Akshay Manwani Freelance writer based in Mumbai

In an attempt to rid himself of the perils of performance appraisals, Akshay ventured into the world of freelance writing where he combined his twin interests of sports and cinema. He has since contributed to The Caravan, BCCI.tv, Business Standard and Man's World, among other publications. He has followed the fortunes of the NBA since the early í90s, an experience that has given him extraordinary moments of joy in an otherwise mundane existence.

All season long, Akshay will cover the League from the point of view of a basketball expert living in India. Follow him every week on NBA.com/india!

The Value of Tony Parker

Tony Parker went down with a Grade 2 left-ankle sprain in San Antonioís 130-102 blowout win against the Sacramento Kings on March 1. The injury rules Parker out of contention for close to four weeks. On any other team besides San Antonio, Parkerís injury would have been devastating for the franchise because of how important the Spursí point-guard is to the team. His play this season has been nothing short of phenomenal. And this is by Parkerís own high standards.

After producing a remarkable 2008-09 season, which saw Parker post figures of 22.0 PPG and 6.9 APG, his best showing in the league since being drafted 28th by San Antonio in 2001, Parkerís game actually dipped. In 2009-10, Parker, then an eight-year veteran in the league, appeared to be headed southwards as his stats dropped to 16.0 PPG and 5.7 APG. Yet, Parker proved his detractors wrong as he led San Antonio to the best record in the Western Conference for two successive seasons, with his improved play.

To top that, Parker has been even better this season. While his scoring average at 21.0 PPG is just below his 2008-09 showing, his assists average this year, at 7.6 APG, is better than 2008-09 and only below his career-best 7.7 APG, which he averaged in 2011-12. Additionally, his field-goal and 3-point shooting percentages of 53.3 percent and 37.9 percent, respectively, are his best showing since the 2007-08 season. Most importantly, in what should no longer come as a surprise to us, is that the proof of Parkerís stellar play lies in the fact that San Antonio currently holds the best record in the league.

Which brings us to the question, just how does Parker compare to the other elite point-guards in the league currently? With Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose out injured, only Chris Paul (LAC - 9.5 APG), Greivis Vasquez (NOH - 9.4 APG), Jrue Holiday (PHI - 8.5 APG) and Russell Westbrook (OKC Ė 7.8 APG) average more assists per game than Parker among active players this season. Parkerís closest competitor in the assists category below him, Deron Williams of the Brooklyn Nets, is averaging 7.5 APG. But of these men, only Parker and Westbrook give their teams more than 20 points a game, at 21.0 PPG and 23.4 PPG respectively. Also, when it comes to Assists/Turnover ratio, a key measure in judging the efficiency of a point-guard, Parker (3.02) ranks second only to Paul (4.37).

To my mind, the only two point-guards who can, at this point in time, be placed ahead of Parker are Paul and Westbrook. The others, namely Vasquez and Holiday, need to produce more consistently over the long run, while Williams has belied expectations of him this season in Brooklyn. Meanwhile, Paul is the undisputed leader of the Clippers. No matter how well Eric Bledsoe has replaced him every time he has been injured this season, Paul is the most important piece in the Clippersí championship hopes. Westbrookís role, similarly, is second only to Kevin Durantís on the OKC roster. Without him, Durant cannot be expected to carry the load of the Thunder all the way to the end of the season.

And this is where Parker does not get enough credit. Because coach Gregg Popovich has built the Spurs to handle any injury, San Antonio is not expected to drop off dramatically from the top of the Western Conference standings even in Parkerís absence. This reflects in San Antonioís two wins against Detroit and Chicago after Parker injured himself against Sacramento. In those two wins, the Spurs outclassed their opponents by 39 and 18 points respectively. Why then would anyone pine for Parker?

But Parkerís absence may still be crucial for San Antonio. With the OKC Thunder and the Los Angeles Clippers only 3.0 and 4.5 games adrift of the Spurs, a few losses by San Antonio down the stretch of the regular season may well cost them home court advantage in the later stages of the 2013 postseason. That could prove costly as OKC managed to beat San Antonio in the 2012 Western Conference Finals despite ceding home-court advantage to the Spurs.

That is when the Spurs and the league may realize the value of Parkerís current absence. But it would be too late by then.

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