David Dupree
Monday May 5th, 2008

Tony Parker always seems to be the odd man out.

The conversation about the top point guards in the NBA now starts with the Hornets' Chris Paul, with the Jazz's Deron Williams right behind him as they take over for aging veterans Jason Kidd and Steve Nash.

But through all of Kidd's triple-doubles, Nash's two MVP trophies, Williams' brilliance and Paul's dominance, Parker is still the only one who has won a championship. He's won three, in fact, all as the Spurs' starting point guard -- and he's still a week shy of his 26th birthday.

Because he plays with Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, Parker is often overlooked when it comes to great point guards, but if it weren't for the things that he brings, the Spurs probably wouldn't have won those last three titles, no matter what Duncan, Ginobili and the others might have done. Parker has been their floor leader. He is perennially among the league leaders in points in the paint and he is the master of the teardrops and floaters over bigger defenders once he does get into the lane.

He is perhaps the quickest player in the league off the dribble, reading angles inside and slithering his way to the rim. He isn't a one-dimensional player, however. Though his jump shot is still not as reliable or as consistent as he'd like it to be, he runs an effective screen-and-roll with Duncan and is clever at penetrating, drawing the defense and then finding three-point shooters like Ginobili, Bruce Bowen and Michael Finley.

Still, Parker is more of a scorer than a traditional playmaking point guard, though Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has said the seven-year veteran's decision making has improved each season.

Paul, on the other hand, is a classic point guard who lets the defense dictate his every move. In only his third season and his first playoffs, he is already considered the best all-around point guard in the league. Like Parker, he is super quick, but is physically stronger than Parker and controls the ball most of the time. The Spurs' offense centers on, and is dependent on, Duncan, while practically everything the Hornets do offensively is based on Paul. He is very creative off the dribble and can pretty much get his shot whenever he wants it. Yet, at 22, he controls the game as well as anyone, keeping teammates involved and happy while dictating the tempo. He knows when to go and when to slow.

Their similarities and their differences, along with the fact that they are friends off the court, makes the Parker-Paul duel one of the most intriguing of the second round of the playoffs. (The two aren't matched against each other much of the time this series as Bowen often guards Paul, and when Paul and backup point guard Jannero Pargo are in the game together, Pargo usually has the assignment on Parker.) Game 1 went to Paul as he had 17 points and 13 assists in Saturday's 101-82 victory for the Hornets. Parker had 23 points and five assists. Game 2 was to be played Monday, also in New Orleans.

Each has already put his personal stamp on these playoffs. Parker is third in scoring with a 28.5-point average, trailing only Kobe Bryant (34.4) and LeBron James (29.8). He is also 10th in assists (6.7) and 12th in field-goal percentage (52.4). Paul is averaging 23.3 points, ninth in playoff scoring, and he is the only player in the postseason averaging double figures in assists (12.2). He also leads in steals with 2.33 a game.

Parker, who has been playing professionally since he was 15, became the Spurs' starting point guard at 19, five games into his rookie season, and has been the starter ever since. But he has had the luxury of always playing on veteran Spurs teams where the pressure hasn't always been on his shoulders.

Still, he has played best when the games have meant the most. In each of the last four seasons, his scoring average has increased from the regular season to the playoffs, and last season he was the NBA Finals MVP after averaging 24.5 points and shooting 57.1 percent in the four-game sweep of the Cavaliers.

Paul may indeed be the best point guard this year and for years to come, but Parker's record as a winner and his effectiveness on the closest thing the NBA has had to a dynasty in a long time can't be overlooked. He at least belongs in the conversation.

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