AP Photo/LM OteroChandler Parsons is averaging 15.5 points and 4.6 rebounds per game this season.HOUSTON — For many, getting a massive raise and being asked to do less work sounds like a dream scenario.
It sure isn’t what Chandler Parsons had in mind when he moved up Interstate 45 this summer, though.
Parsons is cashing the big paychecks, leaping from six-figure salaries the last few seasons with the Houston Rockets to a three-year, $46 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks. The increased role and responsibilities he excitedly embraced upon arriving in Dallas, however, haven’t materialized midway through his first season with the Mavs.
The Mavs paid a premium rate to pry Parsons away from the Rockets in restricted free agency in large part because they considered the 26-year-old small forward to be an ascending player, pointing to his scoring, rebounding and assist averages rising in each of his three seasons in Houston.
Those numbers have dipped across the board in Dallas – 15.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists this season, down from 16.6, 5.5 and 4.0 a year ago – with Parsons playing fewer minutes and rarely serving as a focal point in the Mavs’ flow offense. Those facts will surely fuel plenty of “Overpaid!” taunts from Rockets fans as Parsons returns to the Toyota Center in a rival uniform for the second time Wednesday night.
“I’m still the same player, if not a better player,” Parsons told ESPNDallas.com. “I’m just accepting my role on this team. That’s what coach gave me.”
Added coach Rick Carlisle: “I like the way Parsons is playing. He’s improved his game since he’s gotten here in all areas. I think it’s another example of where stats can lie a little bit.”
A deeper look into Parsons’ production confirms that he hasn’t regressed since leaving the Rockets. His per-minute and per-possession scoring numbers have actually improved in Dallas. His rebounding is roughly the same.
The assist totals for Parsons, who is blessed with ballhandling skills and court vision that are rare in a 6-foot-9 package, have slipped significantly by any measure. That’s a result of his role as a member of the Mavs’ supporting cast with the vast majority of the play calls and offensive action designed to get the ball in the hands of shooting guard Monta Ellis and power forward Dirk Nowitzki.
For better or worse, Parsons spends most possessions spotting up on the weak side of the floor. He’s shooting more 3-pointers than ever but getting fewer overall shots and playmaking opportunities than last season.
It isn’t the role that Parsons envisioned when he left the Rockets after being the third wheel behind All-Stars James Harden and Dwight Howard. Yet Parsons doesn’t want to rock the boat with a team that is 30-16 and ranks second in the league in offensive efficiency, although the Mavs are mired in a season-worst three-game losing streak.
“When you’ve got a guy like Monta who can score the ball, a lot of the offense goes through him and you’ve got one of the all-time great scorers in Dirk,” Parsons said. “They’re going to get their touches. I’m capable of playing off of those guys and still being able to get mine.
“I’m always ready for a challenge. As a competitor, you always want more. I think I can handle that. Ultimately, you want to be a good teammate. You want to come in, work hard, gain respect in the locker room from everybody. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that, but it’s all about winning. We can talk about winning championships, winning conference championships, Finals. That’s how you get respect.
“I’m just trying to do anything I can to get us there. If that’s not being the No. 1 or 2 option, I’ve accepted that, but I’m going to stay aggressive.”
The question – which Parsons prefers to avoid discussing, deferring to Carlisle – is whether the Mavs would be better off if he had a bigger role.
The Mavs are 14-3 when Parsons scores at least 17 points. They are 9-1 when he attempts at least 15 shots. They are 6-1 when he has at least four assists.
According to Synergy Sports data, Parsons ranks in the 86th percentile of the NBA this season in per-possession scoring efficiency, a slight improvement from last season. He ranks in the 95th percentile as a pick-and-roll ballhandler and in the 89th percentile as a cutter, but he spends a lot of possessions just standing on the weak side and waiting, like a ridiculously rich version of Steve Novak.
“We’re going to continue to look for opportunities to get him more involved here and there,” said Carlisle, widely considered one of the league’s most innovative offensive minds. “But I don’t see it as a huge issue here. I just don’t.”
Part of the problem, if there is indeed one, is that Parsons has been too passive at times when he isn’t getting many touches. That was particularly true in Sunday’s loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, when the part-time model might as well have been a mannequin during a six-point, one-rebound, no-assist stinker.
Parsons responded when the Mavs momentarily made him an offensive priority the next game. He scored on designed plays on the first two possessions Tuesday night and finished the first quarter with 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting. Then he went back to being a role player, scoring nine points on 3-of-7 shooting the rest of the game as the Memphis Grizzlies routed the Mavs.
“Our offense is a free-flowing offense,” Nowitzki said. “There might be five, six minutes I’m running up and down and don’t get a shot. That’s how our offense works, that’s how we want to play, but sometimes when a guy is hot like that, maybe we’ve got to do a better job of finding him.”
It’s been difficult for Parsons to find a consistent comfort zone in Dallas.
Parsons struggled much of the first month of the season, when he fought through the worst shooting slump of his career while adjusting to a new system, surroundings and spotlight. He settled into a nice groove in late November, when he started a 10-game stretch in which he averaged 20.9 points and 2.9 assists while shooting 50.3 percent on 15.1 field goal attempts per game.
Then the blockbuster deal to acquire Rajon Rondo changed the dynamics of the Dallas offense and disrupted Parsons’ rhythm. As Carlisle and the Mavs search for the best methods to use their unique new point guard, Parsons sacrifices touches.
In 19 games since Rondo’s arrival, Parsons is averaging 13.8 points and 2.0 assists while shooting 47 percent on 11.3 field goal attempts per game. Not coincidentally, the Mavs’ offensive rating has slipped more than seven points per 100 possessions during that span.
It’s no surprise that Ellis and Nowitzki continue to be the Mavs’ top two scoring options, but it’s eyebrow-raising to see Rondo average more field goal attempts than Parsons.
“It takes some time,” Parsons said of building a rapport with Rondo without the benefit of a training camp and preseason. “It’s not going to happen overnight. He’s a ball-dominant point guard, and he’s been doing it for a lot of years and he’s very good at it and he can really pass the ball. I’ve just got to play to his strengths and cut and move and stay in his vision and run the floor and get out in transition, things that I’m good at.
“I’ve just got to be doing a lot of stuff that’s without the ball, because Rondo is going to have the ball a lot, Monta’s going to have the ball a lot, Dirk’s going to have it in the post a lot. I’ve got to find ways to stay aggressive and to help our team offensively with the role I have.”
Overpaid? Parsons hears plenty of that, especially in Houston.
But perhaps underutilized should be part of the Parsons discussion at this point, too.