Mavs F Chandler Parsons says he was excited to
It turns out Rick Carlisle is a man of his word.
One day after hinting that rotation changes might be in store, Carlisle rolled out what seemed like only a slightly different group in Tuesday’s win over the Kings. However, if he sticks to what he did against Sacramento, the tweak he made could completely change the nature of this team — and likely for the better.
On paper, it doesn’t seem so crazy. The only tactical change, really, was pushing Chandler Parsons to the backup power forward (in addition to already starting at the small forward position) in favor of Dwight Powell and Charlie Villanueva. Meanwhile, the backup 3 minutes went to a combination of Wesley Matthews and — this is where it gets weird — Raymond Felton.
In games when the Mavs have a complete backcourt, it’s easy to see why Felton’s minutes could be reduced. Deron Williams and J.J. Barea handle the point guard minutes, while Matthews starts at 2 and is backed up by Devin Harris. There are only so many minutes to go around. The problem, though, is Felton has been one of the Mavs’ best players this season in terms of plus-minus. Good things happen when he plays, so it only makes sense for Carlisle to put players on the floor who always find ways to make things happen.
As it turns out, giving Felton minutes in a three-guard lineup also plays perfectly to Parsons’ advantage. During one of its most intriguing stretches of basketball all season, Dallas surrounded a frontcourt of Parsons and JaVale McGee with three of the five guards, and the results were hugely positive. While that frontcourt duo was on the floor, the Mavericks outscored the Kings by 9.6 points per 100 possessions. After the game Carlisle said the decision was made in part due to the potential matchup of Parsons on the smaller Omri Casspi. However, Casspi missed the game due to injury and Carlisle stuck with it anyway, hinting that this could be in the cards again for Dallas moving forward.
“We looked at it tonight, anticipating that they would play smaller. But Casspi didn’t play and they had a couple other smaller guys out,” he said. “I took a shot at it in the first half when they were big. We actually did OK with it, so we stayed with it a little bit. But we’ll see. It’s an option for us.”
Dallas stuck with it to the extreme. According to nbawowy.com, the Mavericks played 112 possessions in the double-OT thriller, and both Parsons and Nowitzki were on the bench for just four of those possessions.
Spacing the floor with Parsons at the 4 could potentially do wonders for the Dallas offense. When the 6-foot-10 forward is at his best, he’s operating in the pick-and-roll game as the ball-handler, in a position to score for himself, pass to the big man, or kick it out to a shooter. When he’s not only surrounded by guards who can shoot but also guarded by big men not accustomed to defending on the perimeter, things like this can happen.
It should be noted that Zaza Pachulia was at center in the above play, not McGee, but the result was the same. Neither Kosta Koufos nor DeMarcus Cousins has any intention of defending 25 feet from the rim, which meant Matthews’ defender Ben McLemore had to slide over to contest a potential shot or drive. Parsons has the awareness and vision to read and react appropriately, so he swung it to Matthews in the corner for a 3. That’s the type of play we see from guys like Draymond Green. The Mavs improved to 17-6 all-time when Parsons finishes with at least 4 assists in a game, per Basketball-Reference.
Adding McGee into the mix, however, brings an added element. McGee is such a force in the pick-and-roll game because of his ability to get vertical and throw down an alley-oop. If you don’t crash the lane with as many defenders as possible to try impeding his progress to the rim, you have no chance of stopping him.
Obviously you don’t want guards to try slowing down the 7-foot McGee. Ideally you’d want similarly athletic big men to do it — like Cousins, for example. But Cousins can’t help if he’s guarding a small-ball power forward like Parsons, because if he does, it’s almost a guaranteed three points.
By sending both guards to the corner, Dallas turned the above play into a game of 3-on-3. The Mavs’ personnel: a point guard, a center, and a playmaking wing. The Kings’: one point guard and two centers. Cousins isn’t used to having to choose between helping against a roll or running out to contest a potential three-point shot, so by the time he realizes what’s happened, Parsons had already shot.
Playing Parsons or Nowitzki next to McGee gives the big man his best chance to thrive. In those situations, he’s the anchor of the defense and he can play in maximum space on offense. According to Basketball-Reference, he became just the second Mavericks center since 2011 to record a double-double off the bench. McGee finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 2 steals.
“That’s what I’m here for,” he said. “I’m here to bring energy, to dunk the ball, get the crowd into it, block some shots, and be a defensive presence.”
In a perfect world, I suspect Carlisle would rather Parsons only play small-ball 4 against wings closer to his size, such as the 6-foot-9 Casspi for example. But the Mavs forward has the advantage in both matchups because he’s one of the few players in the NBA with the coveted combination of size, shooting, ball-handling, and playmaking. As his athleticism returns following an offseason knee surgery, Parsons has begun looking more and more like the dangerous offensive talent we saw last spring. If the Mavs can continue spacing the floor this beautifully with a combination of play design and personnel, however, the athleticism is less of an issue.
“It just gives our team a different, versatile look,” Parsons said. “I’m more than comfortable sliding over to the 4.”
Moving forward, it’s going to be very interesting to follow how Carlisle manages his rotation. Will we see more of Parsons at the 4, or is it truly more of a matchup-based thing? What is McGee’s ceiling in terms of minutes and potential? The Mavs hit 12 three-pointers and shot 41.4 percent from deep against the Kings, so should credit go to that wide-open offensive style? It’s an exciting time to follow the decision-making process of Carlisle, one of the best coaches in the NBA.