Mavs Parsons And His Subtle Stardom
The term “max contract” is a troubling one when evaluating a player. Chandler Parsons is technically a “max player.” Never mind that the maximum amount a player can be paid will change in less than two years or that certain players qualify for different levels of a “max contract.”
Nonetheless, by being the highest-paid player on the Mavericks, Parsons created certain expectations for himself. He solidified those expectations before the season by claiming that he sees himself as a No. 1 offensive option in the future, the "heir'' after Dirk Nowitzki fades into the sunset.
At the risk of making Parsons sound delusional, I would argue this is not the type of role Parsons is destined to play. It’s not that simple. Instead, Parsons is an excellent complementary player that excels based on the attention his teammates can draw from opposing defenses. He is in a tier of player that contending teams need to have to win championships.
If you’ve been paying attention lately, he’s starting to look like it, too.
Parsons is a capable scorer, but not in the sense that you want him orchestrating an offense on a full-time basis. If he is holding the ball for more than two seconds and is being guarded by a good defender the chances of him scoring are not necessarily very high. Instead, Parsons thrives when he is passed the ball a few beats into the shot clock, ideally with defense already on its toes. Parsons’ strength is in his deliberation and when the defense is reacting to another player he will make a play before they have time to adjust either by taking a jump shot or taking advantage of arguably the best pump fake in the NBA and driving to the basket where he has proven to be an above average finisher.
It was hard to sort out Parsons’ strong performances in the early stages of the season because there was a fair amount of inconsistency to his game. To his credit, despite (perhaps unfair) criticism from fans and media he never forced the issue. He has yet to take more than 20 shots in a game this season. That’s a good thing for this Mavericks team with plenty of capable scorers.
In consecutive games against Cleveland and the Clippers, Parsons took 12 shots in each. He converted those 12 shots into 18 and 22 points respectively. His line against the Clippers was 22 points, five rebounds and four assists, an efficient line for someone who had the ball in his hands about a third of the time Chris Paul did.
In Monday night’s 119-115 victory over Oklahoma City his performance reached another level beyond the two previous games. He scored 31 points off of 10-14 shooting to go along with four rebounds and two steals. The Mavericks even ran the offense through him in select late-game possessions.
“He’s a damn good playmaker,” Carlisle said after the game in reference to Parsons playing a little bit of "point guard'' in a simple pick-and-roll situation in the last two minutes.
The deliberation that Parsons plays with allows him to thrive against a scrambling defense. This is also the case for Rajon Rondo who is far less effective against a set defense. Neither Parsons nor Rondo has the one-on-one, bail out abilities of Dirk Nowitzki or Monta Ellis, but both of them can take advantage of the chaos following a scrambling defense.
That is why we’ve seen increasingly strong chemistry between Rondo and Parsons. Fans have been clamoring for Rondo to find that chemistry with other Mavs, but it is Parsons who looks to react to the spacing on the floor. A number of Parsons’ three-point shots over the past three games have come from Rondo assists in semi-transition. Monday night, Rondo assisted on three of Parsons’ shots in the first quarter alone. Rondo is adept at finding the spot on the court where a defender will have make a tough decision. Parsons typically converts in those situations and it requires no play calling from Carlisle. Keep in mind that both Rondo and Parsons have missed significant time due to injuries and so the development of that chemistry is still fresh.
To put in very simple terms, Parsons’ offensive skillset make him a great player to kick the ball out to once the defense is sucked in because he is a triple threat (shooting, driving and passing) to make a play with a defender running at him. In the half court, the burden falls on Ellis to draw in those defenders with drives to the basket.. A drive to the basket by Ellis can open up a lot of things simply by kicking the ball out to a player like Parsons. Some claim that the offense should run through Parsons more, but this might be getting carried away. Simply getting him the ball off of a kick out creates a world of possibilities. To the causal eye, such plays may seem like an offense run by Parsons, but it is simply him reacting to plays initiated by others, something he is very good at. Ellis, Nowitzki and Rondo were all aggressive in specific sequences of Monday’s game. Parsons was the constant. As long as the defense has someone else to worry about, Parsons can complement that player.
From an offensive standpoint, there is still room for him to grow as a passer. His best decision making comes in semi-transition where he has great chemistry with Tyson Chandler. However, Parsons assists on baskets to Nowitzki at a very low rate. This is the next step in the development of his game. A 6-9 forward driving to the basket forces help defense and Nowitzki doesn’t need much space to convert. Parsons has to understand the simplicity of that and know where he is on the court. Nowitzki missed a few shots that would have been assists by Parsons on Monday night, suggesting this is something we may have to look forward to.
The defensive strengths of Parsons are equally as subtle. He is far from the defensive stalwart that Shawn Marion was or even as capable as Al-Farouq Aminu. In the same way that Parsons is unlikely to score one-on-one against Tony Allen, he is also unlikely to successfully defend Kevin Durant.
His defensive prowess is in his athleticism, size and awareness. He can stay in front of his defender and he has the length and speed to recover and contest three-point shooters. He is not a shut-down defender, but he is crucial when the Mavericks play young teams that would normally be miles ahead of Dallas from an athletic standpoint. Nowitzki, Ellis and Devin Harris have all been subpar defenders for most of the season. Parsons will have defensive lapses of his own, but for the most part he plays solid team defense.
“I’ve just been playing confidently,'' CP said of his recent run. "I think those two or three weeks I missed was very beneficial to me to take a step back and really look at how I can help our offense and our defense. I just came back rested and my foot is getting better and better every single day. I think it definitely helped. It hurt not being able to play and help these guys win games, but coming back it definitely seems like I’m in a good rhythm right now, and things are coming to me easier.”
Whether or not Parsons is a foundational player is currently irrelevant. He is clearly a player that can take this 43-25 Dallas Mavericks team to another level on both ends of the court, as he will try to do tonight against visiting Orlando (early 7 p.m. start on FOX Sports Southwest) and that’s exactly the type of player a team should be going after in free agency.
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