We’ve seen two major changes with this team in the month of January: Chandler Parsons is playing lights-out basketball, and he’s playing an awful lot of minutes at the power forward position.
Whether those two things are connected is for the Mavericks to decide, but there appears to be a fairly significant correlation between the two. The small forward is shooting 52.0 percent this month and is averaging 25.4 points per game in his last five contests. He’s getting to the rim more often as well, averaging 6.0 drives in his last five outings, per SportVU, as opposed to 4.2 a night before his recent run. Those rim attacks have produced 6.0 points per game for the 27-year-old Parsons.
“It’s obviously a mismatch when they’ve got a bigger, slower guy guarding me,” he said earlier this month, after the Mavericks, playing without Dirk Nowitzki, beat the Timberwolves in overtime thanks in large part to Parsons’ play. “I’m versatile and can catch-and-go and shoot the ball. Obviously, the better I shoot the ball, the harder they’re gonna close out on me and the more they’re gonna bite on the pump fakes. It just gives our team a different look, a more versatile look where we can get up and down.”
He’s certainly found his shot lately, too, connecting on multiple treys in six consecutive games. Since Jan. 12, Parsons is shooting 57.8 percent from beyond the arc. That means defenders must either respect his shot and play tighter defense or risk getting burned by the long-ball. And considering Parsons has a speed and quickness advantage over most conventional power forwards in this league, that makes the decision even more difficult. It seems playing him at that spot has opened the floor for him and for everyone else.
Since Jan. 1, the Mavericks are scoring 1.053 points per possession with Parsons on the floor and neither Nowitzki nor Charlie Villanueva — traditionally the two power forwards in the rotation — on the floor, per nbawowy.com. Dwight Powell will occasionally play the 4-spot next to Parsons, but he’s spent more of his time this month as the small-ball center. The Mavericks have a 51.3 effective field goal percentage during that time and 32.0 percent of their total shot attempts in those situations have come from between 0-3 feet from the rim. They’re shooting 65.3 percent on those attempts.
Parsons spends a ton of time on the ball when he’s playing power forward as well, as the Mavericks look for every opportunity to exploit a possible mismatch. He’s taken good care of the ball in those situations, too, as his team has turned it over just 12.1 percent of their 356 offensive possessions. Meanwhile, opponents have turned it over 15.5 percent of the time against that particular combination of players (Parsons on, with no Dirk or Villanueva).
Rick Carlisle’s biggest concern in regards to Parsons playing extended minutes at the 4 position have to do with rebounding. Nowitzki and Villanueva are both solid defensive rebounders and they have more height, length, and size than Parsons, so Dallas does potentially sacrifice strength on the glass for speed on offense. However, with Parsons at the 4 this month, the Mavericks have rebounded 76.9 percent of opponent misses, per nbawowy, which is actually a slight uptick from the club’s defensive rebounding rate on the season (76.6 percent). The 76.9 percent mark would rank tied for ninth-best in the league, while the Mavs’ overall rate ties for 11th.
“It’s important that (Parsons) holds his own on the boards,” Carlisle said. “There’s not a particular number that he has to get, but as a team, we have to get our share of rebounds. In many cases — I should say in most cases — that means the 4-man’s got to be a good defensive rebounder. … We just need Chandler to keep doing what he’s been doing in recent games, and he’s been doing a very good job.”
Parsons has at least five rebounds in six consecutive games, which ties for his longest streak since his rookie season and is the longest in his Mavs career. He’s had three games with at least seven rebounds during that time and is averaging 5.5 boards in the month of January.
If the Mavericks can continue gobbling up rebounds off of opponent misses, Parsons at the power forward spot could have some real staying power. Shawn Marion played plenty of backup 4 for the Mavericks during his time in Dallas, and with Nowitzki playing fewer minutes per game by the season, there are more backup minutes to be had. Combined with the Mavericks’ deep backcourt and penchant for playing multiple point guard-sized players at the same time throughout a game — not to mention Wesley Matthews’ defensive success against bigger wing players — it seems like Parsons could spend more time at the 4 as time wears on.
That means we could be seeing more of the eye-popping numbers he’s been putting up lately.
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