Tell me if you've heard this before: "The Houston Rockets blow a double-digit lead". It seems to be an all-too-often recurring theme for Rockets this season. The latest instance came on Saturday night against the Wizards when Houston gave up a twenty-five point lead. Notably absent from the game- Chandler Parsons. The third-year forward out of Florida missed his third straight game with a sore knee. It's not just his scoring and ability to spread the floor and find his teammates with all sorts of passes that make him important to the Rockets. It's Parsons' ability to defend almost any player that has earned comparisons to a Swiss Army knife.
The most obvious thing an NBA fan knows about Houston is that they can score, as evidenced by their 105.3 points per game. But what has been painfully brought to the forefront is how porous they are on defense, allowing 102 points per game. Even that can't do justice to watching a typical defensive possession. It usually consists of Jeremy Lin or James Harden getting put on cinder blocks by an opposing guard, with Dwight Howard out of reach to defend said player. The player likely scores, or at least gets fouled- or sometimes both.
But the height and length of Parsons negates a lot of that. He can stay in front of his defender, play smart and avoid foul trouble while still having enough gas to be a key cog on offense, too. His 17.2 points per game is a career best, and Parsons has almost doubled his rookie average from 2011-2012 (9.5). His minutes have only increased, as has his shooting (51%). When Harden goes cold, or Howard is in foul trouble, you can always rely on Parsons for a bucket when his team most needs it. His length not only helps on defense, but adds to one of the best pump fakes in the league. You know he's going to do it 99% of the time, but defenders fall for it constantly. It gets Chandler in trouble sometimes when he travels- but more often than not it clears a path for him to get a better shot.
Parsons is very proficient from deep as well, as he drilled 154 threes last season. This current campaign sees him shoot 37.5%- a respectable number. While he has yet to crack 40% over the course of 82 games, the threat of him from three-point land brings back visions of Matt Bullard. Bullard currently assists on broadcasts along with Bill Worrell and Clyde Drexler.
While last year was the year of Harden, and Parsons was more than happy to make way for the elite offensive star, the newest iteration of this team seems to suffer when Harden heaves with reckless abandon. He's averaging 6.28 attempts from deep, up from 6.23 last year. When Harden goes into "hero ball" mode, they abandon all semblance of a team running on all cylinders and usually end up cooling off, and sometimes even freeze. Houston is built on constant ball movement and pushing the pace, something Parsons was born to do. While some may have thought adding in Dwight would slow them down and disorient one of the fastest teams in the NBA, it only enhances their offense now that they have built chemistry 32 games in. Howard's improvements in the post are noticeable, and give Parsons another elite option to dish to or take pressure off of.
Back to Saturday evening in Washington. Before the game, Chandler tried to give it a go- but ended up dressed to impress instead of to play. The absence due to injury wasn't more obvious than on this night. In a game that feature not one but TWO rain delays, the Rockets had the upper hand early. The first unexpected break saw Washington struggle mightily, but halfway through the third Houston let them back into it as the lead went from 25 to 15 points by the beginning of the fourth.
Houston did everything but escort John Wall and his teammates to the basket. Jeremy Lin was no match, and Harden blew his share of defensive assignments- something that simply cannot be done against a shooter like Bradley Beal. Howard was limited with five fouls, too. It's ironic that the two men who looked to fill Parsons shoes (Francisco Garcia and Omri Casspi) were the only two to score for almost 9 minutes leading to the Wizards' magical run.
That kind of situation is why Parsons is so important. His knack for making big shots would have likely helped mitigate the Wizards' run. On defense he would have been able to disrupt John Wall and protect Howard from foul trouble; essentially closing up the lane. All the while he'd also being able to back-up Harden against Beal if needed. And if you watch Harden on defense- you know it's needed often.
The 38th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft makes his return tonight in Boston. While the Rockets would be favored against a sub .500 Celtics team, it's never too soon to see a player the caliber of Parsons on the floor.
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