In advance of the 2019-2020 season, the Peachtree Hoops staff will take a glance at each member of the roster in “player preview” fashion. This installment evaluates oft-injured forward Chandler Parsons.
Chandler Parsons comes with a giant asterisk hanging over his head wherever he goes. Every conversation begins and ends with “if he can stay healthy…”. He hasn’t played more than 700 minutes in a season since 2015-16 in Dallas, the year before he signed a massive four-year, $95 million deal with the Memphis Grizzlies.
His body promptly fell apart in Memphis and hasn’t recovered, though there were rumblings last season that he was healthy, but the Grizzlies wanted to move away from him in favor of younger players on their long-term timeline. By the time Memphis was well and truly out of contention for anything but a high draft pick, Parsons was brought back into the rotation, playing 22 consecutive games from February to April at more than 20 minutes per night. He was very rusty and a shell of his former self, but just being able to play was a massive win.
There’s no telling how much of the Chandler Parsons from his first five years in the league still remains. His athleticism is nothing like it used to be, which hampers some of what he can do offensively, but he remains an effective three-point shooter and a gifted passer for his position. Both of those traits aren’t necessarily tied to his ability to move around the floor, though certainly getting himself to the right spots to make defense-breaking passes is more difficult for him now than it used to be. His drive-and-dish game has fallen off in the last few years, as you’d expect; he no longer gets all the way to the rim on his drives and settles for a lot of mid-range jumpers as a result. Defenses also aren’t drawn to him as much, opting to stay home elsewhere and force him into taking the least-efficient shots in the game.
Defensively, Parsons was never particularly special. He was always prone to mental lapses and rarely gave consistent effort, but he outweighed it with so much offensive value that it hardly mattered. His teams did struggle to play him at power forward consistently due to these defensive deficiencies, however, which has become an issue now that he’s older and less athletic than he used to be. As small forwards age, it’s customary that they bump up to the power forward spot, but Parsons’ lack of defensive quality will become an issue for the Hawks if he’s consistently deployed at that position. In particular, Parsons’ disregard for the defensive glass makes him a difficult inclusion at the power forward position. His teams routinely get killed on the glass when he’s the second-biggest player out there.
A fully-healthy Parsons can be an offense unto himself, though that requires him to rediscover his ability to drive to the rim consistently. The Hawks don’t necessarily need him to be the all-around initiator of the second-unit offense this year, as they will also have Evan Turner and Jabari Parker in similar roles. Unlike both Turner and Parker, Parsons is a very good shooter, which allows him to scale down his role as a ball handler and still be a useful offensive player. Putting him on the floor next to Turner, for example, should work on both ends of the floor – Turner can be the main facilitator offensively and take on the opposing team’s best forward defensively, whereas Parsons can play a secondary role on both ends of the floor.
When he’s healthy, Parsons’ playing time will be a good gauge of where the team believes itself to be. As things stand, he’s pretty clearly good enough to be part of the Hawks’ rotation, but developmental minutes may go to Cam Reddish at the backup small forward spot anyway and there are other options at power forward. Should the team try to make a playoff push at the beginning of the year, a healthy Parsons should absolutely be playing night in and night out. Even if they’re taking things slow, Reddish hasn’t played competitive basketball in months and is still recovering from his core injury that kept him out of pre-draft workouts and Summer League. Parsons was able to play at the end of the 2018-19 season for the Grizzlies and unless there’s a setback in training camp and preseason, he should be prepared to play at the beginning of the year, should the team want to bring Reddish along more slowly.
His advanced stats from the last three years aren’t altogether that different from the early part of his career, though he did have two very bad years shooting the ball in 2016-17 and 2018-19. His playmaking numbers remained very strong and he’s still a mid-to-high-30s three-point shooter, though there are some indicators that his declining athleticism is becoming an issue. Turnovers skyrocketed over the last two years and he’s not getting to the rim nearly as much as he used to.
Replacing those rim attempts with mid-range jumpers has sent his efficiency through the floor, only buoyed in 2017-18 by his unreal jump shooting from mid-range and beyond the three-point line. When he was in Houston and Dallas, his jump shot was one of the best in the league – he was consistently a very good mid-range and three-point shooter, but a lot of his shooting prowess was predicated on his ability to blow by defenders and get to the rim. Those days may be long gone for Parsons, which severely hampers how open he is in these spots as well as the elevation he gets on those jumpers to shoot over defenders.
Everything starts and stops with Parsons’ health. When healthy, he’s still a quality player who can give a team 20 minutes a night, but the Hawks have to be prepared to play most of the season without him. It’s an unfortunate reality in sports that injuries will always crop up for teams and players, but Parsons has clearly been dealt a terrible hand in this respect and has never been able to live up to the massive contract he signed with the Grizzlies three years ago.
From the Hawks’ perspective, they’re mostly playing with house money – if Parsons isn’t able to play, they can steer into the young guys and give the vast majority of the small forward minutes to Hunter and Reddish. Perhaps renowned trainer Chelsea Lane can get Parsons into her program and he can play 60-plus games once again, but he’s a significant underdog to do so.