First, the basics: Parsons averaged 15.5 points per game last season to go along with 5.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists. Coupled with improved shooting (49% overall, 39% on 3’s) and the belief that there is no reason he can’t/shouldn’t improve upon his 73% from the free-throw line, one might even go so far as to posit that the third-year forward is a budding All-Star. But let’s keep going.
Parsons’ PER last season stood at 15.3 which basically meant that by that metric, he was an average NBA player. (The league average for PER is set at 15.00). The value in PER is that it is per-minute and pace-adjusted. As we know, the Rockets’ played at one of the highest pace’s in the league last season, adding a bit more clarity to the per-game statline cited above. On the flip side, the downside to PER is that it does not account for defensive contributions. As some may remember, Kevin McHale had mentioned in Parsons’ rookie season that one of the reasons he was so quickly inserted into the starting lineup was for his acumen in pick&roll coverage (i.e. his ability to switch coverage quickly.) These contributions are not ascertainable through box-score data.
Let’s move on to ‘win shares’ where Chandler Parsons was second on the team, contributing 7 wins. (James Harden was first with 12.8.) Here is how win shares are calculated. Like PER,’win shares’ are based on box-score statistics; however, ‘win shares’ is also inclusive of defensive rating, problematic because of the team influence inherent within that metric. (Having said that, this does not negate the value for intra-team comparisons.)
RAPM is where things get interesting in that you find Parsons sharing roughly the same air as the likes of a 33-year-old Luis Scola, Trevor Ariza, and Zaza Pachulia, and lower than five other Rockets. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
To try to put it simply, RAPM attempts to account for some of the problems with APM by controlling for backup, bad team, and teammate effects. What is APM? In the words of Houston Rockets Vice President of Basketball Operations Eli Witus:
For each player, it starts with the team’s average point differential for each possession when they are on the court (sometimes referred to as the player’s on-court plus/minus). This gives a number showing how effective the player’s team was when they were in the game…Adjusted plus/minus uses regression analysis to control for these biases by controlling for the quality of the teammates a player played with and the opponents he played against.
RAPM is an improvement upon this in addressing the previously aforementioned problems. (Though it should be noted that sample size is a documented concern.)
So what to make of all of this? By primitive per-game stats, the 24-year-old looks like a possible future star. By PER standards, he’s around average; by win shares, he was the second most positive contributor on the team; and by RAPM, he’s very replaceable. How to put it all together? Let’s go to the eye test.
Parsons is a streaky shooter whose worked tirelessly to improve upon that aspect of his game – there isn’t any reason to think that won’t hold consistent. While 6’10, he lacks the strength to ever expect any type of low post ability. Parsons is an adequate to above average ball-handler, but while he has enough ‘hops’ for a few tip dunks every few weeks, he lacks the lateral quickness to create for himself and attack the rim off the dribble. (Much of his damage in that department against the Thunder came against the much larger Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka.) Because of this limited quickness, one can be fairly certain Parsons will never be able to create off the dribble, an almost requisite trait for ‘star’ wings in the modern NBA. It should be noted, however, that his smarts in handling off the pick&roll have proved valuable in this offense.
Defensively, Parsons took a nosedive last season, possibly due to a greater focus upon the other end. He is still, though, seen as a quality team defender, capable of making smart, quick rotations.
So greatly has Parsons’ repute risen in the public eye that I’d posit, and have done so, that he’s become the most overrated Houston Rocket. Shortly after the signing of Dwight Howard, it was interesting to note the surplus of mentions from national publications citing Parsons as part of a new ‘Big 3’ (including Howard and Harden.) Preposterous, of course: Parsons isn’t a ‘star’ and most likely never will be.
It’s important to clarify here upon the distinction between actual and relative value. Parsons’ value lies in his contract. To wit, he is–bar none–the single best value contract in the entire league. But if that salary were regularized across all players with an inspection upon solely on-court merits, then of course, much of that value diminishes. I have almost no doubt that if, when Parsons’ contract is up, the team were in the same position that they found themselves in last summer–headed nowhere–and faced with a similar decision as they did with Goran Dragic, they would choose to let Parsons walk–as they did Dragic–rather than shell out market value. Because they will not be in that similar situation, things get more interesting.
A reasonable estimate for Parsons’ market rate might be $9mill-$10mill, an amount I explained almost certainly would be unpalatable in a vacuum. But for a team that will likely be in the midst of contention, I think Daryl Morey will pay up. He will cringe doing it, I think, but he’ll put away the slide rules and the spreadsheets and he’ll turn from the math to the economics and management portions of his MBA coursework. He’ll weigh the risk in the loss of goodwill in jettisoning a player instrumental in putting this thing together (in recruiting Dwight.) He’ll weigh the synergistic value of continuity where one ‘whole’ in team sports is greater than evaluation of the parts; he’ll look at the risk of losing a locker-room leader and the longest tenured player on the team. He’ll start considering the things critics said he ignores, simply because, for the first time, his team is in position for those things to be granted consideration.
While I’m not anywhere near certain, I think Morey will pay up to keep Parsons, when that time comes. If the team wasn’t in the position it is in today, that wouldn’t be the case.
EDIT: It should be noted that these are some of the few publicly available statistics that we have at our disposal. This does not even scrape the surface of what the Rockets have at their fingertips, not to mention their expert skill in application of the data and making sense of relevance/noise.