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The Parsons Dilemma: what we make of Chandler's disappointing start

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The Mavericks' prize off-season acquisition has been running hot and cold this young season. After a disappointing performance against his former team, the MMB staff asks: what's going on?

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The initial high that came with Chandler Parsons' signing Dallas' offer sheet on the night of July 9 quickly turned into brooding anxiety for all of the Mavericks fanbase as the hours ticked away. It was only 72 of them, in theory -- but enough time elapsed before the offer sheet was officially submitted to the league office and Adam Silver set the official timer ticking down on his iPhone (it's not confirmed that this is how the league office keeps track of these things, just a hunch).

As free agents signed all around the league, the Mavericks could only wait and the fans could only dread what would happen if Houston did match. (The answer, of course, would have been Lance Stephenson. Oh boy.) But on that Sunday night -- July 13 -- the news broke. Chandler Parsons was a Dallas Maverick.

Few, if any, thought that four months later, we'd be here to sit down and talk about the Parsons Dilemma.

Unfortunately, for better or worse, we've reached that point. Let's make one thing clear -- Parsons is just 14 games into a $46 million contract that will make him a Mavericks for more than 164 games, and possibly more than 246 if chooses to opt in at the end of it. It's incredibly, ridiculously early to make any defining judgments that this or that is the way the rest of his Dallas Mavericks career will go.

However, there are things about Parsons' play we need to address. Our staff came together to look at his issues from every perspective we felt was crucial to his narrative through the first 14 games.

He's playing really hard-to-watch basketball right now

I want to love Chandler Parsons. In fact, on some level, I currently do love Chandler Parsons. But right now, I could not be more tired of his play. I am furiously, irrationally angry with his production to date and I'm pretty fed up with all the excuses that more patient Mavs fans spout on his behalf. Chandler Parsons needs to step up now.

The main reason I started to write about basketball was because it was an outlet for the fury I felt during the 2011-12 season. Lamar Odom and all his baggage and bull drove me crazy from opening day. Since then, I've become more and more acquainted with the rational sports fans and writers out there and I've done my best to adopt some of the views of those who don't physically tense up when the Mavericks lose a game in maddeningly idiotic fashion. The Mavericks have a lot of great sports minds who follow the team and taking the long view is one of those things I try really, really hard to do when something frustrating is going on with the Mavericks.

So rationally, I understand that Chandler Parsons is going to get it together at some point. Rationally, I understand he can't continue to shoot 30 percent against what I would consider 'good' NBA teams. Rationally, I understand that he'll find his niche and stop looking like a tentative high schooler unsure what to do while playing with the varsity. Rationally, I understand that with a long NBA season it's likely that Chandler Parsons becomes at least some of what we all hope him to be.

But I am not a rational person. Chandler Parsons has been pretty freaking disappointing.

To date, the Mavericks have played seven 'good' teams - the Spurs, Pelicans, Trail Blazers, Heat, Kings, Wizards, and Rockets. They are 3-4 in those games, with maddening losses to the depleted Spurs and Rockets, while getting blown out by the Heat and Blazers. Over that seven-game sample, Parsons is averaging 11 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.5 assists. He shooting a God-awful 34 percent from the field and an eye-bleeding 26 percent from deep. Of those seven games, he only has two really solid performances: against the Pelicans and Kings. To be fair, he played really well in both these contests, which means in those other five games he's been a tire fire of despair (7.8 points, 5 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 28% shooting, 16% from three).

In addition to his raw stats, he really looks lost a great deal of the time on offense. Unless his shot falls early, Parsons has a tendency to float around the three point line calling for the ball. Unlike his predecessor Shawn Marion, Parsons rarely cuts. It's getting to the point to where I may refer to him as Stand There Parsons. His jumper is so flat that the Houston Rockets announcers wondered if something was wrong with him. Unfortunately for Mavs fans, the straight line shot is all we've ever known from Parsons.

Of course a 14 game sample is not big enough to draw any real conclusions from. I also don't care. I had such hopes for Parsons and to date he's been the Mavs sixth best player in my mind, behind Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler, Monta Ellis, Brandan Wright, and even J.J. Barea. You might have him higher up the list and that's fine, but it's pretty impossible to argue that he's been anything better than fourth. That's not good enough.

There's a good chance that most people disagree with me; "typical Kirk, overreacting to nothing." That's fine. But answer me this question: can you remember a stretch in a game or an entire game where you thought "Man, I'm really glad Chandler Parsons is on the team" or "Look at how Parsons affected that [period of play]"? Through 14 games, has he been good enough for you? How long of a grace period does a talented player like Parsons get?

He'll get better; I know that. I'd just prefer if he shut me up with a string of solid performances. Starting right now.

- Kirk Henderson

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He's a shooter who can't make shots (right now)

Chandler Parsons is an interesting fellow with an interesting jump shot.

It doesn't have an arc. It's just a line-drive straight to the rim, and one can only hope that it goes in. How in the world did this man average 16.6 points per game on 47 percent shooting last season?

That, along with his 37 percent career 3-point shooting with the Rockets, is the reason why the Dallas Mavericks signed him for big-time contract this offseason.

No one has any definitive answer why the Mavericks' Parsons is only averaging 14.1 points per game on 41 percent shooting, and only 32 percent shooting from 3-point range.

Is the pressure getting to him? Does he miss the city of Houston? Is there something going on internally between him and Kendall Jenner that is throwing off his game?

Either way, if the Mavericks are going to contend and make a deep run in the playoffs, they're going to need better production shooting the ball from their $46-million man.

The more mind-boggling aspect of Parsons' struggles is that he's getting open looks. This offense is designed to have Parsons make defenses pay from the 3-point line. But the shot is so flat, and so inconsistent, that opposing defenses have been content with leaving him open at times (or, with Monta Ellis and Dirk on the floor, have had no other choice).

It also feels like Parsons is doing too many different things with his shot. His release and form are not consistent. There were a few times against Houston on Saturday where he held the ball too long at the height of his jump. When Parsons shoots in rhythm, like he did against Sacramento and Boston, he's a more deadly player.

A lot of pressure has been put on Parsons, there's no doubt about that. But he should be playing better with the contract he's been getting. In time, he should feel more comfortable.

But for now, I think Parsons should take Dirk's advice and get some work with Holger because his shot is really problematic right now.

- Danny Webster

He's not showing up against the good teams

Chandler Parsons has had a frustrating debut as a Dallas Maverick, but hopes were high going into Saturday night's game against the Rockets that he would take this opportunity to show Dallas fans what he could do and Houston fans what they were missing.

He did not. Parsons performed poorly, going 0-for-5 from three and just 33 percent overall. The Rockets' defense is the best in the NBA, so it's not surprising that Parsons would struggle. He certainly wasn't the only Maverick who had trouble connecting. But unfortunately, this isn't the first time we've seen Parsons disappear when facing a tough team.

Good teams make things harder for everyone on the team, but when you look at the decline in Parsons' performance against teams with a winning record, there's a much sharper drop off in his performance than in overall team performance, as you can see in the chart below. He's taking shots at about the same rate against good teams and bad teams (Dallas' schedule has been split evenly between the two), but he's making his shots at a much lower rate against good teams.

ParsonsvsTeamShooting

Things actually look worse if you focus on numbers related to his ball handling. He's averaging just over half the number of assists against good teams that he is against bad, and his turnovers more than double:

ParsonsvsMavsBallHandling

This is frustrating for a team that's playing in a tough conference and paying for a star, and the December schedule will present plenty of opportunity for things to get worse. The Mavericks will face four Eastern Conference teams over the next week, and should be able to pick up a few more wins, with Toronto the only likely challenge.

But after that they'll have to contend with Chicago, Memphis, New Orleans, Golden State, and San Antonio during a stretch where they'll play three back-to-backs (two on the road, one split) and 10 games over the course of 18 days. It would be a good time for Parsons to show us he's capable of performing well against good teams.

So is there any reason to think that he is? While none of his numbers so far really make a strong case, it's hardly time to throw in the towel on Parsons. If you read Hal Brown's Statsketball this week, then you know we're getting close to the point where we can start to look at numbers and draw conclusions about the season. But as he points out, it's still not a huge sample size, and with a small number of games, it can be a fool's errand to further subdivide them and try to make inferences about what those even-smaller groups of games mean for a player's season.

These numbers do show that Parsons hasn't performed well against good teams, but they're not a rock solid case that he won't. His overall production is pretty close to what it's been previously, and he's a young player still adjusting to a new system and a very different role. He's not having a total mental meltdown against the tougher teams either: he still makes his free throws and his rebounding looks about the same, regardless of the quality of the team.

If Parsons' numbers still look the same in a few weeks, it may be time to start regretting that contract. But it's not that time yet.

- Kate Crawford

We are so invested in him succeeding

When I heard the Mavs were making an offer to restricted free agent Chandler Parsons, I was ecstatic. When I learned the Rockets wouldn't match, the following was my reaction:

In other words, I was all in on Parsons from day one. The Mavs haven't had a lot of players on the roster lately who are both young and talented and also a somewhat proven commodity. So my brain went wild anticipating how good Parsons could be. I looked at his stats from last season and thought to myself "Parsons is going to be even better than that, what with all the creative ways that Carlisle is going to use him and benefiting from the spacing created by playing with Dirk."

I fully expected Parsons to hit the ground running and push Monta for the role of second-best player on the team. Unfortunately, that may have been unrealistic.

Because I had a front-row seat on the Chandler Parsons bandwagon, I have been overly harsh on him as he has struggled a bit this season. He certainly isn't bad, though he does have some habits that get frustrating. I expected Parsons to be the second-best Mav this season, and while he certainly could be by the end of the season, so far he has been probably the Mavs fifth or sixth best player. And honestly, since the players ahead of him are Dirk, Monta, Tyson, and the always hyperefficient but suddenly more well-rounded Brandan Wright, I don't think we should be crazy worried about that just yet.

The thing is, these things take time, and I didn't really think about that. Earlier this week I read a good take on Parsons by friend of the site Jason Gallagher. He made a really good point: Parsons learned to play NBA basketball in a much less sophisticated offensive system than what Dallas runs. Theoretically, Parsons's talents make him a perfect fit for Carlisle's offense, but theory rarely translates easily into practice. It was unfair of me to expect Parsons to be perfect from day 1.

So let's forget about those expectations (and stop talking about his contract while we're at it). Parsons will learn. Just give it some time.

- Bailey Rogers

His defense hasn't improved like we hoped

All the tools are there -- Parsons is a lanky 6-foot-9, quick on his feet and athletic enough to make plays above the rim. Every Houston fan I've talked to said that as a rookie, Parsons forced his way into the rotation thanks to excellent coverage of the opposition's wing players. His career highs in steals (1.5) and blocks (0.6) per 36 minutes, as well as basketball-reference.com's defensive box per minute (2.1) all came his first year in 2011-12.

Something's changed since then. Parsons has had more offensive responsibility since that year, so maybe he just doesn't have as much energy on the defensive end. He's shown some lapses in concentration, perhaps bad habits picked up from James Harden and Rockets coach Kevin McHale's lack of accountability for that sort of thing. (To be fair to Harden, he has improved this year.)

His inherent skills still shine through -- on Friday against the Lakers, he was tasked with guarding Kobe Bryant and held him to 6-of-22 shooting. He had a hand in Kobe's face on nearly every shot he took and did well bodying him in the post and not giving up too much ground. Here's an example of him navigating around a screen.

11-24parsonsD

I'll commend Parsons for his one-on-one, which has been solid at time. But he's been just as fault for the feet-glued-to-the-hardwood plague that has infected the entire team. Hal Brown absolutely decimated the Mavs' help defense after the season's second loss of the year -- here's an example from his film study.

Mabs Open lane

Tyson Chandler is trying, gosh darnit, but he can't be the only plus defender in the Mavericks' starting five if they're hoping to improve. Dirk's old and Monta's small, but Parsons has all the tools. With the help of Carlisle, Parsons has to find a way to bring out his best efforts on that end.

- Tim Cato

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He's shown encouraging signs; just give him time

After a frustrating loss last night to the Rockets (and the refs) that included disappointing shooting from the Mavs' top three scorers, there was a predictable round of handwringing from a lot of Dallas fans. That's especially true of the reaction to Parsons, who has already been labeled as an under performer against the best teams.

My reaction to those folks? Just chill.

Even after last night, the Mavericks are a top seven team in the league. They've got an offense that just might be the most productive in the history of the league. And despite poor shooting early on, Parsons' numbers have been consistent with his career production.

Per 36 minutes, he's averaging 16 points per game--more than any of his previous three seasons--on one more shot per game than last season, according to basketballreference.com. He's never been a prolific free throw shooter, but he's averaging the most three attempts at the line per 36 of his career with 3.5 and grabbing more rebounds per 36 (5.5) since his rookie season.

The advanced metrics provide even more evidence that Parsons has been consistent with his career production. His PER (just under 16) and total rebounding percentage (just under 9 percent) are remarkably close to previous seasons. His free throw rate is up and his turnover percentage is down, even as his usage has increased from his last year with the Rockets. Even his defensive rating has been identical to the last two seasons (108, 108, 108).

The most frustrating thing for many fans has been Parsons' shooting and, rightfully so. His true shooting percentage is down and his effective field goal percentage is at 48.8 percent.

But there's reason to be optimistic those numbers will improve. He's never had an effective field goal percentage (which takes account of a three pointer's added value) below 50 percent for his career. And his true shooting percentage (which takes free throws into account as well as two point and three point attempts) hasn't gone below 56 percent since his rookie year.

What's changed in his game so far this season? About 45 percent of his field goal attempts--a career high--are coming from the three point line, while his field goal attempts at the rim are down. That may be a function of him attempting to fit in with the other starters as Dirk Nowitzki and Jameer Nelson are the only guys established as above average three point shooters. But his numbers from long range (32 percent) are lower than any of his previous full seasons.

Parsons has never been an elite three point shooter but, at 38.5 and 37 percent, his last two years were solid.

His shooting performances this year have been wildly inconsistent--sometimes from game to game. He's had several highly efficient games from three, followed by even more lousy performances--four of five three attempts made against Boston, then no three point makes in his next three games; seven makes against Charlotte and Washington, followed by just two against the Lakers and Houston.

Parsons wasn't the most consistent shooter game to game before coming to Dallas and that's been magnified as more of his attempts are coming further from the basket than last season.

Hopefully, playing with Dirk, he figures out how to become a more consistent outside shooter. But in the meantime, it would make sense for the Mavs coaching staff to push Parsons to establish himself closer to the basket by getting into the paint or making smart cuts to the rim, where he's making close to 64 percent of his attempts. Despite fewer attempts close to the basket, he's being rewarded with more free throws.

The ball hasn't dropped as much as Parsons or Mavericks fans would like to see. But with 14 games in the can, he's got plenty of time to turn it around. And otherwise, his performance has been remarkably consistent overall with the player he was before arriving in Dallas.

- Andrew Kreighbaum

(photo credits: Jerome Miron (first) and Jeremy Brevard (second) of USA Today Sports)