In the last two seasons, Chandler Parsons has gone from a buried rookie in training camp to a starting small forward and now is the second or third option in one of the most potent offensive attacks in the NBA. In this transition, Parsons has transformed from a horrific shooter to a very good one, and emerged as a very capable point forward.
Let's pick him apart piece by piece, starting on the offensive side.
1) Skilled Outside Shooter
Parsons has become an excellent pure shooter, scoring on 40% of his three point attempts in spot-up situations. He has a natural fadeaway on his shot, and that can both a help and a detriment. When he is left open, the fadeaway hurts his consistency, but at the same time, the fadeaway and his 6'9" frame allow him to get his shot off over nearly anyone.
He excels shooting from the corners, hitting nearly 50% of his attempts from that distance, but struggles from the elbows, making just over 30% from there.
2) Mediocre Mid-Range Shooter and Isolation Player
When Parsons is called upon to create offense, he tends to struggle. He is a skilled passer for his size, but his one-on-one offense is quite poor. His typical move is a pump-fake from the three point line, a dribble towards the basket, and a pull-up jumper that misses much more than it makes. In isolation situations, Parsons scores just .72 PPP (points per possession), good for 137th in the NBA.
Additionally, when he catches the ball in mid-range, things don't go well for him. He's smart enough to avoid shooting too many of the least efficient shot in basketball, but when he does take it, he makes just 35% of his shots.
3) Tremendous Off-Ball Movement Leads to Good Things
Parsons is one of the better off-ball offensive forwards in the NBA, using his quickness and smarts to outwit defenders. One consequence of this is that Parsons is a terrific player off of cuts. If a defender turns his head for one second, Parsons will make a cut to the basket and more than often get a basket. On plays where Parsons cuts to the rim and gets a shot, he scores 1.3 PPP, a figure that's top 50 in the NBA.
Additionally, Parsons' off-ball action leads to a lot of offensive rebounds. In his rookie season, Parsons wowed us with a remarkable penchant for tip-dunks off teammates' misses, and while the tip-dunks haven't been as numerous this year, he is still active above the rim after shots go up and is always a threat to throw one down.
All in all, Parsons is the perfect complement to James Harden and Jeremy Lin, a pair of ball-dominant guards in the backcourt. He shoots well, plays well off the ball, and even though he's not great at creating shots, Harden and Lin's strengths cover that up.
1) Isolation Defense Has Slipped
In his rookie year, Parsons was often used as a defensive stopper on the top wings in the NBA, but as he has taken on more offensive responsibility, his one-on-one defense is not at the level it was during his rookie year. Last year, Parsons allowed just .65 PPP in isolation situations, top 50 in the NBA, but that figure has ballooned to .78 in year two.
Part of this is that teams are taking advantage of his average lateral quickness, but it is also worth noting how he is being used differently this year. In 2011-12, when opposing point guards got hot against the Rockets, Kevin McHale often put Courtney Lee on them, and the tough, pesky Lee usually succeeded. Now, with Lee on the Celtics, McHale has turned to Parsons on point guards to give them a different look. That likely inflated his isolation defensive figures.
Regardless, Parsons has struggled on one-on-one defense this year, and he will have to improve on that as the playoffs improve.
2) He's Excellent in the Pick-and-Roll
The pick-and-roll is a staple of every NBA offense, and Parsons plays it extremely well. With his basketball IQ, Parsons knows whether to go under or over a screen, and because of his length, he recovers extremely well. When guarding the pick-and-roll ball handler, Parsons allows .66 PPP, good for 26th in the NBA, and he seems to have improved throughout the year.
As previously mentioned, Parsons has been matched up against point guards a lot this season, and perhaps this adeptness in guarding the pick-and-roll is a big reason why McHale has been comfortable with Parsons against 1's despite his isolation inadequacies.
3) He Gets Up for Big Matchups
This is one of the reasons why I have high hopes for Parsons in the playoffs. When the stakes are high, Parsons excels. This applies to offense where he loves the big shot, but perhaps more so to defense. Against the great wings in the league, Parsons gets hyped up and seems to succeed. Even in a season where he seems like he's sometimes conserving energy on the defensive end, when a big opponent comes the Rockets way, Parsons gives it his all.
When you sum up all of what Chandler Parsons brings to the table, you see a complete player and a perfect fit in this Rockets scheme. James Harden's ascension to stardom has been well-documented, but Parsons' success this year has been nearly as important to the Rockets' success in 2012-13. If Parsons can't get healthy by the playoffs, the Rockets are going to be in lots of trouble.