Shootaround: Chandler Parsons

Mavs F Chandler Parsons dishes on playing alongside Rajon Rondo, how quickly he's fit in, the intangibles he brings to the team and more.

Rajon Rondo’s debut might be out of the way now, and the Mavs might be more used to each other today than they were the day before and the day before that, but thing aren’t going to get any easier tonight.

The Atlanta Hawks are the hottest team in the NBA, winning 12 of their last 15 games. Atlanta just beat Cleveland by 29 on the road last Wednesday. The East has gotten a lot of grief this season, but the Hawks, right now at least, are one of the best teams in the entire league.

This is going to be a difficult game for both clubs. Both the Mavs and Hawks have mismatches in their favor, so my guess is this is going to be a close, down-to-the-wire affair, much like the one we saw Saturday night. Buckle up.

OFFENSE
Mavs Offense Hawks Defense
Points/100 poss. 113.3 (1) 100.6 (7)
eFG% 53.5 (3) 49.1 (11)
TOV% 12.5 (4) 16.1 (9)
Off/Def Reb% 26.4 (T-12) 74.2 (16)
FT/FGA .228 (21) .250 (5)

The Hawks are coached by Mike Budenholzer, formerly a top assistant of Spurs head boss Gregg Popovich. Unsurprisingly, the Hawks play a disciplined, good-to-great brand of basketball on both sides of the floor. The Mavs just faced Popovich’s Spurs two days ago, although I doubt Budenholzer will employ the same defensive principles. The Spurs played a 2-3 zone for virtually the entire game, and I don’t see the Hawks playing it for more than a few possessions here and there, if even that much.

Dallas can make its hay on the inside. Atlanta’s frontcourt is one of the smallest in the league. 6′ 10″ Al Horford starts at center, and 6′ 11″ Pero Antic replaces him off the bench. As a result, opposing teams are shooting better than 60 percent from inside five feet. That area is where the Mavs are better than any other team in basketball; their 64.7 percent mark leads the league. Much of that has to do with Monta Ellis’s penetration and Tyson Chandler’s finishing ability. The 7′ 1″ Chandler has a huge size advantage over Horford and has a tremendous combination of quickness and power on his rolls to the rim, separating him as perhaps the league’s best big when going downhill. That could be a set the Mavs burn the Hawks with tonight.

Of course, the Hawks will also have Rajon Rondo to worry about. Jeff Teague, Atlanta’s starting point guard, is a fine defender, but he can only guard either Ellis or Rondo. Kyle Korver, Atlanta’s starting 2-guard, will have to guard the other, and he’s one of the team’s weaker perimeter defenders. Korver, however, more than makes up for it on the other end of the floor, but we’ll get to that later. Expect to see a lot of Thabo Sefolosha off the bench for Atlanta tonight. The former OKC wing is still a terrific defender, and he has the length (6′ 5″ tall) to bother Rondo and Ellis on drives to the rim.

Dirk Nowitzki will be checked by Paul Millsap to start and he’ll also see plenty of Mike Scott, the Hawks’ backup four. Neither player stands taller than 6′ 8″, giving Dirk a big advantage when it comes to getting clean looks on jump shots. However, Budenholzer’s inner Popovich might show, so if the Hawks begin double-teaming Nowitzki on the low block, the Mavs will have to act quickly off the ball. That’s where Rondo and Chandler Parsons, two of the better off-ball cutters in the league, can make a significant impact. Whether or not the Hawks double Dirk, I expect a healthy dosage of No. 41 tonight.

DEFENSE
Mavs Defense Hawks Offense
Points/100 poss. 104.8 (21) 106.8 (7)
eFG% 51.2 (T-22) 53.1 (4)
TOV% 17.3 (2) 14.8 (11)
Off/Def Reb% 71.5 (29) 20.6 (30)
FT/FGA .276 (14) .276 (16)

The Hawks are a blistering three-point team. Korver leads the way, shooting an astonishing 53.9 percent from beyond the arc. He is absolutely incredible from deep, and it becomes even more unbelievable when you see some of the ways teams defend him. Regardless of who is in charge of slowing down Korver this evening, expect multiple sets of eyes to be on him at all times. He’s the type of player who can be scoreless through the first quarter and then have 15 at halftime. He’s 33 and is still on pace to set the all-time single-season three-point percentage record.

Everyone else on Atlanta is capable of shooting it, though. The Hawks lead the league in FG% from 20-24 feet and are seventh in the league from 25+ feet. Five Hawks, including starting 4 Millsap, hit at least one three per game, and Atlanta’s top five shooters all hit at least 36.9 percent from deep. The Mavs must make it a top priority to close out shooters whenever possible.

In the same way Chandler and the Mavs can attack the Hawks’ size, Atlanta can stretch the Mavs defense. Horford is a terrific jump shooter, and his mid-range game is capable of stretching defenses in uncomfortable ways. To wit, Atlanta shoots 15-19 footers better than any other team in basketball, tying with Cleveland and just .2 percentage points ahead of the Mavs. Still, they’re the best from that range, too, and Horford and Millsap are the main reasons why. Because Horford and Millsap generally stay 15-20 feet from the rim, opposing centers like Chandler are drawn from the basket. That opens up better driving lanes for point guard Teague, one of the best rim drivers in basketball. He drives the ball 11.5 times per game, fourth-most in the NBA.

The onus will be on Rondo, then, to stay in front of Teauge as much as possible. Rondo’s got the length and quickness to bother Teague on the outside, but as he’ll be playing in part without Chandler’s excellent rim protection, Rondo will have to be even better than usual in order to limit Teague’s effectiveness on the inside.

That’s what the Hawks do, though. Because they play a brand of “five-out” basketball (all five players gravitate toward the perimeter) the court geometry is shifted in ways many players aren’t used to. The Miami Heat, when Chris Bosh is healthy, also play that style, and the Mavericks defense struggled during that game. It’s an unnatural style to defend against in the same way it’s an impossibly challenging task to defend Dirk Nowitzki. No one’s ever seen a seven-footer who can shoot it like Dirk, just like most players have never seen big guys who would rather play 15 feet from the rim. It’s an unorthodox way of playing, but what else could you expect from a Popovich disciple?

This is such an intriguing matchup. It’s the hottest team in the league, Atlanta, versus the most talked-about team in the league, the Mavs. Dallas now has its eyes set on making a deep playoff run, but these are the types of games you must win to get there. It’s a tough game against a top opponent, but it’s at home and it’s on the front end of a back-to-back. A loss would hurt for sure, so look for the Mavs to do whatever it takes to grab the W.

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