Who’s the last rookie to unexpectedly grab a spot in his team’s starting rotation, play with the intelligence and aura of a 10-year veteran, and fail to show a single significant weakness in his game? Seriously, can you think of anybody? Before this season, had this player even existed?
This is barely the tip of the iceberg in describing how remarkable Chandler Parsons’ rookie year has been. He’s received public praise from Kobe Bryant (more on that later), assumed the role of Houston’s clutch shot-taker on more than one occasion (he’s shooting 40% from three-point line in the fourth quarter), and, in a strange, inconceivable way, might be the last player on Houston’s roster that Daryl Morey would be willing to part with.
Here’s where things get interesting. Chandler Parsons is 23-years-old. He can shoot, dribble, pass, rebound, defend, and make smart decisions with, at the very least, a B- grade. But what is his absolute limit? Can Parsons become an All-Star by following the Luol Deng, Andre Iguodala path? Is he athletic enough for that? Or because of his glue guy playing style, is what we’re seeing right now in fact as good as he can be—a player who’s a tiny bit above average in every area but free-throw shooting (which is correctable), with no real room to meaningfully improve?
Figuring out a player’s ceiling is obviously a guessing game, but with most guys, coming close to estimating how good, or bad, a player will be is entirely possible. Parsons is different. His ceiling is impossible to gauge. With a well-rounded skill set, Parsons has to ask himself which is more important: making everything a little better, or choosing to excel in one specific area and finding a niche.
According to Synergy, Parsons is one of the league’s 30 best isolation defenders, with opponents (more often than not it being the other team’s best offensive player) shooting 22.9% and scoring 0.6 PPP. By comparison, Tony Allen—widely regarded as the league’s most tenacious on-ball perimeter defender—is holding opponents to 34.9% shooting and 0.68 PPP in isolation sets. (Parsons has been placed in isolation situations 40 more times than Allen, too. Making these numbers borderline incomprehensible.) For the most part Parsons can defend four positions without a double team, and apart from Sam Dalembert and Marcus Camby, is undoubtedly the Rockets best/most important defensive player.
Here’s a performance chart of every shot Kobe Bryant’s taken this season against the Rockets with Parsons on the court. He’s split the duty with Courtney Lee, but more often than not Parsons is the guy Kevin McHale wants on Kobe.
And here’s a chart detailing every one of Kobe’s shots that came against the Rockets with Parsons on the bench.
Look at the mid-range area specifically. At this stage in his career, this is where Bryant loves to torch his defender, but he’s been unable to do so with Parsons. As they say, a picture’s worth a thousand words.
On the offensive end it’s very, very difficult to game plan against a player like Parsons. He’s mostly utilized as a spot up shooter (for the league’s fourth most accurate jump shooting team from 16-23 feet), where he’s 40.6% from the floor and 36.2% from deep. But he’s also effective in isolation, running a pick and roll, tipping back missed shots (which is where he first made his name) and running in transition. The ways he can kill you are numerous; he defines versatility.
Last week, Kevin McHale talked about how the Rockets are having so much success without any “superstar” on the team. What he had to say was that it’s not how good the players are, but how good they make their teammates that’s important. This is probably the most impressive part of Parsons game right now. He goes out of his way to make things easier for everyone around him, which is something that can’t be taught. The Rockets score 3.21 more points per 100 possessions, and give up 2.43 fewer points on defense when Parsons is on the court, and he’s second on the team in minutes. The sample size is officially large enough to say he’s been one of the league’s most pleasant surprises, and he isn’t going anywhere.
Chandler Parsons was drafted by a team that’s yet to place too much responsibility on his shoulders, while at the same time giving him the opportunity to thrive in a comfortable setting. What the future holds for Parsons is anybody’s guess. But no matter what, it’ll be a super exciting career to follow.