The Dallas Mavericks welcome the Memphis Grizzlies to the American Airlines Center on Friday for the first time this season.
Forget about that. Chandler Parsons is back, and he’ll attempt to score 30 points against his former team. You know, the team that went all in for every other free agent but the one that actually wanted to stay in Dallas.
The Grizzlies gave Parsons what Dallas wouldn’t: a max contract. Dallas, left scrambling for a new starting small forward, took the ultimate risk by signing Harrison Barnes to a max deal and placing the future of the franchise in his hands, not Parsons.
Had the Mavericks re-signed Parsons, that would’ve changed Dallas’ free agency plan drastically. Maybe the chances of signing Hassan Whiteside or Mike Conley increase, and columns, like this one, about how Dallas should tank might not have been written. But it’s always a ‘What if?’ game, like, what if the Mavericks weren’t skeptical about Parsons’ knee issues?
And what if the Mavericks re-signed Parsons and — wait for it — signed Barnes to a max deal, too? In fact, according to Parsons from ESPN.com’s Tim MacMahon’s piece that went live Friday, that was an idea the former Maverick wanted Mark Cuban to take a chance on. Therefore, this idea is not far-fetched.
In hindsight, it’s easy to look at Barnes’ current production through 11 games and say he and Parsons would’ve fit like a glove. With major cap limbo, and a drastic change in the roster as we know it, it would’ve been a test for the Mavericks, and Rick Carlisle, to make this work. It certainly would’ve been intriguing.
The Mavericks go smaller, but get more athletic
This is a complex counterfactual with good and bad implications.
First, if the Mavericks re-sign Parsons and get Barnes, it’s a near certainty that Andrew Bogut is not traded to Dallas. This is due primarily to the $11 million-plus salary Bogut brought with him. If you’re the Mavericks and are committed to dishing out more than $70 million a year to Barnes, Parsons and Dirk Nowitzki combined, Bogut isn’t even a thought here (or maybe Dirk signs another cheap deal, but for the sake of simplicity, we’ll say he keeps the $50 million).
Dallas, more than likely, moves on from Deron Williams or offers him less than the one-year, $10 million deal. Either way, the roster would look significantly different.
Second, this gives the Mavericks a myriad of options with Dirk. Carlisle moves him to the center spot or makes him the richest sixth man in NBA history. With that much money going to Barnes and Parsons, Dallas needs them on the floor at the same time. The Mavericks lose size here, but bank on quickness and athleticism to win games.
If Dirk moves to center, there’s the problem of protecting the rim. For at least 35 minutes a night, Dallas would need Barnes, Parsons and Wesley Matthews controlling the perimeter, the kind of perimeter trio Dallas craves in its current timeline. Throwing Justin Anderson and Dorian Finney-Smith in off the bench gives Dallas, arguably, its most athletic team since the Don Nelson years. That would be fun to watch. Salah Mejri could also start at center, which would not be a bad option.
The Barnes-Parsons pick and roll would have been beautiful
Watching the evolution of Barnes’ game so far has been a revelation. His iso game, above anything, has been off the charts. Once Dirk is healthy enough to return, it’ll be interesting how that two-man game works.
But imagine a world where Parsons, playing his point-forward role, has a roll man like the athletic Barnes, or vice-versa.
Barnes has shown he’s capable of coming off a screen and getting the best possible shot. He’s not quite ready to be the primary ball handler off the pick, but if he keeps making passes like this, he and Parsons could switch roles from time to time.
He's feeling it! pic.twitter.com/FkMQ0dCXQH— Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) November 9, 2016
But Parsons’ playmaking ability gives him a distinct advantage here. With Dirk setting the screen, Parsons can drive or kick. It would be a rarity for Parsons to pull up from mid-range coming off the screen. Barnes could fill the role of Dirk coming off the screen by taking a face-up jumper from the elbow.
Either way, getting Parsons the ball here makes him dangerous, as seen below, courtesy of friend-of-the-site Bobby Karalla. He went into great detail last year about Parsons’ use in the pick and roll.
The threat of Dirk drifting toward the right elbow allowed Parsons to bypass Boris Diaw and get to the rim. Knowing how well Barnes has shot from mid-range this year, that would’ve worked the same way. Either that or Barnes has an open lane to the rim off the dribble and scores himself.
Working two 6-foot-8 guys in a pick and roll like this would’ve been fun to watch.
Dallas would still need the perfect fit at point guard
Let’s say Carlisle throws his hands in the air and makes Parsons the primary ball handler. That would be fine.
There still needs to be a point guard who, at the very least, can make shots off the ball. If the Mavericks brought Williams back on a cheaper deal, this could work, but the best work he did last year was off the ball.
But if not Williams, then who? J.J. Barea does better with the ball in his hands, at the top of the key, firing threes off the screen. He’s quick enough to come off screens, but doesn’t fit the mold of a catch-and-shoot guy. The same goes for Devin Harris. He can do that, but you’d prefer him with the ball in his hands, too, coming off a screen.
Seth Curry? If he could make shots consistently, then yes. He would benefit greatly from this type of lineup. He’s not the best facilitator, but he gives you a legitimate threat from three-point range and the ability to space the floor much better than Barea, Harris or even Williams.
Parsons’ health concerns would throw this off
We just can’t assume Parsons would stay healthy. His injuries need to be taken into consideration. Dallas would need a backup plan should the inevitable happen.
Dirk could move back into the starting lineup while pushing Barnes to the three, but we don’t have enough data to figure out how they would work together. Mejri starts at center to add rim protection, of course. Or Carlisle could move Dirk to the five and Barnes to the four, with Anderson or Finney-Smith as the starting small forward, but neither of them control the ball in the front court like Parsons.
Barea or Williams becomes the primary ball handler again, but that’s not ideal. They’ve become scoring point guards in Dallas who are not inclined to be willing passers. Asking Barnes to take on Parsons’ role, with such little experience on that front, would be too much this early on.
The solution would look a lot like Dallas’ current offense: take a shot and hope for the best. Clearly, at 2-8, that’s not working. If Parsons isn’t playing, this kills everything.
All in all, it’s a huge risk
We’ll never know if this could actually work. Knowing Carlisle’s wizardry, he might have found a way.
It would be better than anything Dallas has going right now, though. While Barnes’ ascension into a star scorer has been an amazing sight, it hasn’t resulted in wins. At least with Parsons you’re guaranteed another scorer with Dirk out, and that probably gives Dallas has a better record at this point in our alternate timeline.
But the cards have fallen in such a way that the Mavericks are banking on Barnes to be their star of the future, and the Grizzlies are counting on Parsons to give them a chance to win a championship.
Pairing them together would’ve been fun, yet risky, but a better option than what Dallas has to roll with right now.