Moderator's Note: This was an excellent write up and certainly deserves the front page spot. Special thanks to Texans Addict for taking the time to provide a very insightful and critical look at Parsons and his place in the NBA amongst his peers.
With Rockets games few and far between over the next few weeks and football (Hand Egg for the overseas people) season officially over, I thought this might be a good time to dive into some Rockets topics that stray a little bit from the norm here at TheDreamShake. I'm fairly sure that this board has already gone deep into all things Jeremy Lin, James Harden's defense, the infamous hero ball, what to do with Omer Asik, the depth of Kevin McHale's rotations and his lack of set plays, so on, so on. So what else can we discuss? How about where Chandler Parsons ranks among the top Small Forwards in the NBA? You might say "well we've already come to the conclusion that he ranks as the most attractive and number 1 in our hearts", which is true, but what about on the court? I've decided to take it upon myself to take a statistical view of where he fits among the best Small Forwards in the NBA. So let's start, shall we?
I would say its common knowledge that the top 4 Small Forwards in the NBA in no particular order are Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and also Paul George who has been playing SF rather than SG the last couple years, mainly due to Danny Granger's health issues and the emergence of Lance Stephenson. What about after that? The next tier of guys look to hold names like Kawhi Leonard, Andre Iguodala, Nicolas Batum, Luol Deng and our very own Chandler Parsons. Those are also the guys that i will be comparing today.
We're going to start off looking at how efficiently each of these players scores the ball and how much. For this section, I've gathered some stats from ole reliable Basketball Reference and Synergy for our viewing pleasure, charted them and ranked each player accordingly as you will see with the numbers next to their percentages.
Looking over these numbers, you will notice that Parsons ranks 2nd among these particular players in FG% behind Kawhi Leonard and 2nd in 3pt% behind Andre Iguodala. I found it a bit shocking that Iguodala, who has been a below average 3 point shooter throughout the majority of his 10 year career, is up top, dont you think? Its hard to see that number holding up since its way above his career average and he only shot 31% from 3pt range in all of January, regression to the mean seems to be already taking place for him. I'd be suprised if Chandler didnt have a higher 3pt% than Iggy by the end of this month. Parsons also ranks 2nd in Points Per 36 among these players behind Luol Deng, who happens to be the least efficient of all these players ranking last in eFG%, TS%, 2pt%, 3pt%, and also overall FG%. So although Deng is averaging the most points, its taking him more shots to do it at a much higher USG% and he actually seems to be the worst scorer of the 5 players being evaluated. Kawhi Leonard has the highest FG% of this group of players but a fairly low 3pt% and neither his TS% or eFG% are on par with Parsons, who ranks 1st and 2nd in those categories among the group, respectively. On top of that, Parsons has a comfortable lead over his counterparts when it comes to PPP(Points Per Possession). If i were to make a judgement based off of the metrics provided in this chart, I would conclude that Chandler Parsons rates out as the best scorer among these highly regarded NBA Small Forwards, but lets not stop there. Lets dig deeper and see what we can find.
In this section we're going to take a look at how well Chandler Parsons shoots from particular areas of the floor compared to these upper echelon small forwards and I must say it didn't take long for to me find something that jumped out at me. The Rockets, widely heralded as a team who avoids midrange jumpers like the plague, have the most efficient midrange shooter of the bunch. Chandler Parsons shoots a very efficient 48.21% from mid range, which happens to also be better than the very players i chose to leave out of the primary focus of this article, Kevin Durant(46.08%) and Lebron James(41.08%). Of course, you have to consider the smaller sample size given Parsons takes far less mid range shots than his piers, but nonetheless its a good sign. For the record, the next closest in midrange% to Chandler among the other 4 discussed small forwards are Andre Iguodala(46.94%) although just like Parsons, he also takes a small percentage of his shots from midrange, and Kawhi Leonard(43.43%). Both Batum(39.82%) and Deng(37.29%) are hovering around the league average in midrange FG%.
When it comes to scoring at the rim, our guy Chandler has a respectable FG% of 59.39%, however that clip is actually worst among the 5 players being looked at. Although for a SF or any wing in particular, the number that should garner most attention is not FG% at the rim, but rather FG% on drives to the rim. Driving to the basket is more common among wings than something like a post up and also more telling of a perimeter players specific abilities than a stat that also factors in outliers like put backs or something like an easy dunk off of a turnover. Looking at the FG% on drives to the rim, Parsons(53.2%) ranks 2nd behind Nic Batum(70.6%). Its worth noting however, that Parsons averages 6.4 drives per game. That number is literally twice as many drives per game as the next closest competitor, Luol Deng, who averages 3.2 drives per game. Batum, who had the highest FG% on drives, averages a mere 1.4 drives per game and isn't even in the top 100 in the NBA in PPG on drives. Parsons averages the most PPG on drives to the rim, which you may expect coming from the player with the most drives and 2nd highest FG% on drives among his piers. Leonard has a 51.2% FG% on drives on only 2.2 drives per game and 1.2 PPG on drives. Iguodala has a lowly 38.5% FG% on drives on 2.2 drives per game, averaging a mere 0.9 PPG.
Pick and Roll
Its pretty apparent that the pick and roll is one of, if not the biggest aspect of offenses in today's NBA. Since pick and rolls are kind of a big deal, we will dive into this specific aspect of scoring as well. You may not be shocked to find out that the Rockets have a top 10 player in PPP as the pick and roll ball handler, i mean, the James Harden/Dwight Howard pick and roll is LETHAL and that Jeremy Lin sure is great out of the pick and roll as well. Wait, what? You mean neither of James Harden nor Jeremy Lin is the Rocket ranked in the NBA's top 10 in PPP as the pick and roll ball handler?? Thats right, its Chandler Parsons(1.01 PPP) who is ranked 6th in the entire NBA as the pick and roll ball handler. Now that you know that, you may not be shocked to find out that he blows away all of Kawhi Leonard(.84), Andre Iguodala(.45), Nic Batum(.66) and Luol Deng(.75 with CHI, .59 with CLE) in that category. You might wonder, is it just due to possibly a smaller sample size? The answer to that would be no. Parsons has more FGA as the P&R ball handler than any of his piers being compared to and initiates offense as the P&R ball handler on 14.4% of his offensive plays, which is 3rd most behind his spot up FGA and transition FGA.
If you took the time to read through the information that was gathered, you likely decided that the scoring department clearly favors Chandler Parsons. He consistently ranks 1st or 2nd in the major scoring categories and the fact that Chandler takes a higher amount of the most efficient shots is another reason why he is scoring more efficiently overall than the competition and ranks 1st when it comes to metrics like TS%, PPP, PPP as P&R ball handler and Offensive Rating. He also rates highly in FG% and eFG%. Chandler's efficiency can be seen as not only a testament to his hard work given how far he has come since his rookie year, but also a testament to the Rockets and Daryl Morey's philosophy which is built upon great shot selection.
One thing that all of these players have in common, is that on any given night they may be asked to guard the opposing teams best player. Without looking at statistics, Andre Iguodala is thought to be one of the best perimeter defenders in the entire NBA. I think he IS the best perimeter defender in the game. Kawhi Leonard is the best perimeter defender on a Spurs team that ranks 5th in defensive efficiency.and 7th in opposing FG%. Deng has a good reputation as a legit defender and Batum himself is serviceable. Parsons started off as a quality wing defender his rookie year but has since declined, although he's no stranger to stepping up when a star player is put in front of him. Those are the reputations held by each of these players, but what do the numbers say?
Now i'll start off by saying that measuring defense with statistics is a bit rough around the edges when compared to statistically measuring offense, but since this post is all about taking "A Statistical View" damnit we're going to look at the statistics. Besides, any Tom, Dick or Harry could write something up telling you to take their word for it and my word may or may not be unreliable so Im trying to get as close to the facts as possible. So the main numbers I will be looking at to measure each players performance defensively will be opposing PPP (points per possession) and opposing FG%. Parsons allows .87 PPP on defensive possessions and an opposing FG% of 39.5% which is actually better than the guy i consider the best perimeter defender in the game, Andre Iguodala(40.2%). Iguodala allows .86 PPP which is a mere .01 better than Parsons. Luol Deng(.8 PPP, 35.6%) and Kawhi Leonard(.75 PPP, 34.5%) actually have clear advantages over both Parsons and Iguodala statistically. Batum (.88 PPP, 38.6%) finds himself rated last in opposing PPP and right in the middle in opposing FG%. Moving along, Defensive Rating is a stat which I think is generally more useful for grading team defense rather than individual defense, but nonetheless it can still be used for individual defense. In this category, Parsons(107 Drtg) is tied for last along with Nic Batum(107 Drtg), which really sounds about right considering the defensive track record and reputation of guys like Andre Iguodala(102 Drtg), Luol Deng(105 Drtg) and Kawhi Leonard(99 Drtg) and is similar to what i would have ranked them defensively before looking at the numbers. While wer're on the topic of points per 100 possessions, lets looks at how the team's defense performs with the players on and off the court. The Rockets actually play better defense while Parsons is OFF the court rather than on the court, allowing 5.7 less points per 100 possessions while he's on the bench. Andre Iguodala ranks 1st in this category, his team holds opposing offenses to 7.9 less points per 100 possessions while Iggy is on the floor. He is followed by Luol Deng(-5.6 opposing ORtg), Kawhi Leonard(-4.7 opposing ORtg), Nic Batum(-3.6 opposing ORtg) and the aforementioned Chandler Parsons in last place.
I'm really not sure most people would need two paragraphs of convincing to find out that Parsons just isn't as good of a defender as guys like Andre Iguodala, Kawhi Leonard and Luol Deng. In fact, for most NBA fans thats likely common knowledge. In the end though, if I am to write a piece deciding where Parsons ranks among the other top small forwards I cant just leave out defense. So here it is, the statistical side that confirms what most people already know. Parsons ranks 4th out of the 5 players in the group in opposing PPP, 4th in opposing FG%, last in individual Defensive Rating and last in opposing team's ORtg while on the floor. For the record, i didnt include steals among the stats i looked at because i do not see them as a good measuring stick for how good an individual defender is. Steals are great defensive plays, but as we saw with Harden and Lin who were at or near the top 5 in steals for most of last season, racking up steals does not equal good defense and usually it lead to being over aggressive and losing their man.
Small Forwards generally aren't expected to bring in alot of rebounds, but they're bigger than guards and they are expected to bring in some so i do think it factors a little bit into the evaluation. It's not as important as scoring or defense so this section wont be as long but it is something to think about. With that being said, we will be looking at the TRB (total rebounds) Per 36 minutes and TRB% (% of available rebounds). Parsons averages 5.5 TRB per 36 and a TRB% of 8.2% which finds him ranked 4th ahead of only Andre Iguodala(4.9 TRB, 7.3 TRB%). Ranking 1st is Kawhi Leonard(7.6 TRB, 12.1%) followed by Luol Deng(6.4 TRB, 10.1%) and Nic Batum(6.6 TRB, 9%).
Playmaking/Offensive Impact on team
Now in this section, while its called playmaking i wont be simply referring to assist stats. I will also be including how the team performs offensively with a given player on and off the court. While that may not measure a players individual playmaking, it does give an example of how much better/worse the team performs with him on the court, which could be attributed to his presence contributing to the team success in one way or another. Plus, i needed something else to slide in this section and people like looking at these numbers, so give me a break.
First off, the star of this specific piece, Chandler Parsons. His importance to the Rockets goes by no means unnoticed around these parts and his impact on the team success is great, but how great? Well, the Rockets score 5.2 more points per 100 possessions with Parsons on the court rather than off the court which ranks 2nd and is better than Luol Deng, Nic Batum and Kawhi Leonard. Andre Iguodala bests Parsons in this category, his team scores a staggering 12.2 more points per 100 possessions with him on the court. Iggy has been used as a primary ball handler and a playmaker after Steph Curry in Golden State, averaging 4.8 assists per 36 and an AST% of 19.1%, both of which are higher than Chandler's. Parsons averages 3.4 assists per 36 an has an AST% of 15.6% which rank as 3rd and 4th among the group respectively. Batum is the best playmaker, averaging the most assist per 36 with 5.5 and the highest AST% with 21.8%. Kawhi Leonard ranks the lowest in both assists per 36 with 2.2 and an AST% of 9.2%.
Parsons looks to be ranked right in the middle behind Batum and Iguodala when it comes to his playmaking. Parsons team, however, performs marginally better with him on the floor than Batum, Deng and then Kawhi who's team strangely performs worse with him on the court. Being able to create for others is a very valuable skill regardless of position, how much that should factor into deciding who are the best players within the group is debatable. Scoring and defense are still likely to be the two most deciding factors for a small forward, but playmaking could be used as a tipping point towards one player or the other if it ends up being very close.
Here it is, the moment of truth. The moment where Chandler Parsons' rank among the top small forwards in the NBA is decided, or maybe this is actually just the part where you get irritated because I completely duck the initial question at hand and give you some bail out answer like "well it depends on what you're looking for. Defense or offense, etc?". Well, to be quite honest with you, I haven't even decided my answer throughout the process of writing this, but i'll give it a shot. Parsons looks to be the clear cut best offensive player of the five guys, while Kawhi Leonard and Andre Iguodala look to be the best defenders. Those are the most heavily weighed categories for me so that would put those 3 at an advantage. Now lets narrow it down, it seems to me like Kawhi gains a bit more ground on Parsons offensively than Parsons does on him defensively. Parsons is the better playmaker while Kawhi is the better rebounder both by relatively the same margine. With that being said, I think the top SF slot of the group leans slighty in favor of Kawhi Leonard, making him the 5th best SF in the NBA overall in my opinion. 2nd among the group comes down to Parsons and Iguodala, these 2 could really be seen as a push, but since i dont want to take the easy way out i'll make the tough decision. Im still not convinced on Iggy's offensive numbers and with regression to the mean i think Parsons takes this outright, thus far in the season i could give the ever slightest edge to Iguodala, but if you ask me again in a couple weeks or a month then my answer is probably Parsons. All 3 of the top guys in the group I thought were close and hard to decide, I'd certainly like to hear from others in the comments on where they would rank Parsons. He is MVP of our hearts, lets see what the mind has to say.