October 17, 2018
Has Dallas's big free agent acquisition been able to live up to the pressure?

After netting an overtime victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night, the Dallas Mavericks are now on a six-game winning streak that has pushed them up the standings. Only the Golden State Warriors, Portland Trail Blazers and Atlanta Hawks have won more games than Dallas at the moment, and it is all fuelled by a dynamic offense. The Mavericks rank second in the league in pace-adjusted point differential thanks to a scoring machine that remains among history’s best, despite having slowed down slightly since they traded for point guard Rajon Rondo (an inevitable by-product of needing to integrate one so ball dominant at such an important offensive position).

Prior to acquiring Rondo, Chandler Parsons had been perhaps the team’s most significant investment for this season, signing a three-year, $46-million dollar contract in free agency. Parsons was developed in Houston as the prototype wing for this current era of basketball; a great open-court scorer, a consistent shot maker from the corners and an able passer out of dribble penetration.

It was assumed Parsons would be a tremendous fit in Dallas. In previous seasons, the team had made great use of Vince Carter’s pick-and-roll passing, and could always use another shooter around Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis. However, Parsons’s role with them thus far has essentially been narrowed down to the latter, spotting up and creating out of shooting position, as he’s taken 50.5% of his shots from outside 16-feet, according to basketball-reference. His impact has been limited somewhat on account of not shooting the ball well, hitting just 34.7% of his 173 catch-and-shoot three-point attempts, according to NBA.com’s SportVU tracking technology, including a lousy 28.3% from the corners from which he had previously shone.

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Parsons has an unusual shooting motion, flexing his elbows more than you are accustomed to seeing on pure shooters and at times almost literally bringing the ball all the way to the top of his head. Elevating off the ground and loading his shot aren’t done in sync, and sometimes leads to him release the ball on his way down. These have long since been the case and have not prevented him from being a good shooter before, but the arc on Parsons’s shot appears flatter than it was in Houston. As so, he has struggled when contested, hitting just 30.4% of his 69 three-point attempts with a defender within four feet of him.

Parsons is, however, doing far better within close range. Dallas runs a free flowing offense where the ball ping-pongs from side to side very fluidly and puts him in good position to attack closeouts. He has an excellent pump-fake that forces defenders off balance, which is vital for him to get good separation off the bounce because his first step is not particularly explosive. Parsons has well-developed ball skills for someone his height, though, and is able to drive with either hand. His turnover rate is very low in the context of his usage. He doesn’t attack the basket with much speed, but he can finish around length extremely well. Parsons has scored at the rim at a 67.8% clip and been blocked on just 7% of his two-point attempts. James Harden, Tyreke Evans, Gordon Hayward, LeBron James and Rudy Gay are the only pure wings in the league who have scored more points off drives than him.

Also a very willing passer on the move, Parsons’s numbers are down in this department as he doesn’t get to create out of the pick-and-roll much as a Mav. His assist-rate is down in comparison to his last two seasons in Houston, with his playmaking mostly consisting of making the extra pass around the perimeter and the easy dump-off to Chandler or kick-out to a spot-up shooter once he attacks off a live dribble and with the defense out of position. Dallas can create such great looks with the mere gravity of Nowitzki’s shooting and Ellis’s drives that it doesn’t need Parsons as a shot creator, especially now with Rondo on board, but it seems like a waste not to incorporate this skill of his into a few sets (although Dallas’s ultimate plan is to run no sets at all).

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In Houston, Parsons was a poor weak side defender, constantly starting at the strong side and allowing backdoor cuts. He has however been more attentive to his off-ball responsibilities in Dallas, which selectively sends Ellis and Rondo to trap the ball and asks Parsons to proactively switch if the open man is a scoring threat. Parsons has decent closing speed and good length to effectively contest shots on the perimeter, but doesn’t have the lateral quickness to stay in front of smaller players in isolation. He also doesn’t have enough strength to guard bigger opponents in the post and is a general non-factor helping protect the rim, so the Mavericks haven’t gone to him as a small-ball power-forward much. His rebounding rate rates as average among position peers, according to ESPN.com. As ever, the offensive end is the one on which he is best.

All in all, Parsons has been OK. That might be a bit underwhelming when you consider he’s earning $15 million per year, but his compensation says more about the nature of restricted free agency than what is expected of him. Even if his production is limited to one side of the floor and he’s even struggling with half of what’s asked of him on that end, Parsons has still been an upgrade over Carter and Shawn Marion and a key component to what’s a reasonable title contender. He has yet to produce at his best or be the player the Mavericks will have thought they were getting. But that does mean that there is still more to come.

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Rafael Uehara

Rafael Uehara is a contributor at bballbreakdown.com. More of his stuff can be read at basketballscouting.wordpress.com, his personal blog, and Upside & Motor, where he's also a regular contributor.

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