As part of a splashy offseason that saw them re-sign legend Dirk Nowitzki and bring back his 2011 title running mate, Tyson Chandler, in a trade with New York, the Dallas Mavericks received a somewhat unexpected boon with the Rockets’ decision not to match their three-year offer sheet to restricted small forward Chandler Parsons. Contentiousness in Houston over the move and its aftermath aside, the Mavs have to be thrilled to bring in another strong complementary piece for Dirk; one who, given his range and diversity of skills, will keep Dallas among the league’s elite offenses despite a reasonable amount of turnover to the supporting cast.
Though of course their overall games and areas of contribution are different, Parsons will be expected to fill, and well exceed, the void left by veterans Vince Carter and the likely-departing Shawn Marion. Both had evolved into integral glue guys for Dallas, complements alongside Dirk and Monta Ellis capable of guarding multiple positions and contributing everywhere. And though Marion, in particular, was likely overpriced last year, those two combined still earned over $2 million less than Parsons will in the upcoming year. Will Parsons, entering his fourth year in the league, be able to make enough impact to justify the move? And more importantly, will he be worth the near-max number Dallas has invested in him?
Using numbers from last season, defensive comparisons between the three yield mostly a wash. Marion certainly has the strongest defensive pedigree of the three, but at 35 last year he was far from his peak in this regard, and the Mavs were actually over four points-per-100 better defensively when he sat down. Parsons sported a three-point negative discrepancy of his own for Houston, but contrasting the levels of responsibility here are difficult given vastly different personnel. Carter was the only one of the three who saw his team get worse defensively when he hit the bench, but he started zero games all season and therefore saw more time against bench-heavy units, and also had the benefit of playing far more minutes than Marion alongside Jae Crowder, easily Dallas’ best overall defender last year by the numbers.
Parsons certainly isn’t anything special defensively, often a slow, lumbering presence who has trouble with quick 3’s on the perimeter and even more trouble with any strong post player (he allowed a terrifying 47.4 percent on shots out of finished post sets last season, per mySynergySports). He’s bad at navigating screens and often lazy recovering from them, and the Mavs may have to pair him with Crowder often to keep him from having to guard top opposing wings too frequently. But the addition of Tyson Chandler at the rim should improve the overall defensive culture, and the largest element in Parsons’ favor is his age; he’s over a decade younger than either Marion or Carter, and even if he never reaches average at his position defensively, he’ll remain a physically able body over the life of his contract where such a circumstance was far from guaranteed with both the other two.
Where things get interesting is on the offensive end. Dallas will again be an offensive juggernaut, with Dirk as the fulcrum and a plethora of shooters along with Ellis and his cutting prowess. Parsons may be slightly overrated as a three-point “gunner”, but he shot 37 percent last year on a ton of attempts (over six a night) and will wreak havoc on defenses while sharing the court with Nowitzki. He shot 43.8 percent on all spot-up attempts, per Synergy, and used almost 30 percent of his finished possessions on such plays. He’s clearly comfortable in that role, a big positive for the Mavs given how often he’ll fill it in their scheme. But are his numbers as a complementary shooter that much better than the two wings he’ll be “replacing”?
It’s not too close with Marion, as seen in the chart above, but Carter’s shooting prowess was honestly very similar to Parsons’ in several areas. He was a more accurate long-range shooter on more attempts while on the court, and wasn’t far off as a general spot-up shooter. Further, Carter shot more free-throws on a per-minute basis and was nearly eight percent better than Parsons from the line. A caveat about personnel, both teammates and opponents, is again necessary here; Carter faced more bench-heavy units, played within a more team-friendly and ball-movement-oriented offense, and likely received slightly more cushion from defenses given his advanced age and Parsons’ burgeoning reputation as a distance threat. Nonetheless, through this scope alone it might seem like Dallas was overpaying for Parsons when Carter’s new deal in Memphis will carry a cap hit over $10 million per year less.
But where Parsons separated himself was within the rest of his offensive game, which is more varied than some give him credit for. He has solid court vision and smarts, with his assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.07 ranking him eighth of 161 rotation forwards last year, per NBA.com (to be fair, Carter was not far off at 1.96, also placing him in the top 15). Perhaps most unappreciated, though, is his work in the little “in-between” spots outside the Restricted Area. His shot chart, provided as always by Nylon Calculus hero/genius Austin Clemens, illustrates this well:
Of 72 forwards attempting at least 75 shots last year from the “In the Paint (Non-RA)” area on NBA.com, he sported the seventh-best percentage. He did so partially by incorporating an effective floater into his game, one he’s comfortable using over length, as well as an accompanying rim fallaway repertoire that keeps defending bigs wary of over-committing:
Neither of the other two, particularly Carter, has an off-the-bounce game like the younger, springier Parsons. A bit of a snapshot here (admittedly an imperfect one, but still relevant): Parsons shot 55.7 percent on all attempts within 14 feet, per NBA.com, while Carter converted just 45.4 percent on barely over half the number of attempts. Vince still has a highlight-reel dunk in him from time to time, but his percentage in the Restricted Area (50.9) is badly inferior to Parsons’ own (59.8). They may be similar as distance threats, and Carter may even hold a slight advantage through a certain lens, but Parsons’ superiority off the bounce and as he approaches the basket separates him significantly from the other two.
Overall, the fit isn’t perfect – Parsons won’t change things much defensively, and one could argue that his offensive production compared to the combined output of Carter and Marion wasn’t convincing enough for such a raise. But Dallas will be banking on Parsons younger legs and more varied offensive game, and will be hoping a change of scenery will allow him to at least hold his own defensively with Tyson Chandler behind him directing traffic. Even if the latter ends up being a stretch, keep the Mavs on your list of League Pass must-watches – this team will remain a constant headache for defenses, and could even force its way into the contender discussion in a stacked West with another renaissance year from Dirk and a return to Finals form from Chandler. A team that never seems to need a rebuild has shown us why once again this offseason, and they’ll again be a joy to watch this upcoming season.