One year ago Chandler Parsons was better known as a human proxy to Daryl Morey’s genius than a really good basketball player.
As a second-round pick who burrowed his way into Houston's starting lineup just seven games into his rookie season, Parsons was rarely brought up in conversation unaccompanied by his four-year, $3.6 million contract.
Today that contract is still regarded as most appealing in the league (from any front office’s vantage point), but Parsons, the player, has become known for much more.
A 6’9” forward who can guard at least three positions, shoot threes, handle the ball, crash the glass and initiate a pick-and-roll where defenses have to honor his ability to both pass and score, Parsons possesses a wide range of skills any team in the league would value.
He can finish in the open court (and destroy unfortunate defenders on putback dunks), while also playing with a rare calm possessed by few players who hold just two years of NBA experience under their belts.
Last season he was Houston’s second-leading scorer. He was also third in assists, second in rebounds, second in three-point percentage (with the third-most attempts) and fourth in true shooting percentage.
The regular season ended with Parsons posting the seventh-highest effective field-goal percentage in the league—56.7 percent, which was higher than Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry.
Despite taking on much more responsibility in his sophomore season, Parsons' shooting percentages and major per-36-minute averages all managed to increase, including his once dismal free-throw percentage, which went from 55.1 percent to 72.9 percent.
In his first taste of playoff action, Parsons elevated his game to an All-Star-caliber level against one of the league's stingiest defenses, shooting 40 percent on 40 three-point attempts, and averaging 18.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists in nearly 40 minutes per game.
It was only six games, but still, very few players, if any, put up those types of numbers while making less than a million dollars. Parsons is set to make $926,500 next year, less than eight of his teammates. Jeremy Lin will make over $7 million more.
Coming across that type of value in today’s NBA is unheard of. When it happens, the team who holds it is rewarded with incredible flexibility. It can now afford to overpay elsewhere, filling holes with players who would otherwise cost too much (Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin are two examples).
Any team in the league would love to pry Parsons from Morey for all the reasons listed above. In terms of dollar for dollar value, nobody is better.
Can Parsons be the third-best player on a championship-winning team? It isn’t out of this world to argue yes, even though it's strange to say someone who's a long shot to ever make an All-Star team can be that piece. Another "star" might be more preferable in Parsons place.
With that contract, Parsons is the most valuable trade asset Morey has to improve his team. But the timing of a trade is tricky, being that Parsons is just one year away from a well-deserved waterfall of money.
That brings us to another important variable: How much would any team be willing to give up for one year of Parsons (before having to pay him something like $40 million over four years), a big contract (Asik?) and a draft pick that likely slots late in the first round? Is that enough to bring back a star? Slim chance.
Parsons is one of the league’s better role players, about to be thrust into the most important basketball role of his life. How he fits beside Harden and Howard next season (and possibly the year after that) will go a long way in telling whether Houston is interested in keeping him around, or upgrading him to a proven “star.”
But if Harden and Howard are that good, maybe an offensive Swiss army knife like Parsons is the better fit (think Hedo Turkoglu's sudden ascendancy next to Dwight Howard—whose playing style mirrors that of Parsons—with the Orlando Magic back in 2009).
The decision isn’t an easy one, but the Rockets have plenty of time to figure out an answer. For now, Parsons should stay put.