Timberwolves vs. Mavericks

Chandler Parsons leads a balanced attack with 30 points to top Karl-Anthony Towns' 27, as the Mavericks win in overtime 106-94.

In last Friday’s win at Chicago, Chandler Parsons scored 8 points on 4-of-9 shooting in 33 minutes. That isn’t an accurate representation of his game or where he is in his recovery process from offseason hybrid microfracture surgery.

In last night’s win against Minnesota, Parsons scored a season-high 30 points on 13-of-20 shooting in a season-high 46 minutes. According to head coach Rick Carlisle, that might not be an accurate representation, either.

“Just because of this game, he has not arrived,” the coach said. “This is another step. This is a strong step towards the goal, which is 100 percent health, 100 percent conditioning, rhythm, all those things.”

It’s important to remain patient with Parsons’ game-by-game performance and production this season. When recovering from an injury and surgery as significant as the one the Mavs’ small forward experienced, there will be steps forward, steps back, and steps to the side.

Whether or not last night was a step forward or just an aberration, there’s still been plenty of progress. Earlier in the season, Parsons would have a terrific game and then spend two or three looking for that same rhythm and effectiveness. These days, he’s having two or three terrific games for every off night he fights through. He might not yet have reached the finish line, but he’s certainly inching closer. If the recovery process is a marathon, it seems like Parsons has passed the 18-mile wall.

He was sensational against the Timberwolves, scoring 16 points in the fourth quarter and overtime alone, with a combination of rim attacks and outside shooting. Everything was clicking for Parsons last night, just as it did in the games against Cleveland and New Orleans earlier this month. Collectively, those three contests represent his best three games of the season. That they’ve all come in a span of two weeks shouldn’t surprise you.

“Tonight shows you how hard Parsons has worked,” Carlisle said. “He’s worked his butt off. He’s worked harder than he ever has – he’ll tell you that. I think he appreciates the game more than he ever has because of the struggle that you go through when you go through a surgery like this. I’m really happy for him. It’s great.”

All of that work has paid off as of late. During his last six games, Parsons is averaging 16.3 points (on 60.2 percent shooting from the field and 54.5 percent from deep), 5.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and a steal. The Mavs are 4-2 in those contests. During that time, the Mavs have a +10.9 net rating with Parsons on the floor, the highest by far of any Maverick.

His per-game scoring averages have also improved month-to-month, as have his rebounding numbers and three-point percentage. In the month of January, he’s shooting 50 percent from the field and 36.6 percent from beyond the arc.

When a player is recovering from an injury and procedure the way Parsons is, sometimes he’ll inexplicably fall into a cold spell, and just as unexpectedly he’ll burst out of it. He is certainly riding a tidal wave of momentum right now. Like Carlisle, however, Parsons is remaining grounded, measured, and very realistic about his situation.

“Just because I had a good game tonight it doesn’t mean my knee is magically 100 percent, and it probably won’t be all year,” he said. “As long as I can continue to manage it and get stronger, and keep being confident, I can continue to play at a high level.”

Could there possibly be factors in play, however, that could in part explain how Parsons has suddenly been so productive as of late? Based on the eye test and a couple Parsons anecdotes, the answer appears to be yes.

Postgame: Chandler Parsons

Mavs F Chandler Parsons dishes on his season-high 30-point performance in Wednesday's OT-win over Minnesota.

Lessons with the legend

A few days ago after hitting four three-pointers against Boston, Parsons said he’s been shooting with Dirk Nowitzki lately, ironing out some mechanics in his jump shot and trying to take as many pointers as possible. “He waited a year and a half to ask me,” Nowitzki joked after the game.

The fruits of his labor have already grown and ripened, it seems. Parsons has shot 8 of 13 from three in his last three games and 12 of 22 in his last six appearances. That’s major progress in a very short period of time.

“Even on off days, we come in,” Parsons said of the shooting sessions. “I wouldn’t want to work with anybody else in the league, ever. It’s a resource that I’ve had here for over a year now, and I’ve just starting to take advantage of it. He’s been great — just little pointers, nothing too drastic.”

Parsons also added that the two do plenty of trash-talking, which pretty well sums up their relationship. There’s no player in the Mavs locker room who talks more than Nowitzki, and Parsons himself also revels in friendly rivalries, as he and Charlie Villanueva take part in almost a daily three-point competition with the winner receiving a championship belt. (Much to Parsons’ chagrin, the belt currently belongs to Villanueva.)

Sliding to the power forward spot

With Nowitzki out against Minnesota due to a right knee effusion, there were plenty of minutes to be had at the power forward position. Charlie Villanueva got the start, but Parsons ultimately ended up with more minutes at that spot than anyone else on the roster. The Mavericks were +19 last night when Parsons played the 4 position, and that’s not an outlier performance.

Dallas has performed very well in small-ball lineups this season with Parsons on the floor, as the club can spread it out offensively and attack the rim from every direction. Per nbawowy.com, this season the Mavericks have scored 1.059 points per possession when Parsons has been on the floor without Nowitzki, Villanueva, and Dwight Powell — a.k.a. when Parsons has been the 4. Dallas has a 53.3 effective field goal percentage in those situations, and the offense practically revolves around putting Parsons in position to attack his man.

“It’s obviously a mismatch when they’ve got a bigger, slower guy guarding me,” Parsons said. “I’m versatile and can catch-and-go and shoot the ball. Obviously, the better I shoot the ball, the harder they’re gonna close out on me and the more they’re gonna bite on the pump fakes. It just gives our team a different look, a more versatile look where we can get up and down.”

Against Minnesota, the lineup of Deron Williams, Devin Harris, Wesley Matthews, Parsons, and Zaza Pachulia outscored Minnesota by a whopping 20 points, according to NBA.com. That group scored 111.7 points per 100 possessions in 13 minutes, the best mark of any lineup in that game — except for a group including J.J. Barea, Harris, Justin Anderson, Parsons, and JaVale McGee, which scored an absurd 121.8 points per 100 in seven minutes. With Parsons at the 4, the Mavs simply cruise.

First, they cruise because he’s got the speed to beat a big man off cuts and coming off screens.

Cut layup

And if the opposing center matches up with him in a cross-switch in transition, Parsons can easily beat him for a layup.

No big to help

In a 1/4 pick-and-roll, switching a small onto Parsons often spells disaster. He has the size and strength to go right through smaller players.

Small guy

These are just a few examples of how Parsons’ versatility comes into play as a power forward in small-ball lineups. There’s just so much more space in which he can operate and that helps the offense thrive. If those groups can survive on the defensive glass, there aren’t many teams in the league who can keep up with them. It will be very interesting to see how the Mavs manage his minutes in that position moving forward, regardless of Nowitzki’s situation.

Closing time

With no Dirk, that meant Parsons was first in line for the closing touches. He played power forward virtually the entire fourth quarter and into overtime, meaning he was operating in maximum space in crunch time, playing right to his strengths. He was working with the ball in his hands, which is when he’s at his best, so he was able to get into the lane and make things happen. Parsons was also surprisingly aggressive, unafraid of taking on Karl-Anthony Towns, who finished with six blocks in the game.

Attack towns 1

Attack towns 2

And when you’re in the zone, you’re in the zone.

Attack towns 3

When Parsons has complete and total freedom on the offensive end, he becomes one of the most dynamic players in the league. While point guards make the flashy moves and big men remain the anchor, the NBA is becoming more and more of a wing-centric league. That’s why Dallas was so excited to add Matthews this offseason; that combination rivals the league’s best.

A player like Parsons who can shoot, finish, pass, attack, and facilitate from either forward spot is extremely rare in this league and therefore equally valuable. The list of guys with his averages is very short, and for good reason: It’s extremely hard to do be that type of player, and it’s even harder to defend guys like that. You can’t go small, you can’t go big, you can’t commit to collapsing when he attacks, but you can’t leave him 1-on-1, either.

The proof is in the pudding, too. The Mavs are 9-2 this season when Parsons plays 30+ minutes. They’re 7-1 when he scores at least 15 points. They’re 9-2 when he gets at least 50 touches and 6-1 when he gets 60 or more. When he’s involved and producing, the Mavericks win games. And he’s been producing lately.

It’s important to keep in mind that this is still a process and Parsons has not yet reached the end of his recovery. There will still be steps back, but there will also be steps forward, and those will come in larger quantities as time goes on. He’s not quite yet to the checkered finish, but it’s at least within eyesight.

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