Chandler Parsons and the Paradox of Points

Chandler Parsons just unleashed one of the most noteworthy individual games of the season against the Dallas Mavericks, torching them for 32 points on a mind-blowing 92% shooting from the field. Given his offensive improvement in the offseason, his new scoring prowess seems to be of great aid to the Houston Rockets. A brief scratch beneath the surface, however, reveals that while his increased points are a blessing, they are by no means his only value. In fact, his scoring may not even be the best thing he brings to the table for Houston.

Parsons has stepped his game up admirably since his rookie year, avoiding the so-called sophomore slump that many players seem to exhibit in their second year. He’s playing more minutes (36.3, up from 28.6), and has increased his stats to match. All of his numbers except turnovers and steals have improved, especially his points (Up 5.6 per game), Free throw shooting (An impressive leap from 55% to 70%) and three point shooting (Only a 4% increase, but that means quite a bit when you move up to 38%). He was known for his defense as a rookie, but this season he’s put together something of an offensive game, helping to fill in the scoring gaps when Houston’s headliners go cold.

But there’s something paradoxical about that.

As typically the third option on the floor (generally after the guard positions), his scoring opportunities tend to come from a defensive collapse on a primary scorer, and indeed Parsons himself has credited Harden and Lin with many of his opportunities. Much credit must be given to him for working on his shot over the summer, but this year’s situation accounts for his success as well. SHooting open shots and driving through open lanes is a recipe for wins, and box sxore stuffing to boot.

But in the best case scenario, he isn’t the primary benefactor of these open looks. A backdoor cut from Parsons to grab a dumpoff from Harden is a great play. But a pick and roll that results in a slam dunk from Harden’s primary screen man, Omer Asik, is better. Lin handing the ball off to a slicing Harden is more likely to result in a two-and-one than the same play with Parsons at the rim. And while his three point shooting has been good, he’s not a merciless shooter like James Harden, whose ability and more importantly willingness to shoot a three in his man’s face gives the team more opportunities.

Don’t believe me? To clear out the fluctuations of minutes changes from game to game, we’ll look at per 48 numbers, which tell us how much a player averages per 48 minutes of game time. Parsons scores an even 20 points per 48 minutes, which is great for a tertiary or even secondary scorer. In losses, he’s scoring 20.1 points on 47.1% shooting.Wins are higher scoring affairs. The Rockets score 113.1 in wins, and 99.9 in losses. That’s a big margin. That being the case, one might expect those extra thirteen points to come from positions like the secondary scorers, such as Parsons. Let’s see how his points jump.

He scores 19.9 points on 49.6% shooting in wins.

His percentage is better, but his shots are fewer, meaning that there’s barely any change. This seems bizarre, but is quite reasonable, even predictable. When Harden, Lin and Delfino are struggling to score, Parsons has to step up. The offense isn’t run for him, so he’s liable to get more shots when the offense has broken down somewhat. What does this mean? It means his scoring is a nice bonus, but not his best value, even after that explosion against Dallas. On a good day, he’s happy to get his fifteen or so shots (which is still quite a few) on looks within the offense. Barring a crazy outlier like his 32 point game, he’s very unlikely to be the highest scorer in a win.

If that’s not his great value, then where does it lie? What stats actually increase in wins? That’s even easier: peripherals. Parsons averages .9 more rebounds, 1.7 more assists and .7 more steals in wins, while giving away .9 fewer turnovers. Given that he averages 7.3 boards, 4.9 assists, 1.5 steals and 2.7 turnovers per 48 minutes, those are meaningful improvements. While Parsons is at his most noticeable while slamming back missed free throws or swishing open threes, he’s at his most valuable elsewhere on the floor.

Part of the reason that he’s so effective is that his game is well-rounded. He scores, rebounds and assists at rates higher than average for his position. He spent time this summer improving his handles. He knows that his value is in filling out the team from the middle of the lineup. And quite simply, he only has so much energy. When he’s carrying the scoring load, that leaves him with less ability and time to grab that extra board, send out those two extra dimes. And the more he has to put the ball on the floor, the more likely he is to cough it up that extra time.

His improved all around game may in fact be related to his somewhat lessened defense. After arriving on the scene as an expert defender in his first year, his sophomore season has seen fewer accolades on that end. As with all players, the amount of time he spends playing bone-wearying defense on a team’s best player is fatigue built up. Parsons has shown he can do everything, and he can fill in the gaps. But he can’t do everything at once. It’s great to see a player go off for huge numbers, but that isn’t his role. Let’s look forward to more huge games, but hope the Rockets don’t need them from him; they probably want the quiet stuff instead.

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