It didn’t take long for us to see how Chandler Parsons can influence the Mavs’ offense.
The 6′ 9″ forward led the team with 14 points in Tuesday’s preseason opener against the Houston Rockets, his former team. Parsons knifed his way to the rim again and again throughout the game, leading to the new Maverick drawing three shooting fouls and making two layups. This season’s Mavs offense will be built upon its perimeter players’ collective ability to drive to the rim — Dallas has five of the top 51 lane-drivers from last season — and, though it was just one game, Parsons’s first performance demonstrated that he’s going to be awfully dangerous this season.
Last season’s Rockets scored 1.21 points off of Parsons drives, 11th-best in the league. The forward is bigger than most small forwards and extremely quick for his size, creating a mismatch against nearly every defender he faces on any given night. And if there’s one thing ingrained in his mind from his three years in Houston, it’s this: Either shoot the three or drive to the rim. Don’t pull up, ever. That certainly could change this season with the Mavericks, but for one game, at least, Parsons was unstoppable. His six free throws tied for third-most on the team, behind Monta Ellis (12) and Al-Farouq Aminu (8). Parsons and Ellis are two of the premier rim-drivers in the NBA, but they can each spot up, too. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said he’s looking forward to watching them work together.
“They fit well together,” Carlisle said. “When Monta drives it, Parsons is a terrific spot-up shooter. Parsons is a good guy off movement. Monta’s 3-point shooting last year was very good, especially from the corners, and he’s gotten better over the summer. One guy drives, the other guy spots. One guy spots, the other guy drives. They’re going to fit well together. They’re both good runners. They’re both good passers. We want to keep the ball moving and keep a lot of guys touching it. I like the synergy on paper.”
The part of the possession during which Parsons was most dangerous against the Rockets was early in the possession. Especially against an elite defensive center like Dwight Howard, attacking the basket early in the shot clock — before the big man has a chance to get set — is the easiest way to score points. And points came in bunches for Parsons.
In the play above, Parsons literally just dribbled through everyone and got to the basket seven seconds into the possession. His ball-handling ability gives him the freedom to initiate the offense should the defense apply pressure to Monta Ellis, as James Harden did in the gif above. Because even his own teammates hadn’t gotten set, Parsons was faced with a defense ill-prepared for any immediate pressure. He recognized the opening and took advantage of it. Although he missed the layup, both Al-Farouq Aminu and Bernard James were there for the put-back chance.
The play above is similar to the first in that Parsons is attacking the defense early in the shot clock after having brought the ball up the floor himself. The difference is Tyson Chandler sets an early screen on Trevor Ariza, responsible for Parsons, which isolates Parsons one-on-one with Howard. The small forward then offers a smooth ball-fake, luring Howard off his feet. By then, he’s already beat, and Parsons draws the contact. It’s an easy whistle every time. Keep in mind, though: Parsons is 6′ 9″. Not many guys that size can move like that in general, let alone handle the ball effectively while doing so. It isn’t easy to fool a player as good as Dwight Howard.
Parsons shot 59.2 percent from the field in transition last season, an elite mark. His speed is unquestioned, but the ability to convert at that type of clip in transition also illustrates his general court awareness. He and James Harden were dynamic in the open floor last season, and Houston scored a ton of points in transition because of it. This season, working with speedy guards like Monta Ellis and Devin Harris, Parsons figures to be just as effective, if not even more dangerous. The Mavericks have more speed this season than they did last season, which plays right to their starting small forward’s strengths.
Again, Parsons is 6′ 9″ and pushing 6′ 10″. That’s almost as tall as Dirk Nowitzki. And, despite what Dirk might tell you about his athleticism, the German isn’t going to cross someone over like that in the open floor. Defended by Trevor Ariza — one of the better perimeter defenders in the league — Parsons took him one-on-one to the basket and drew a foul. That’s an easy two points. If Monta Ellis was a “one-man fast break” last season, Parsons can surely be his running mate this year. Throw in a player like Aminu, trailing slightly behind the play, and you have a formidable team in the open floor.
My guess is Carlisle will give these guys the green light in transition for the entire season. If a chance is there, take it — and if it isn’t, pull the ball out and run a halfcourt set. Either option is a good one; the Mavs had one of the best offenses in the league last season despite averaging just 12.2 fast break points per game, good for 19th in the NBA. Parsons isn’t going to make that number go up by himself, despite what the gif above might suggest, but the Dallas roster is flooded with players who can be just as effective in space. It’s a safe bet that 12.2 could organically increase to 14 or even as high as 16 this season.
The ability to get to the rim is just one advantage Parsons brings to the table — but it’s a big one. He scored 10 points off drives to the basket against Houston. Tonight, against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Parsons will face off against Kevin Durant, an extremely long player, and Serge Ibaka, another elite rim protector. Can he be just as effective in the paint, or will he have to find another way to score? That’s what makes the preseason so exciting — we get the chance to see teams gel right in front of us. In Parsons’s case, it’s so far, so good. He’s fit right in.
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