Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Finding Chandler Parsons

When LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony finally make their decisions, all the action in free agency will move towards guys like Chandler Parsons, a 25-year old restricted free agent who would improve almost any team in the NBA. Ironically enough, it was only three years ago that every team in the league could have had him, as he slipped all the way to the No. 35 pick in the 2011 draft.

For the most part, Parsons is the same player he was three years ago - after four years at Florida, he came out of college pretty much a finished product. At 6'10 225, he's a multi-dimensional player who can shoot the ball from deep, handle and put it on the floor as well as run point and create shots for his teammates. He's also deceptively athletic, with the ability to match up with multiple positions on the perimeter and crash the glass. So what happened? How did a player this good fall through the cracks?

It's not like Parsons was at some small, off-the-radar school. He was a three-year starter at Florida who was SEC Player of the Year and played in the Elite Eight as a senior. If anything, as Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Elfrid Payton have shown, Parsons would have been better off somewhere where he could dominate the ball and rack up a bunch of statistics, instead of sharing the workload on a balanced team like the Gators. He was essentially hiding in plain sight - every team in the NBA must have seen him over two dozen times in his college career.

As a senior, Parsons averaged 11 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists a game on 48% shooting. It was a very well-rounded performance, as you don't see many small forwards who can get that many rebounds and assists. However, because he didn't get the chance to put up big scoring numbers, there was the perception that his game had leveled off. Parsons put up better numbers in the NBA than in the NCAA - this actually happens, as hard as it is to believe. Everyone shared the ball at Florida, so Parsons had to play his position and do what was best for the team, not his individual glory.

There were a lot of guys on that team who needed the ball in their hands, even though they didn't end up sticking at the next level. Their top 5 scorers all averaged between 15 and 9 points a game. Erving Walker, the PG, was a score-first jitterbug in the mold of JJ Barea. Kenny Boyton, the SG, was a McDonald's All-American and a four-year starter. Alex Tyus, the PF, was a four-year contributor who did all of the little things and could mix it up around the basket and Vernon Macklin, the C, as drafted in the 2nd round. That doesn't even count guys like Erik Murphy and Patric Young who came off the bench.

Playing with a bunch of really good college players ended up hiding Parsons' true ability. When it comes to evaluating prospects for the draft, there's this perception that they are statistical-generating machines whose output naturally approaches their talent level, but that isn't actually the case. Parsons scoring numbers didn't go up as a senior not because they couldn't, but because that wasn't the role he had on his team. For a variety of reasons, a college player isn't always going to be in a situation that maximizes his natural ability, especially on a big-time program with a lot of good players on it.

So were there any players like Parsons in this year's draft? Probably not, since historically very few second-round picks ever produce as much value as him. However, it is an interesting archetype to track - a guy on a major program with all the physical tools and a versatile skill-set who had a secondary role in his college offense that may not have maximized his chances to put up the type of big-time offensive numbers that scouts look for.

The one guy that matches that description is DeAndre Daniels, the UConn SF who was the No. 37 pick of the Toronto Raptors. He's got the tools - an athletic 6'8 forward with a 7'2 wingspan who can stroke 3's and put the ball on the floor. He was knocked for inconsistency in college, but as the 3rd option behind two very ball-dominant PG's in Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, it was hard for him to always get in a rhythm with consistent touches on offense. His season numbers were very respectable for his role at UConn - 13 points, 6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks on 47% shooting and 42% from beyond the line.

Daniels wasn't as versatile a player as Parsons, but he is a guy who could end up being a better NBA player than he was in college. They are out there - you just have to know how to look for them.

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