Chandler Parsons said something interesting during the end of his media session Sunday night, after the Dallas Mavericks defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves, 128-101.
"I definitely think I'm playing the best I ever have," Parsons said.
Note that he didn't say "best this season" or "best as a Maverick." Parsons said "best I ever have." That would encompass his entire NBA career.
You could blame the rush of a 29-point game against Minnesota, one where Parsons shot 10-of-15 from the floor, including 4-of-7 from the 3-point line, and a perfect 5-for-5 from the line. But there is another way to look at this. Parsons capped off a February in which his scoring average went up for the fourth straight month. He averaged 18.8 points per game, after averaging 8.0 ppg in November, 10.5 ppg in December and 16.1 ppg in January.
For the past two months his play has passed the eye test. Now his numbers are backing it up. It's stunning when, just a few months ago, some were wondering if Parsons would ever turn a corner this season.
"It's fun, and obviously I've worked extremely hard to get to this point, but you've got to keep it going," Parsons said. "You can't just have a game here or a game there."
For more than a decade the saying in Dallas has been "The Mavericks will only go so far as Dirk Nowitzki can take them." That's still true, to a degree. But as the season slips into March and the Mavericks try to improve their sixth-place standing in the Western Conference, you must add Parsons to that sentence.
If the Mavs have any hope of making the playoffs and reaching the second round of the postseason for the first time in five years, Parsons has to be a key reason why.
"He's clearly one of our best players," Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle said. "We need him in that attacking and play-making mode. We need him to play solid and be resourceful on defense."
How Parsons might impact the Mavericks this season was hard to determine when the season started in October. Parsons missed both of those October games due to his knee surgery, which ended his playoff run a few games early last season. The rehab process for a player like Parsons, who had not experienced a long-term injury in the NBA, was beyond frustrating, he admitted.
For six months, Parsons did practically nothing from a basketball standpoint. Then when he finally returned the Mavs put him on a minutes restriction, four minutes in and then four minutes out. His minutes in November — just 19.3 per game — resembled that of a fourth or fifth player off the bench and not a high-scoring starting wing. He even sat eight games this season to give Parsons extra recovery time.
He can't say no one warned him, though.
"I came back way earlier than anyone expected in the first place," Parsons said. "My doctors, the surgeon, my agent, Rick (Carlisle), Mark (Cuban) and those guys were in my ear when I would get frustrated and tell me it's a process and it's going to take forever. Obviously, at the time, I didn't want to believe them. I was struggling, I was missing shots, playing four minutes, coming out four minutes. I felt like I was messing up the team's rhythm, not playing some games, starting some games and then coming off the bench some games. It was just a mess and it was something that was very hard to go through."
It's clear Parsons has turned the corner. In fact, since the calendar turned to 2016 he's been a different player. He has his dribble drive back. His work off the pick-and-roll has improved. He's using show-and-go plays to get layups and runners, and now defenders respect Parsons' play so much he's drawing defenders, which helps offensive spacing and opens shots for others.
"It feels like every shot is going in now," Nowitzki said. (See more Mavs-Minny talk here in Quoteboard ... including thoughts on the work of other Mavs in this one). "He's in a great groove. You can see the confidence in him, the shots he's taking. He's just stepping right into it. He's aggressive with it. It's been fun to watch."
But that doesn't mean there aren't bumps along the way. Along with his best month of the season to date, Parsons also a pair of six-point games against a pair of Western Conference front-runners — San Antonio on Feb. 5 and Oklahoma City on Feb. 24. Of course that's an improvement over January, when Parsons had nine games with less than 10 points.
That's key as Parsons and the Mavericks enter March. Those groaner games have to become almost non-existent as the race to make the playoffs — and improve playoff seeding — enters the final stretch.
After all, these Mavericks will only go as far as Nowitzki — and Parsons — will take them. The struggle to get to this point has only fueled Parsons.
"I'm glad because all the pain, struggle and work I put in I use that every time I step on the floor and I realize that no one has worked as hard as me to get here," Parsons said.