Chandler Parsons Living Up to Huge Contract and Expectations, Sometimes

When it comes to sports, people jump to preemptive conclusions all the time. Chandler Parsons, who signed with the Dallas Mavericks for more than $45 million last summer, has been on the receiving end of a lot of hasty judgement.

Players who collect big pay checks are always targets for more scrutiny than an average NBA player. Parsons, 26, has gone through an extended shooting slump, which might have gone unnoticed had he still played for the Houston Rockets.

The 6’9″ forward was the firm third fiddle with the Rockets. The hierarchy isn’t as defined in Dallas’ offense, which makes it hard to set out reasonable expectations. 

He has certainly had some terrible games as a Maverick, but early signs would suggest Parsons will be just fine moving forward.

 

Offensive Role

Parsons was in a terrible shooting slump in early November, failing to crack 40 percent from the field in four consecutive games. He certainly didn’t hang his head because of that.

“Law of averages, I’m not going to continue to shoot the ball this poorly throughout an 82-game [season], but it’s definitely frustrating. I’ve just got to continue to shoot the ball,” Parsons said, according to ESPNDallas.com’s Tim MacMahon.

During that stretch, a lot of the shots Parsons took were generally good looks. It appeared as though he lacked a little confidence when shooting, which hasn’t been the case lately.

He has connected on around 48 percent of his attempts from the field over the last three games, which have all been blowouts. Parsons has also been a menace to opponents in other facets of the game, especially passing the ball.

The numbers will balance themselves out. What has been particularly encouraging is how well Parsons has fit into head coach Rick Carlisle‘s offensive system.

Dallas was already one of the best offensive teams in the league last season. With Parsons replacing Shawn Marion, most expected the team to be even better this year. Even though he hasn’t shot the ball well so far, his versatile presence has helped in meeting those expectations.

If you look around the league, there are very few 6’9″ guys who can play both forward positions, shoot from deep, pass and put the ball on the floor. Parsons embodies all those qualities, which is why his market value was so high last summer.

Parsons has struggled guarding bulky guys when playing power forward, and Carlisle has opted for bigger lineups with Brandan Wright at the 4 position lately. It will be interesting to see how much small ball the Mavs play this season, but having the option of bumping Parsons into Dirk Nowitzki’s spot is obviously a luxury.

The Mavericks get their looks by attacking the basket and making the extra pass, two things Parsons has excelled at. He has one of the best pump fakes in the league, with which he constantly burns defenders. Take a look at this play:

As seen in the play above, the Mavs simply penetrate the lane, kick out to the open shooter and proceed from there. Most perimeter players on the team can drive, which means they punish defenders who close out too hard. That’s exactly what happened on that particular play, as Parsons got to the free-throw line.

Having a wing who can shoot and get to the rim has added another dimension to Dallas’ offense, which is by far the best in the league so far at 115.5 points per 100 possessions.

When the Mavs don’t attack with waves of penetration, Nowitzki constantly draws double-teams in the post. Parsons, along with just about every single Maverick so far, is great at swiftly moving the ball along the perimeter to beat defensive rotations. 

Other than simply moving the ball in a timely manner, Parsons sees the floor well. Take a look at this nugget of a pass:

Parsons instantly finds his cutting teammate below the basket and hits him with a perfect bullet pass.

Other than simply driving and kicking the ball out to the perimeter, he has shown an ability to compromise defenses with excellent vision.

The looks Parsons has been getting have been great. He will start making them at a more consistent clip eventually, which will be bad news for the rest of the league.

 

Defense

Few people genuinely expected Parsons to competently fill the departed Marion’s defensive role. The void was simply too big to fill. The mystery was rather how much of a drop-off the perimeter defense would suffer.

So far, Parsons’ defense has been somewhat inconsistent. Let’s start with the good. Here are two interesting plays:

In the first clip, Parsons does everything well. He sticks to his man in the beginning, pesters Minnesota Timberwolves’ Nikola Pekovic with a double-team and then recovers to his man. He closes out a little too hard, but manages to run his guy off the spot and switches.

Parsons has mostly done well when it comes to one-on-one defense and containing his man in pick-and-rolls. He is long and quick, which are positive physical attributes for his position. Parsons is good at fighting over picks and closing the distance to his man.

In the second play, he slides his feet well and forces a tough shot, as Boston Celtics’ Jeff Green goes away from the screen. 

It’s not all positive though. Most Mavericks have been guilty of over-helping early on in the season. Parsons often tries to cheat off his man to provide weak-side help. He has a tendency to stray off too far from his assignment, which sometimes leads to open shots around the perimeter.

Giving up a layup is against Carlisle‘s philosophy, but Parsons sometimes helps even when there is no need for it. Dallas’ defense as a whole is a work in progress, and this aspect should get better when the players are more accustomed to each other.

Parsons tries hard defensively but sometimes loses concentration completely. Take a look at this play:

Playing a couple of seasons with James Harden might have rubbed off a little.

In the play, Parsons does an excellent impersonation of his former teammate. He isn’t guarding anyone, doesn’t help on the baseline drive, ignores his cutting man and is just rooted in place.

Before the season tipped off, Parsons told media he is dialed in on defense. While he still has his flaws, he has mostly followed through on that promise.

A lot of the Mavs‘ defensive issues are due to bad communication, which should improve. As long as Parsons continues to put in the effort on both ends of the floor and avoids blunders like the one above, he will be a decent wing defender.

 

Closing Thoughts

Fans always want immediate results, so it’s not surprising Parsons’ somewhat rocky start as a Maverick has worried people. 

He might not be shooting the ball very well so far, but it’s actually admirable how well he has fit in. Dallas went through a huge roster turnover, which makes it all the more surprising that everything is seemingly clicking.

The salary cap is projected to skyrocket within the next couple of seasons. Parsons might not have convinced everyone of his value just yet, but in a year or two his deal could potentially look like a steal. 

 

All statistics are courtesy of NBA.com, unless otherwise noted.

You can follow me on Twitter: @ VytisLasaitis

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7 NBA Players Who Look Like They’ve Made Huge Improvements Since Last Season

If the first few weeks of the 2014-15 NBA season are any indication, this year’s Most Improved Player award field is going to be crowded.

Stars are being born, role players are becoming cornerstones and ceilings are being raised all across the basketball world.

The seven players here didn’t finish last season in the same spot. Some had already flashed superstar ability, while others had only hinted at a bright future if they could tap into their full potential.

No matter where they left off, all have since sent their stocks soaring.

In order to compile this list, a couple requirements were put in place.

One, all players had to have a player efficiency rating of at least 20 (league average is 15.0). It isn’t easy jumping from bad to mediocre, but it’s not something that should be celebrated like a guy pushing himself somewhere between good and great.

Also, players need to have seen at least 20 minutes of action a night. As incredible as Dennis Schroder and his 22.3 PER have been out of the gate, it’s hard to fully gauge the level of his improvement when he’s spending more than 60 percent of the game on the sideline.

Other than that, everyone was eligible for selection. And these are the seven who stood above the rest.

Begin Slideshow

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Dwight Powell, James Young back with Celtics after huge D-League performances (expect this trip often)

The pair of Celtics rookies scored 21 points apiece in their D-League debuts for the Maine Red Claws on Sunday night.  Powell pulled down 17 rebounds as well.  Here’s a bit of analysis from Mass Live’s Jay King:[Powell] dashed to the paint for a variety of finishes, including one lefty hook, threaded one perfect bounce pass to Young on a backdoor cut, and generally looked a lot quicker and more fluid than anyone defending him. Most of Powell’s offense came inside; the Celtics will likely want him to expand his game. The rest of his skill set screams “STRETCH 4!!!” but to develop into that he needs to be willing and able to shoot the basketball. It probably sounds weird, but the one play that excited me most was Young sprinting back on defense. He didn’t even impact the play in discussion, but his long steps covered ground quickly enough to forget, briefly, that he hasn’t yet learned the best practices to capitalize on his many intriguing skills. Despite misfiring on plenty of opport…

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Cleveland Cavaliers: huge comeback over Boston Celtics

Lebron James made his presence known at the TD Garden as he led the Cleveland Cavaliers in a 122-121 victory over the Boston Celtics.
James had a season high of 41 points along with four rebounds and seven assists. This is his first game this season that really showed signs of the MVP Lebron that we know. He stayed aggressive on both ends of the floor, attacking the basket repeatedly while also locking down his match-up.
Kyrie Irving also made a huge impression as he put up 27 points, with 23 of them being scored in the second half. He also had four rebounds and five assists. One key observation was that Irving did not commit a single turnover in this game. During the beginning of the season, Irving had four turnovers in each game so it is good to see he is handling the ball a lot smarter. 
Together Irving and James had a combined total of 68 points.  In this game, James played more of the point guard role, while Irving was at shooting guard. This is when the Cavaliers play at their best, because James is s

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Nerlens Noel denies James Harden with huge block (Video)

Philadelphia 76ers forward Nerlens Noel denied Houston Rockets guard James Harden’s slam dunk attempt with a monster block to end the third quarter of Monday night’s game at the Wells Fargo Center.Sixers fans won’t have much to cheer about this season, but Noel gave the fans some hope for the future with his huge stuff of Harden.GIF via Deadspin. H/T NIS.
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Cavs vs. Bulls Behind The Box Score: Cavs Bounce Back with Huge Road Win

 
Cleveland Cavaliers: 114
Chicago Bulls: 108
(Overtime)
Box Score
After a disappointing opening night where LeBron James and everybody played pretty tight, the Cavaliers had an incredibly formidable task on their hands: going into Chicago against their biggest threat in the Eastern Conference and trying to come out with a win. The Bulls are a superior defensive team that is much more familiar with each other at this point, and it was their home opener. The Cavaliers, though it was far from perfect, were much more on point and got several star performances and big plays from multiple contributors as they pulled out the win in overtime at the United Center. You don’t want to overreact to anything this early in the season, good or bad, but it feels good not having to sit on a 0-2 record for three days before heading out west.
12 – Tristan Thompson tied the franchise record last night with 12 offensive rebounds (also accomplished by Michael Cage in 1996 and Zydrunas Ilgauskas in both 2005 and 2006). Thomp

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LeBron, Cavs take ‘a huge step’ with win vs. Bulls

If this was a prelude to a playoff matchup, we’re in for a treat in June.

      
 

 

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LeBron, Cavs take ‘a huge step’ with first win vs. Bulls

If this was a prelude to a playoff matchup, we’re in for a treat in June.

      
 

 

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Up-close look at Spurs’ huge rings

They are large and very sparkly.

      
 

 

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Victor Oladipo’s Injury Puts Huge Pressure on Rookie Elfrid Payton

If the Orlando Magic had any intention of easing 20-year-old rookie Elfrid Payton into the action, that blueprint has been scrapped.

Orlando doesn’t have the depth needed to keep him on a short leash. Not with promising sophomore Victor Oladipo expected to miss a month of the season with a facial fracture, as league sources told Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski.

The Magic will need everything the unproven Payton has to offer. They really have no other alternative.

After waiving Peyton Siva over the weekend, Orlando has only two true point guards on the roster: Payton and 33-year-old veteran Luke Ridnour.

Oladipo is naturally a 2-guard, but he split his rookie campaign between both backcourt positions. Even if Payton’s arrival would have cut into Oladipo‘s time at the point, Orlando still figured to lean on the latter’s playmaking ability (4.1 assists per game in 2013-14).

For now, that’s obviously no longer an option.

And the jury is still out on how big a role Ridnour can play. He is a proven commodity in the sense this will be his 12th season in the NBA, but having a track record isn’t the same as having a strong track record.

His player efficiency rating has checked in below the league-average mark of 15.0 during eight of his 11 years in the league, including each of the past three.

With Magic general manager Rob Hennigan having already stressed the importance of seeing “growth and progress” in the third year of the franchise’s post-Dwight Howard rebuild, per Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel, Orlando needs Payton to sprint out of the gate.

Fortunately, fast learning has been a theme of the young floor general’s life story, as Magic.com’s John Denton explained:

Payton started kindergarten when he was 4 years old, graduated high school at 16 and couldn’t even vote in elections until his sophomore year of college. By age 11 and 12, he was already playing in pick-up basketball games at the park against 18-year-olds who all wanted him on their team because of his advanced passing and ball-handling skills.

In fact, one of the first times that Payton ever squared off against players his own age was in the FIBA Under-19 Championships in Prague.

Payton’s ability to scale steep learning curves with relative ease can be partially attributed to his impressive physical tools. He measured in at the draft combine a shade below 6’4″, per DraftExpress, and opened plenty of eyes with a 6’8″ wingspan and 35.5″ max vertical.

With his length and athleticism, he should be a pesky defender from the start.

He showcased that talent during his three seasons spent at Louisiana-Lafayette, where he compiled career averages of 6.4 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 0.7 blocks per 40 minutes, per Sports-Reference.com. Last season, his efforts at that end netted him the Lefty Driesell National Defensive Player of the Year award.

Bleacher Report’s Adam Fromal gushed about Payton’s defensive potential in a mid-June scouting report:

Not only does he remain intense when settling down into his stance, but he flashes tremendous instincts, allowing him to poke away the ball when it’s being handled without much care and to jump into passing lanes without a moment of hesitation.

But perhaps most importantly, Payton has quick feet on defense. He moves laterally with ease and shows an uncanny knack for working around screens without getting caught up in the pick. Given the pick-and-roll-heavy nature of NBA offenses, that’ll work in his advantage and ease his transition to the sport’s highest level.

During Payton’s eight-game test run in the preseason, he averaged 1.3 steals and 3.1 boards in 27 minutes per game. He also flashed a knack for staying in the moment, showing the improvisational skills needed to survive on this fast-paced stage.

Of course, simply surviving at this level is no longer enough. With Oladipo‘s creativity stripped from this offense, Orlando needs Payton to dominate as if he was still calling the Sun Belt Conference his basketball home.

As with any rookie, that’s likely to be a season-long challenge for Payton. His game simply isn’t as polished as those belonging to most of the players he’ll be squaring off with on a nightly basis.

His road ahead figures to be littered with peaks and valleys. That inconsistency surfaced during the exhibition season, when he tossed out an impressive 5.5 assists per game but also coughed up 3.8 turnovers.

In this business, those numbers are called “growing pains,” a vague term meant to encapsulate the difficulty of learning—and hopefully mastering—such a highly skilled craft on the job.

The good news is that Payton has the personality needed to make it through this roller coaster without ever feeling overwhelmed.

He has poise, he’s gritty and he’s not going to get shaken,” Magic shooting guard Ben Gordon said, per Denton. “I think he’s one of those guys who just sort of loses himself in the game. He’s a really tough competitor.”

While that might sound like lofty praise, it might actually be underselling his competitive drive.

“If you score on him, you’ll see he’s going to come back at you,” said his father, Elfrid Sr., a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, per Robbins. “He’s not going to be satisfied with you scoring on him.”

With all due respect to Elfrid Jr.’s defensive tenacity, he’s going to get scored on.

The Magic surrendered 104.8 points per 100 possessions last season, finishing tied for 17th in defensive efficiency. With Oladipo on the shelf, even that number could prove hard to maintain.

However, Orlando’s biggest concern with regard to Payton doesn’t come from that end of the floor. The Magic must find out how he can live up to his father’s words, how he hits back after weathering a blow from his opponent.

His success in that endeavor may hinge on his ability to improve a jump shot that may ultimately identify his impact at this level.

As Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman explained, Payton’s shot is worlds removed from where it needs to be:

With Payton, we’re not just talking about inconsistent shooting—his jumper barely works. According to DraftExpress‘ Schmitz, this past season, he hit just 4 of 22 (18 percent) catch-and-shoot jumpers, 15 of 55 (27 percent) jumpers off the dribble and 17 of 66 attempts total inside the arc.

Outside the arc, he made just 14 of 54 threes (25.9 percent) after 16-of-50 (32 percent) shooting as a sophomore and 0-of-8 shooting as a freshman.

No doubt aware of those numbers, Payton has been hesitant to even try to add that to his repertoire, as Basketball Insiders’ Nate Duncan observed:

The point guard position is such a difficult spot to hold without a consistent shot. A very small group of floor generals have gotten by without one—Rajon Rondo (career 25.2 three-point percentage), Andre Miller (21.7), Ramon Sessions (31.1), Ricky Rubio (32.3)—but the Magic can’t bank on Payton being an exception to the rule.

Orlando shot just 35.3 percent from deep as a team last season, which was tied for the 19th-best conversion rate. The offseason arrivals of Channing Frye (career 38.5 three-point percentage), Evan Fournier (38.1) and Gordon (40.2) should help improve that number, but floor spacing may still come at a premium.

If defenses pack the paint against the Magic, Payton will have less room to attack and smaller passing windows to spot. He has to give defenders a reason to pick him up farther from the basket, or he risks plaguing his own production.

Ideally, this season would have been both a lesson for why he needs a steady stroke and the time it takes to find one. But an ideal year wouldn’t have included the loss of Oladipo, leaving Payton with more work to do and less time in which to do it.

Given the raw state of fellow rookie Aaron Gordon’s skills and the uncomfortably large gap between this entire roster’s ceiling and basement, Payton was always going to have a heavy hand in Orlando’s 2014-15 performance.

But with Oladipo out of the equation for the foreseeable future, Payton’s hand might now be the heaviest.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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