With 1:20 left and the Mavs up two in Monday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Rajon Rondo brought the ball up the floor. But instead of initiating a crunch-time play for Dirk Nowitzki, as has been standard operating procedure in Dallas for the last 15 years, he went another direction. He didn’t even turn to Monta Ellis, whose late-game heroics nearly landed him on the Western Conference All-Star team. Rondo didn’t call his own number, either.
Nope, he turned to Chandler Parsons.
Parsons took a Tyson Chandler screen all the way near the midcourt line, and in four dribbles he veered around the Thunder’s Enes Kanter, Eurostepped DJ Augustin at the rim to avoid a charge, took the contact, and laid it in.
It was a simple play, really, but it represents everything about Parsons that has become so vital to this team. His driving ability, his finishing ability, his versatility as a player in general. In four games since returning from injury, he’s arguably been the best offensive player on this team. He earned that late-game playcall and took advantage of it.
“I love it, and that’s what I came here to do,” Parsons said after the win. “That’s what I want, and I’ve got to continue to play well. I think I’m a really good playmaker and can make the guys around me better, although I had zero assists tonight. I think good things happen when I have the ball.”
I think it’s safe to say that if Parsons continues putting up 31-point performances and keeps knocking down threes, it doesn’t matter how many assists he has. Still, his season averages of 15.8 points, 4.8 boards, and 2.3 assists per game are matched by only six other small forwards in the NBA, per Basketball-Reference.com. Parsons can make plays and he can score himself. That’s a rare combination, especially for a player his size. That gives head coach Rick Carlisle to call late-game sets for him or play through Parsons throughout the course of the game, which gives players like Rondo and Ellis a chance to catch their breath.
“He can play point guard,” head coach Rick Carlisle said of his small forward. “He has those kind of ball skills and that kind of awareness out there. And there’s times where we need to take pressure off Monta Ellis. We’ve dumped so much on his plate this year that there’s times we need to give him a break and attack other guys. So part of it is that balance, part of it is he’s a damn good playmaker, so we want to utilize everybody and we’ve got to keep working to strike the balance that we need.”
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest Parsons has received an expanded role in the offense the last few games. For starters, in the last four games, more than 18 percent of his field goal attempts have come after holding the ball for at least six seconds, and just 46.9 percent have come after touching the ball for fewer than two, per SportVU. Before his injury, 57.9 percent came after touching the ball for fewer than two seconds while just 7.4 percent came when touching it for six or longer. According to Synergy, five of Parsons’ 19 and-ones on the season have come in the last four games, as well. The Mavs are running more and more offense through him, and he’s producing.
“I’m not a standstill shooter,” Parsons said. “I’m not just a spot-up shooter. I think my best attribute is being a playmaker and attacking the rim. For us to do that, we have to balance the ball and we’ve been doing a great job of that lately.”
“It just gives us another ball-handler, a different look, a taller guy who can get in the lane,” added Dirk Nowitzki. “With his finishing, his long legs, he’s got those (Manu) Ginobili steps going. When he gets in there, he’s tough. He’s a good finisher but he’s also a good passer on the move. I just think it gives us another weapon and another ball-handler we’ve been missing when he was out.”
Playing through Parsons allows him to attack the basket in pick-and-roll situations, which is where he’s at his best. Off the ball, he can act as more of a spot-up shooter, and he’s very good at that. But at 6′ 10″ with the ball-handling ability and quickness of a guard, he’s a very challenging assignment for opponents. Check out his shooting chart from the last four games. He’s been getting to the rim very often and has finished extremely well there.
Now narrow it down even more, and look at what he was able to do against the Thunder. He had nine attempts at the rim, making seven.
After the OKC win, Rondo essentially wished teams good luck with stopping Parsons.
“It puts a 3-man in the pick-and-roll, which (defenses) don’t see too often in this league,” he said. “Guys like LeBron, when Melo’s playing, but other than that, there’s not too many 3s that can handle the ball and make plays for their teammates at the 3 position.”
It’s fairly steep praise comparing Parsons to LeBron, but he’s looked like a version of the superstar since returning from injury. Parsons can get into the lane seemingly at will with a combination of his speed, ball-handling ability, and long strides. His height allows him to simply glide past smaller defenders, and at 6′ 10″, he has the height advantage basically every night.
There will be nights when he might not be the featured player. For example, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard is one of the best defenders in the NBA, so the Mavericks might play through someone else. But in a more favorable matchup, Parsons might start seeing even more calls, especially if he keeps producing at this level. He’s averaging 20.5 points per game since returning from injury.
With Rondo growing more comfortable in the offense, Ellis still playing at a high level, and Parsons really coming into his own, the Mavs now start three players capable of running offense for long stretches of games. That demands opponents to play very good defense at all three perimeter spot, and there aren’t many, if any, teams capable of having the matchup advantage against all three players in one game. Then, add Nowitzki into the mix and now you can see how dangerous this team can truly be. We’ve now seem what this team is capable of when the starting lineup is firing on all cylinders. Now it’s up to them to maintain that high level of play through a tough stretch of schedule, and then we’ll see how far this team can go.
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