Last season, Chandler Parsons was the best pick-and-roll player on the Mavs and, by volume, the fifth-best in the NBA. He was spectacular in the role, generating points for himself at a very high rate. Parsons was so efficient, in fact, that he’s said he’d like a larger role in the offense this season — and should his knee cooperate, which at this point it seems like it will, Parsons has done enough to earn it.
Parsons has grown more efficient by the year in the pick-and-roll, scoring a career-high 0.951 points per possession as the ball-handler in that set.
And Rick Carlisle, who not only rides hot hands on the offensive side of the ball but also relies on the pick-and-roll in general, happily gave Parsons looks more frequently in the pick-and-roll than he’d gotten from Kevin McHale earlier in his career. According to Synergy Sports, 18.3 percent of Parsons’ possessions came as the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll, a career-high mark. He logged 2.79 pick-and-rolls per game, also a career-high.
What makes Parsons so effective in the pick-and-roll is his rare combination of height, speed, ball-handling, and finishing ability. At 6-foot-10 with the dexterity to finish around the rim with either hand, he’s a tough assignment for any wing. Playing next to Dirk Nowitzki was another big reason behind Parsons’ statistical surge last season, as defenses respect Nowitzki’s jump shot to such a high degree that it gives Parsons a slightly easier driving lane to the basket. But even if the defense honed in on Parsons, he’s got the foot speed to blow by bigger players and finish a contested bucket.
We saw this time and time again last season, and while it might look easy, it really isn’t. Parsons is knifing through traffic and finishing with his off-hand but it looks about as simple as Nowitzki’s patented one-legged fade. Lay-ups are only easy before the game starts, but when the whistle blows and you find yourself among the trees, suddenly the basket looks a little smaller. Parsons, however, was unfazed last season, and the Mavs will be counting on him to maintain that same level of efficiency this season.
OffRtg? NetRtg? eFG%? What does this all mean?!
It isn’t just Nowitzki, though, whose presence defenses will have to account for this season. Deron Williams and Wes Matthews, who figure to be the starting guards this season, are both excellent three-point shooters. Matthews, in particular, is about as reliable as it gets on catch-and-shoot opportunities, having hit more treys since 2009-10 than everyone in the league not named Kyle Korver or Stephen Curry. Last season’s backcourt of Monta Ellis and Rajon Rondo excelled at driving to the rim — Ellis in particular — but neither guard was an above-average three-point shooter. That’s changed this season, and so will the attention opponents pay the Mavs’ guards this season.
For example, in the gif above, C.J. Watson is responsible for guarding Rondo, who was at the elbow as Parsons drove. Rondo was getting in position for a potential rebound, which is what you like to see as the offense, but you’d want Deron Williams to be behind the arc there ready for a potential kick-out pass if Watson chose to slide down and help against Parsons. Watson, of course, is smarter than that, which means there would have been one less defender for Parsons to beat in the lane. Everything is easier for everyone when you have shooting all over the court in today’s NBA.
So we know Parsons can score it himself in the pick-and-roll, but you’ve got to be able to spread the ball around to others in order to keep defenses honest, no matter how much shooting you have. The good news is Parsons can pass the ball, too. Last season he passed to spot-up shooters out of the P&R 63 times, only turning it over twice. Overall, he turned it over 34 times in 277 (a turnover rate of 12.3 percent) total P&R possessions, including all passes, a very solid mark for a small forward. By comparison, LeBron James had a 12.2 turnover rate in similar situations.
This is where Williams and Matthews will help most. Of those 63 passes to shooters Parsons made last season, the Mavs hit just 19 of 61 shots from the field, good for 31.1 percent, averaging just 0.81 points per possession. Typically, spot-up shots out of a pick-and-roll are threes, and the Mavs’ starting backcourt last season struggled to hit those shots. But with the dead-eye shooting of Williams and Matthews, that number should experience a sharp increase this season. Below, see what Parsons’ numbers looked like with some good shooting in Houston — envisioning what he could do this season, with potentially better shooting than he had with the Rockets, is going to be fun. (“Derived offense” combines Parsons’ own shooting with all shots taken following a pass — whether it’s to a shooter, the roll man, or someone else.)
|Season||Derived Offense Points/Possession||Parsons P&R Points/Possession||Spot-Up Shooters Points/Possession|
Let’s pretend the Mavs take the same exact number of shots — 61 — as they did last season, and they’re all three-pointers, but they make 24 shots (39.3 percent) instead of 19 (31.1). That would result in 15 extra points for the Mavs, which would have increased the shooters’ points per possession from 0.810 to 1.05. Similarly, it would have increased Parsons’ derived offense points per possession from 0.949 to 1.00, by far a career-high. Oh, yeah, and 15 extra points could have won an extra game or two last season.
That’s what happens when you combine solid playmaking with great shooting: Points come in bunches and bunches. And if Parsons’ responsibilities really do increase this campaign the way he wants them to — and if he maintains the same level of individual efficiency he had last season — he could very well become one of the most prolific facilitators in the league, regardless of position. Parsons’ success is tied to the production of his teammates perhaps more so than both Williams’ and Matthews’. But, just as Parsons’ ease of looks depend on their shooting, their openness will depend on Parsons’ finishing ability. That symbiotic relationship could be the driving force behind the Mavs’ offense this season.