The Houston Rockets will rely on a ton of players in 2013-14 in order to reach their potential, but Chandler Parsons is the X-factor who will determine where the Rockets ultimately finish the season.
Parsons has grown immensely since being selected at No. 38 overall in the 2011 NBA draft. Not much was expected of him on draft day, though. Questions regarding his athleticism were floated around, as were the assumptions that he wouldn't amount to a quality player in the NBA.
With no overwhelming skill in any category, many expected Parsons to be just another college kid swept under the rug in the NBA.
Fast forward to now, where Parsons is one of the NBA's rising stars. Not only did he exceed expectations, he blew them out of the water.
Parsons went off as the No. 2 scoring option in his first season alongside James Harden. Parsons averaged 15.4 points, 3.5 assists and 5.3 rebounds in 36.3 minutes per game. He also posted career-highs in field-goal percentage (48.6) and three-point percentage (38.5).
Each of those totals represented an improvement over Parsons' rookie season, and the Rockets are hoping that he can improve again this season. Having him as a third option behind Harden and Dwight Howard makes this Rockets' offense deep, but having Parsons at an entirely other level behind them would be even more dangerous.
That's what makes him the X-factor for Houston.
Having a good No. 3 option is much different than having a great No. 3 option. Plenty of teams in the NBA have three quality scorers, but it's worth taking a look at two of those teams in particular.
The Miami Heat obviously have three legitimate scoring threats—LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Bosh is the third option in Miami, but he's an above-average offensive threat who would be the go-to guy on a ton of other teams in the league.
Oklahoma City can win plenty of games without a third scoring option, but it's the lack of an established one that may prevent the Thunder from making a run at the NBA Finals.
Now, I'm in no way attempting to compare Houston to either of the aforementioned clubs. I am, however, trying to establish that most great teams have three great scorers and some teams that fall short simply don't have the luxury of a third option.
Parsons has shown growth from season to season to put himself into the discussion as a star in the NBA. He can score with some of the best at the small forward position, can hit clutch shots and can fill up the stat sheet in nearly every category. His defense isn't superb, but it's far from being a liability either.
If Parsons falls off from his production last season, then it'll be difficult for Houston to make moves in the Western Conference. He'll be relied upon heavily to start the season, as he and Howard may share No. 2 duties while Howard gets acclimated to his new offense and playing with Harden.
Playing Parsons in such a big role with Howard would be a great move by head coach Kevin McHale to get his top guys working together. Given the fact that Parsons is already familiar with Harden's playing style, he can help Howard's adjustment process.
Can Parsons improve even more off 2012-13?
When Howard feels comfortable in the Rockets' offense, look for Parsons to slide back down to a heavily utilized third scorer.
There's nobody behind Parsons who can produce the same numbers he can.
Jeremy Lin has too iffy of a role in the offense to be counted on for nearly 16 points per game, and there's no telling what the power forward position is going to produce. Off the bench, the Rockets have a bevy of strong players, but none of them are of the scorer's mold like J.R. Smith or Jarrett Jack.
Parsons is the key to the Rockets' season. The combination of Howard and Harden will work out just fine, and both players will post solid numbers. They need a safety blanket, though, when double teams come or when one is ineffective.
Parsons is that guy, and he'll continue to be that guy as long as he shows that last season wasn't a fluke. With Parsons playing well for the entirety of the 2013-14 season, the Rockets will be going places.