
Posted by Zach Lowe on Jul 8, 2009
Over the weekend, I briefly outlined how disastrous the Celtics luxury tax situation would be if they sign one full mid-level free agent (check), another FA (likely a back-up wing) with the bi-annual exception and manage to re-sign Big Baby–and that hasn’t even accounted for the back-up point guard position. In short: The team is looking at paying $100 million in salary and luxury tax. Ouch.
One way to save a small amount of money would be to fill the back-up point guard position without signing a player other than the group outlined above. A combination of two things could make that happen: 1) Gabe Pruitt or Lester Hudson develops into someone capable of handling the ball for five or ten minutes a game, and 2) The wing player we sign has the ability to play some spot duty point guard.
Which brings me to Anthony Parker, a 6’6” (or 6’7”, depending on which listing you trust) shooting guard well into the the down slope of his career arc and a player who could be had for the bi-annual exception. There are obvious downsides to Parker, and we’ll get to those in a second.
But one possible point in his favor: Could be a lead ball-handler for short spurts? Raps coach Jay Triano started Parker at PG in four games last season when Jose Calderon was injured and Triano grew fed up with the ineptitude/inexperience/general badness of Roko Ukic and Will Solomon. I went through the substitution flows from those games on Popcorn Machine and found that Parker was on the floor without another ball-handler for 96:27, meaning he acted as the sole PG during that span–the equivalent of two full games. Here are his numbers from that span:
The Raptors lost all four of those games, but all four were against playoff-caliber teams (San Antonio, Atlanta, Detroit and Phoenix with Stoudemire), and, with apologies to our large readership in Toronto, the Raptors of 2008-09 could generally be expected to lose to playoff-caliber teams. (Also in fairness: 82games.com has the Raps at +27 overall in the minutes Parker played at PG this season, but that likely includes accumulations of very short stretches outside of this four-game sample size when he was the sole lead dog).
Still, Parker’s stats aren’t disastrous. The 18/11 assist/turnover ratio (or 1.63 assists per TO, if you prefer) wouldn’t have ranked him in the NBA’s top 50 and is significantly lower than Parker’s overall ratio of 2.32 assists per turnover ratio, which ranked 32nd in the NBA last season, according to ESPN. (His overall turnover rate of 12.2 percent is very good, and he recorded his highest assist rate since his rookie year last season, thanks in part to the increased time he saw at PG, according to Basketball Reference).
But it’s not as if Parker fell apart when given lead guard duties. It’s tempting to think of Parker as a guy who could back up Paul Pierce for 12-15 minutes per game and take over the ball-handling for just a few minutes each night as Pruitt and/or Hudson develop. That would save the team the added expense of signing someone like Tyronn Lue or Anthony Carter for the vet’s minimum, an expense that would add up to more than $2 million with the luxury tax.
Of course, stalking Mila Kunis and laying money on a 6 1/2 point underdog are also tempting, but that doesn’t mean they are good ideas. Let’s be pessimistic (always my speciality) after the jump.
As Kevin Pelton wrote last week (and the stats at Basketball Prospectus show), Parker is not the defensive ace he once was. The numbers say he’s strictly average at this point, and our friends at Raptors Republic, the Toronto-themed blog in the TrueHoop Network, told me Parker has slipped as a man-to-man defender but remains useful as a team defender/helper. (They also characterized Parker as a “good” ball-handler for five or 10 minutes per game, but say Triano really stretched him by asking for any more than that).
Certainly, most quick point guards would blow by him, and the PGs who faced Toronto in this four game stretch combined to score 71 points on 27-of-56 shooting. The one guy who didn’t score a lot (Steve Nash) absolutely shredded the Raps defense for 18 assists. (I was at that game).
In theory, the Celtics could try Eddie House against point guards and allow Parker to guard twos, but we all know how that’s going to turn out. Doc could also make sure Parker is only asked to play PG against the other team’s back-up point guard, and then only for a few minutes in each game–or even more sparingly if the pups progress more quickly than anticipated.
It’s not a perfect solution. But Parker’s overall versatility is a factor the team should consider when evaluating whether to use the bi-annual exception on him. He’s a dependable 40-plus percent three-point shooter, a careful ball-handler and a decent decision-maker on both ends who is not going to hurt your team and will occasionally make a big shot or a momentum-swinging defensive play. He’d be a good addition to the bench–for the right price.