Why Chandler Parsons Is an Excellent Complement to Dirk Nowitzki

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Why Chandler Parsons Is an Excellent Complement to Dirk Nowitzki
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Maybe Chandler Parsons' three-year, $46 million contract is a bit bloated; maybe it isn't. But no matter how much you value a promising offensive piece with three-point range and a solid game off the bounce, there's no question that he'll fit seamlessly into the Dallas Mavericks offense alongside Dirk Nowitzki

With addition of Tyson Chandler to solidify the back end of the defense, Parsons will likely take over as the starting small forward—his former position in Houston. Although this left him vulnerable against quicker, ball-handling small forwards, it will give him an enormous advantage as a weak-side shooter and driver playing off Dirk.

Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle has always been a creative offensive thinker, and his usage of Dirk all over the floor has given opposing defenses fits. Dirk's post game in particular has been a versatile weapon, as he's able to rise up over smaller players in mismatches as well as blow by slower bigs who typically guard him. 

This has come in handy as Dirk's body has begun to break down, with his first step noticeably slower and his diminishing willingness to power through contact during drives to the basket. Every hit counts when you're 36 years old and have been the focal point of an offense that has played more than 82 games for most of the past 15 seasons.

Playing off the quicker, rim-streaking Monta Ellis has been the biggest help. His ability to snake his way to the paint has loosened up the floor a bit, and pick-and-rolls involving him and Dirk have proved particularly dangerous.

Nowitzki's ability to pick-and-pop all the way out to the three-point line puts a great strain on bigs defending the pick-and-roll because the first priority always has to be corralling Ellis and preventing his darts to the rim.

And when a defense sucks in too far against Ellis, that's when he throws it back out to Dirk for a nice and easy catch-and-shoot jumper.

Limiting a defense's typical overcompensation toward Dirk has eased his burden, allowing him to settle into these comfortable catch-and-shoots more often than at any time in his career.

40.3 percent of his scoring attempts last year were of the catch-and-shoot variety, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required), the highest percentage of his career in an injury-free year—a number that is significantly higher than the low-30s percentages he was putting up during his prime.

But by the end of the season, defenses were loading up on these Ellis-Nowitzki combinations by throwing multiple help defenders onto their side of the floor—essentially leaving backside shooters and daring Ellis to throw out of pick-and-rolls. 

The next step was running these shooters off the three-point line by closing out too hard, forcing them to make plays off the bounce. Vince Carter, Shawn Marion, Jae Crowder, Devin Harris and Jose Calderon—all good-to-great three-point shooters—were being forced to make plays with a live dribble.

Occasionally it led to easy layups or subsequent drive-and-kick opportunities, but mostly it led to out-of-control drives to the rim or turnovers as the rest of the squad kept trying to make the extra pass. 

To put it simply, Dallas didn't have a release valve on the weak side to put pressure on the defense for cheating over. That's what Parsons will bring to this Mavericks team. 

Not only did he shoot 37 percent from deep on nearly five attempts per game, according to ESPN.com, but he also killed opponents when they ran him off the three-point line.

Though Parsons is more of a straight-line driver, preferring to use a head fake and one or two dribbles to get all the way to the rack, his excellent length and underrated strength allow him to both protect the ball as he takes it into the teeth of the defense and see the floor.  

He also understood his limitations as a finisher at the rim against size: His 1.045 points per possession on shot attempts around the basket ranked him in the 33rd percentile in the league last season, a far from impressive mark (via Synergy Sports).

But that's why only 34.2 percent of his shot attempts occurred in that area of the floor—the 179th highest percentage in the league, which is to say not very high at all. 

Instead, Parsons liked to settle for floaters and other creative shots within eight feet. And he's good at them too, shooting 57.08 percent in the paint within eight feet of the rim, according to NBA.com's shot charts. Considering that floater/runner is a more difficult shot percentage-wise than most assume, this is an extremely impressive number. 

This type of secondary penetration will be crucial for the Mavs, as they mostly didn't have it last season. Though Calderon was a point guard often playing off the ball, he's a hesitant driver who prefers to probe on the perimeter.

Devin Harris only has one speed and does not possess great vision when driving. Vince Carter, who was the only serviceable player with this drive-and-kick capability on the roster last season, is gone. 

It will be this type of passing from Parsons that will prove most valuable to Dallas. Most defenses try to account for the initial option and the likely secondary option on a given play. In Dallas' case, that's a Dirk pick-and-roll followed by a kick to a shooter.

With Parsons, the play will no longer be over at that point. He'll be able to slice right through the holes of a rotating defense with the ability to be a playmaker. 

His 4.0 assists per game last season was no fluke; the numbers came from these pump fake-and-drive situations. Here's an example from a game against the Denver Nuggets, when Isaiah Canaan penetrates off a pick-and-roll to find Parsons on the perimeter. 

Parsons catches the ball already on the move: He's using his defender's natural pinching in toward the paint against him, planning to blow by him once he turns around. That's exactly what happens as Parsons receives the ball, taking one dribble and nearly reaching the paint.

What makes this play particularly remarkable is the court vision. Parsons is going left yet still has the wherewithal to stop, pivot and a throw a two-handed, mid-air, overhead laser right to Terrence Jones. Not many players have the capability to see this pass, let alone fire it with such precision and force. The result is a wide-open three for Jones, which he nails. 

Over the course of a basketball game, Parsons will make approximately 10 of these types of drives. Let's say, conservatively, that four result in baskets. That's an extra 8-12 points per game he'll help to generate, and that doesn't even account for his ability to handle the ball in pick-and-rolls and hit three-point shots himself. 

All of this will add up to a greatly expanded offense for the Mavericks. Teams will be unable to ignore the weak side with Parsons and Dirk sharing the floor on opposite sides. Dirk will have an easier time operating out of his favored mid-post area; Parsons will have more room for catch-and-shoot jumpers and an even easier time wiggling around overzealous closeouts.

There's a lot of talk in today's NBA about the value of three-point shooters, but the truly valuable players are the ones who can do something once they're run off the three-point line.

Parsons is one of those players with that extra skill set, and he doesn't even need to be the first or second focal point of an offense. He's good enough to find points within the flow, and that will make him extremely valuable to Dallas. 

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