Chandler Parsons, Breakout Candidate?

Friday night’s game was undoubtedly the best of Chandler Parsons’ young career. The previously unheralded second-round pick of last year’s draft impressed himself on the Knicks’ (and indeed, the league’s) conscience with a phenomenal performance: 31 points on 13-17 shooting, 4 three’s, 5 boards, 4 assists, and 4 steals. Some might consider this a coming-out party, part of a broader second-year improvement and a sign of his future potential. The reality, however, is that Parsons was already a very solid player as a rookie, and has built upon that foundation to become an improved (although not drastically improved) player this season.

According to Basketball-Reference, Parsons’ per 36 minute statistics have shown a slight improvement compared with last season—he’s averaging 3 more points, 1 more rebound, and one more assist every 36 minutes. Despite these seemingly minor upticks, Parsons’ PER has increased by a full three points from 13 last season to an above-average 16, equivalent to the difference between the performances of Jeff Teague and Michael Beasley last season.

This jump in PER has is largely a result of improved scoring efficiency as well as shot distribution. Per Basketball-Reference, Parsons’ field goal percentage has improved from 45% to 47% while his three-point shooting has improved from 34% to a well above-average 41%. Parsons is not only shooting better from three, he is also taking more threes this season: through 13 games, Chandler has taken 75 threes compared with 178 threes all of last season (NBA.com). Another area of improvement has been his free throw shooting. Parsons is both taking more free throws this season (per NBA.com, Parsons has shot 31 free throws through 13 games versus 78 all of last season) and converting them at a much more respectable 74% clip, a 19% improvement from last season. The upshot is that Parsons’ true shooting percentage has improved from 51% to 59%, resulting in an improvement in his offensive efficiency.

Parsons’ improvement on offense, coupled with his always-reliable defense, has allowed the Rockets coaches to increase his playing time this season. Chandler is playing nearly 10 more minutes per game and accomplishing the impressive feat of increasing one’s efficiency despite an increase in minutes. Although Parsons’ actually has a higher percentage of his shots assisted this season (per Hoopdata), this is more a result of having two ball-handlers in Harden and Lin to distribute the ball than a reflection of a diminished role in the offense. In fact, at times when all three players share the floor, Chandler has become the clear tertiary option, occasionally showing off a dribble drive move to create after an initial Lin or Harden action doesn’t yield a clean look. Part of this increased ability to penetrate is a function of his improved shooting—defenders must respect his outside shooting and jump out to contain his shot, which opens up the opportunity for a quick pump fake and drive. Another factor is where Parsons is spotting up on the perimeter. Per NBA.com, last season 38% of Parsons’ three point attempts were corner threes. This figure is down to just 25% this season. By stationing Parsons more frequently on the perimeter but above the break, the Rockets have made it easier for him to penetrate into the paint without having the baseline acting as a second defender.

In spite of Parsons’ monster performance against the Knicks, his improvement this season has more closely resembled that of the steady progression of an already skilled and mature young player rather than that of a player making a massive leap in his second season. The important fact, however, is that the Rockets have themselves a legitimate, above-average NBA small forward, one who can contribute on both ends of the floor for years to come. And at under $1 million per season for the next three years, Parsons’ contract is as good a deal as it gets in today’s NBA.

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