Is Chandler Parsons the product of Daryl Morey’s utopian—pace, spacing, efficiency—paradigm or is he a legitimate, albeit unforeseeable, All-Star candidate on his own merit? Like most things, the answer lies somewhere in-between.
Parsons has been a miraculous offensive basketball player this season. He’s efficient, smart, and athletic. He can shoot, dribble, pass, and rebound. He can run an effective pick-and-roll, pump fake a defender out of his socks, and finish the fast break with a finger-breaking dunk. The Houston Rockets average 1.03 points per possession when he sits and 1.11 when he plays, a seismic gap that separates a slightly above average offense from an unstoppable one; no other Rocket has a wider plus/minus differential.
And despite averaging 2.7 miles per game (third highest in the league) he’s had an aching back for much of the season. It flared up horribly earlier this week, forcing him to miss Monday’s game against the Utah Jazz, and last night’s home loss to the Phoenix Suns.
Removing context from the discussion, and strictly looking at how he’s playing as the starting small forward for these Houston Rockets, what’s the likelihood Parsons makes the All-Star team this year? It’s not even the second week of December but his play has been impressive for a month now, and some specific areas are still steadily improving.
Moving past the 17.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 3.8 assists basic per game averages (statistical minimums only seven players are meeting this season), when you dig deep into the random numbers, some of what Parsons is doing just boggles the mind. For example, he’s an unstoppable machine on the second night of back to backs, averaging 20.2 points (on an insane 52.5/48.0/90.5 shooting split), 5.6 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game.
On the whole compared to last season, Parsons is attempting fewer threes and more free-throws (both of which he’s never been more accurate on), and boasts a PER that’s well above average. Pair that with the eighth highest effective field goal percentage in the NBA, and what you have is an offensive swiss army knife that’s slowly mutating into a chain saw.
Only two players in the league have A) a usage rate of at least 19%, B) a True Shooting percentage of at least 62.5%, and C) more than 500 minutes of playing time. They are LeBron James and…Chandler Parsons. (As of Wednesday, 89 players have logged at least 500 minutes.) He’s scored 20 points in eight of his 18 appearances and dipped below double figures only twice.
According to mySynergySports, Parsons is the most efficient pick-and-roll ball-handler in the league, averaging 1.12 points per possession. His in-season improvement doing little things—throwing pocket passes and lobs to the rim, for example—is noticeable, and it’s astonishing how much better he’s been as a play-maker as opposed to someone who only finishes off opportunities created by others.
Last season, only 26.3% of all his converted field goals were unassisted. This year that number is up to 33.1% (slightly below Dirk Nowitzki). Let’s take a brief look at Parsons’ shot distribution chart from last season compared to this one. He’s become a much more aggressive offensive player, attacking the rim more often. And despite the increase in volume, there’s hardly been any drop off in efficiency. The first chart is from 2012-13.
All Parsons’ success has come in an offense that leads the league in points per possession while consisting of pure butter and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. The Rockets constantly look to push the ball in transition, have one of the best pick-and-roll bigs in league history, and are armed with a highly efficient robot at shooting guard. The system is conducive to statistical inflation, and that can’t be ignored when discussing Parsons’ role. If he were to switch places with, say, Gordon Hayward—whose shooting numbers could star in the next Paranormal Activity movie—would Parsons have the same success?
Probably not, but theoretical estimations have no bearing on who’s an All-Star and who isn’t. Instead, we deal with facts based in reality (most of the time).
So let’s talk about this seriously for a second. Parsons is a forward. There are three starting forwards voted in by the fans, then three reserve forwards and two wild-card spots reserved for any position voted in by the coaches. Barring injury, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, and LaMarcus Aldridge are five mortal locks to make the game in some spot or another. (My guess is those first three will start.) Dirk Nowitzki is having an All-Star season, but could defer and opt for a weekend of rest if selected. Injuries to Marc Gasol and Anthony Davis could take them out of the running.
The two wild-card slots are tough to crack—Klay Thompson, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Zach Randolph, Stephen Curry, Kobe Bryant (even if he averages 0.0 points on 89.3 shots per 36 minutes, you better believe he wins the fan vote), and a few more I’m probably forgetting should be acknowledged—and leaving Nowitzki out of it for now, that leaves one open spot for Parsons.
So, after all that, the answer of whether Parsons will be an All-Star is…probably not. But the mere fact we’re asking the question holds some meaning. He’s been so impressive this season, and he’s only getting better. Whether that’s due to the offense he’s in or his own evolution is ultimately miles away from the point.
Michael Pina is a contributor at Red94, CelticsHub, The Classical, Bleacher Report, Sports On Earth and Boston Magazine. Follow him here.