Roster success in the modern NBA, with its salary cap harder than ever, is all about clever contract equity. That’s why we love Houston Rockets forward Chandler Parsons. He’s on one of the most favorable deals in all of the league.
But has the bargain of his approximately $0.95 million per year contract—set to expire after next season—given us a skewed perception of his abilities as a player? Has Chandler Parsons become overrated?
Let’s consider the notion that Parsons is the third-best player on the Rockets—a likely truth—and that, furthermore, he is a good enough third banana for a title-winning team. While such a belief is not exactly consensus, it has definitely been speculated toward.
Put plainly, Parsons is not that third man. It’s not even clear, at this point, that he’s more important to his team in the long run than Terrence Jones, the budding and ever-versatile power forward starting next to Parsons and Dwight Howard.
Jones is just 22, but already has a stronger Player Efficiency Rating than Parsons this season—18.64 to 15.66. This discrepancy is, above all, a testament to Parsons’ turnovers and lack of palpable defensive impact. And while Parsons is certainly a bit more than middling as a perimeter defender—sticking to your man well still doesn’t quite show up in the box score—he’s still only a marginal plus on that side of the ball.
Mike Prada of SB Nation explains, “Parsons has better defensive tools than [James] Harden, but suffers from the same lack of concentration, particularly off the ball.” Despite Parsons’ length and athleticism, he’s yet been able to prove himself as a consistent defender.
Some of that, of course, may be systemic. Solid Rockets defenders haven’t exactly grown on trees during the Kevin McHale era—Harden, in fact, has regressed in the team’s score-first run-and-gun ways. Quality defense in the NBA is usually cultural—just ask the Chicago Bulls and Tom Thibodeau—and only Howard and Patrick Beverley, men who make their money on that end of the court, have recently looked good as stoppers in Houston.
If Parsons is the Rockets’ third-best player, it doesn’t bode well for their championship aspirations in the short term. Too often, he looks the part of a one-way player. His defense may develop further, but at the moment it seems foolhardy to declare Parsons part of a trophy-taking trio.
None of which, ultimately, suggests Parsons is exactly overrated. How he’s valued is dependent on how the Rockets are perceived in championship terms, and upon how he’s paid once his contract is up. So Parsons, like his team, is still under evaluation by the Rockets as they try to come into their skin as true contenders. There’s a lot of room for schematic improvement from Houston, and for individual improvement from Parsons. He may develop a better sense of when to gamble, versus when to hedge, and put his considerable defensive potential to use.
And we know the Rockets will continue to depend on Parsons for more than just his nearly elite offense. He’s shown his metaphysical traits are essentially as valuable to his team as his more traceable court performance. He’s a leader, often cited as the gluey personality ensuring camaraderie on a team centered around two less vocal, more lead-by-example superstars in Howard and Harden.
“I’m a voice in the locker room,” Parsons told CSN Houston. “I’ll do anything I can do to make guys feel comfortable and be themselves.”
Any proper appraisal must take this into consideration. Value is relative to context, and the Rockets would be without an especially mobilizing voice in their core if they lost Parsons.
With all of this under consideration, it seems Parsons’ price is considerably less than that of a maximum salary player, but certainly more than that of your average NBA starter. Somewhere from $8-9 million per season seems reasonable—the Rockets should let Parsons walk if the market pressures them to give him more than $10 million per season.
Of course, the NBA will be a player's market as long as winning teams want quality players. The Rockets can expect something like a "tax" in overpaying Parsons up to as much as $12 million a year. This is what Gordon Hayward of the Utah Jazz seeks, and what Luol Deng of the Cleveland Cavaliers will likely also get this summer. Both, with their respective weaknesses and strengths taken into account, are comparable players to Parsons.
The alternative to a slight overpay—likely a new reality for title-seeking teams—is developing a younger new player to fill a veteran's role. The Rockets, in the long view, may take this approach and try to find another lengthy wingman who can shoot, penetrate, pass and run the floor like Parsons.
But restarting (even at one position) often takes tons of time, so unless the Rockets are able to trade for Carmelo Anthony or another experienced wing better than Parsons, it's likely they'll suck it up and give him that $12 million a year.
But if Parsons gets any more than that from a team chasing a title—without displaying significant growth beyond his current game—we should consider it a mistake of communal perception. It would mean we allowed Parsons to become overrated.