Chandler Parsons and David Lee will be the keys for the Mavericks down the stretch.
If Dirk Nowitzki and Rick Carlisle have showed us anything in their years together, it’s that once they get into the playoffs, they are not an easy out. Just ask the 2013-14 champion San Antonio Spurs, considered by some to be the most dominant NBA Finals team ever. Those Spurs were taken to seven games by just one team all postseason, the Dirk and Monta Ellis-led Dallas Mavericks.
Each year, analysts predict that the Mavs will fall out of the playoff hunt, and each year Dallas proves that their formula of a brilliant head coach, an aging superstar, a secondary scoring option, and a bevy of quality role players is a recipe for success.
This offseason, when DeAndre Jordan famously reneged on his decision to play in Dallas, many speculated that the organization would tank the season, and for good reason. As a result of last year’s disastrous Rajon Rondo trade, the Mavs owe their 2016 first-round pick to Boston if it falls outside the top seven. Despite their disincentive to win, Dallas remains right in the middle of the playoff mix, currently sitting sixth in the West, tied with the Portland Trailblazers (whose surprise success I wrote about last week) with a 33-31 record.
However, this season has not been without its challenges. Dallas is currently in the midst of its third three-game losing streak of the year, and have been just 4-6 in its past ten games. The Mavericks’ erratic play is not surprising when you consider that three of the their five players with the most minutes played are new to the team: Wesley Matthews, Deron Williams, and Zaza Pachulia.
Dirk has been his normal, spectacular self, but for the Mavs to make any noise this postseason, he will need more two-way consistency from his secondary scoring option and the team’s newest quality role player: University of Florida alums Chandler Parsons and David Lee.
When the Mavs signed Parsons away from Houston with a three-year, $46 million contract, they probably envisioned more production than this season’s 13.5 ppg/4.6 rpg/2.6 apg on 49/41/68 shooting splits. But those numbers don’t paint an accurate picture of Parson’s play as of late. After missing the first two games of the season recovering from knee surgery, Parsons has slowly rounded into form as the season has progressed. Since January 15th, Parsons is averaging 18.5 ppg/5.8 rpg/2.8 apg on 52/48/78 shooting splits. During this time, 112 different players have averaged at least three shots per game from behind the arc, and only Steph Curry has shot a better percentage.
Parsons is more than just a catch-and-shoot pin-down shooter. He has one of the best pump fakes in the game and can turn around even the stingiest of defenders as he steps back for a jumper.
Parsons has even evolved into a dangerous ball-handler in the pick-and-roll, ranking fifth in the league in effective field goal percentage among players who have taken at least 100 shots out of the pick-and-roll as the ball-handler. This is a particularly dangerous weapon for the Mavericks’ offense when Dallas goes small with Dirk at the five and Parsons at the four. A big-big pick-and-pop with Parsons and Dirk is virtually unguardable for most NBA front courts. The combination of shooting and athleticism from Parsons coupled with the threat of Nowitzki’s silky jumper forces opposing defenses to make too many compromises. In the following video, Dallas is not playing small, but Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic inexplicably stays home on Pachulia, opening the lane for a Parsons drive and dunk:
Though Parsons has been mostly excellent over the last month and half, he still has curious lapses of futility. One look at his game log, and you’ll find abysmal performances scattered throughout like his 3 for 12, nine point/eight rebound/two assist-night on Monday vs. the Clippers. Performances like these are forgivable as long as they are rare, but even when they do occur, Parsons needs to find other ways to impact the game. In the Mavericks’ overtime loss to Denver Sunday night, Parsons struggled, shooting just 4 for 12. On the deciding play of regulation, he threw the inbounds pass away, allowing for the Nuggets to tie the game and ultimately win in OT.
These are the kinds of mental lapses that make critics wonder if Parsons can make the leap from “nice player” to franchise cornerstone.
Since joining the Mavs after the All-Star break, Lee has provided a much-needed jolt of energy for the Dallas bench. Lee’s production of 11.6 ppg/8.9 rpg on 61% shooting in just 19.5 minutes per game has turned heads around the league partly because many neglected to consider that he could still be a worthwhile big in today’s NBA. He can’t stretch the floor; he doesn’t have a reputation as a rim-protector; he can’t switch onto guards on pick-and-rolls. Despite his alleged shortcomings, Lee has thrived in the areas that he always has.
1. He can navigate crowded areas to find open spaces on offense. This skill is huge for Lee since he’s not a DeAndre Jordan-type rim-roller. Nor is he a Chris Bosh-type pick-and-pop guy. Nor is he the kind of big you can dump it down to in the post to get buckets. David Lee has to score within the flow of the offense, and slithering into open spaces for easy buckets is something at which he remains very good.
2. Lee can also finish around the rim. There’s a reason this guy has averaged 20 points per game multiple times in his career. He just has a knack for putting the ball in the bucket. He can put the ball on the floor for drives, and he can take contact as well as anyone. Since the All-Star break, Lee is sixth in the league in field goal percentage among players who take at least seven shots per game.
3. Lee still has that Golden State muscle memory of being able to pass the ball to keep the offense humming. The most important thing Lee will be asked to do in this offense is to become a play-making big out of the pick-and-roll. The play below shows expert instincts, vision, and execution.
The most surprising part of Lee’s game so far has been his defense. Lee’s defensive rating of 104.1 is the best on the team among players who receive substantial playing time. The small sample size may not mean much until you consider that Lee was getting substituted in for his defense in Sunday night’s overtime loss to the Nuggets. Carlisle clearly liked what he saw from an effort standpoint, and has even talked about starting Lee depending on match-ups.
NBA (@WenzlNBA) March 8, 2016
The Mavericks are going to need both former Florida Gators, Chandler Parsons and David Lee, to step up and play at a consistently high level if they are going to make any impact in the playoffs. Either the Oklahoma City Thunder or the Los Angeles Clippers could have some real problems with a well-coached Mavericks team that has depth and perimeter shooting come playoff time. If Carlisle can get all these pieces to gel down the stretch, don’t be surprised if the Mavericks pull off a first-round upset.
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