So here we are. Your Memphis Grizzlies, that ol' Grit 'N' Grind, have finally attracted a max-level free agent who gives them the skill set they've been sorely lacking since they flipped Rudy Gay. But Chandler Parsons, the weak-kneed 27 year-old bringing some glamour to Beale Street, could be a considerably better fit than the ball-stopping Gay was.
Speaking of glamour, the team's new nickname is up for debate. Tim McMahon was trying to make "Grit, Grind 'N' Glamour" happen, but I'd submit maintaining Grit 'N' Grind as its own separate thing, since I don't think "Trick or Treat" Tony, Z-Bo, or The Gasol That Plays Defense are going to start modeling any time soon.
At 6'10" and 225-230 pounds, with a 6'10" wingspan, Chandler Parsons is a legit threat playing as a stretch four, either in small-ball lineups paired alongside the 6'9", 260-pound Z-Bo (whose much-ballyhooed low-post prowess makes him much more suited to stay around the basket), Brandan Wright (who thrived next to the stretchiest of stretch fours, Dirk Nowitzki, during his time with the Mavericks), or even springier young bucks like Deyonta Davis or JaMychal Green. The new moniker for the Parsons era Grizzlies should be "Glam 'N' Grind," still applicable since most Parsons lineups with him at the four will include an OG grinder (be that Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Zach Randolph, or Marc Gasol) somewhere else on the court.
Right now there's one super-duper team in the Western Conference, and then there's everybody else. And the Golden State Warriors can bomb it from all over the floor, to the point where it feels as if even a team favoring an inside-out game like Memphis needs an arsenal of sniper support. Adding Parsons is a pretty good place to start.
On the current Grizzlies roster, beyond Parsons, Mike Conley, and old Vince Carter, there are a lot of unproven commodities who, on paper, look like they could be three-point shooters: rookies Wade Baldwin IV and Andrew Harrison (never called up last season, Harrison converted 37.4% of his treys in college and 36.5% for the D-League's Iowa Energy last season -- but he only shot a troubling 15% from deep in Vegas this summer), LSVL standout DJ Stephens, Jordan Adams if he's healthy and, uh, Tony Allen, who had a deceptively good shooting season last year, perhaps out of necessity. A big part of Parsons's usefulness is going to be his positional flexibility in the front court.
Since Memphis will open the season starting a 35 year-old throwback power forward who doesn't shoot much outside 10 feet and lacks the quickness to keep up with small ball fours, David Fizdale will undoubtedly spell Zach Randolph with Parsons, whose three point shooting (a solid 41.4% last season, abetting a 38% career perimeter mark), functionality as a secondary ball handler, and foot speed both on and off the rock (which yielded easy blow-by's, especially when a center was switched onto him) were all key in small ball lineups for Dallas last season.
In just 61 games at 29.5 minutes per, Parsons averaged 13.4 points, 4.7 boards, and 2.8 dimes a night, shooting a terrific 49.2% from the field (good for 31st in the NBA among qualifying players in that category) including the aforementioned 41.4% three-point percentage (ninth). Both completion percentages were career highs. He only shot 68.4% from the free throw line, a good percentage for a true power forward, but an underwhelming stat from an otherwise dead-eye shooter. After undergoing a "minor hybrid microfracture surgery" to repair right knee cartilage damage in May 2015, he started the Mavs' 2015-16 slowly, but managed to increase his scoring average every month from November to February.
From January 20th through to March 14th (he suffered a second straight season-ending knee injury two games later, on March 18th), Parsons averaged 19.8 points on 52.4% shooting from the field and 47.8% shooting from behind the arc (on the season, only Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard had those percentages from the field) 6.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 1 steal in 34.9 minutes per game. More on the three-point shooting: across one 30-game tear in January and February, Parsons made 75 out of 154 threes (48.7%), or 2.5 out of 5.1 a game. On the season, Parsons took 6.6 threes a night. Among last season's 28 (!) players who suited up for the Grizz, only four averaged 3+ three-point attempts per game, and only one, Matt Barnes, averaged more than 4 (4.9, but he only made 1.6 of them).
Why is all of this so important? Essentially, the dude takes (and makes!) a LOT of threes, which is going to be a godsend for a Grizzlies squad that has been so spacing-challenged ever since it became a contender six years ago. Memphis, though admittedly ravaged by injuries, had the 29th-worst three-point shooting percentage among all 30 NBA teams, ahead of only Byron Scott's horrible Lakers team. They also had the 25th-fewest three-point attempts across the NBA - seven of the ten teams in that bottom rung of attempts missed the playoffs. Also, although his raw passing data may not always suggest it, he's got a good handle. He's averaging an okay 3.3 assists per 36 minutes for his career, including four assists (in 37 minutes) during his last season with the Houston Rockets.
Parsons's passing from the perimeter and his ability to create and shoot off curls and cuts inside should work particularly well in tandem with Marc Gasol's high-post ball movement. Parsons and Nowitzki made the offense positively hum when Rick Carlisle opted to slot them at the four and the five, though Parsons could only do so much to cover for Nowitzki's slow-footed defense. But having two knock-down shooters forcing the opposition's bigs out of the paint cleared out lanes for the Mavericks' perimeter players to slash. Marc Gasol is the only other Grizzlies big man guaranteed to log major minutes next season who can really shoot beyond the block (he shot a good 42.4% on jumpers between 10-16 feet last season, and a solid 43.5% on longer jumpers from 16 feet out to the three-point line). The 7'1", 255-pound Spaniard figures to be the best shooting fit to frustrate defenses alongside Parsons when the latter moves to the four.
Dirk as a unicorn stretch five last season was similarly sluggish, and that certainly didn't impede his offensive production with Parsons last season. In 137 minutes as a four/five combo, the Mavericks scored 1.341 points per possession, on a 62.1% effective field goal percentage (a scoring formula that adjusts for the extra weight of a three-point shot by reducing its value in the formula's calculation). Parsons scored 1.341 points per possession playing the four next to Dirk, on a 75% effective field goal percentage. Slotting Parsons in at the four-spot also creates great mismatches when the opposing center is forced out onto him and pulled away from the paint on switches, as he can blitz them while driving into the lane.
His size also makes him an effective presence on post-ups even when he's not coming off pick-and-rolls.The prospect of having two above-average passers in the front court on the floor at the same time, especially in tandem with Mike Conley (plus the 6'4" Wade Baldwin at the two, maybe?) -- for whom he will open up the floor -- is pretty damn tantalizing. Maybe Memphis will finally have a modern spread offense, you guys! Parsons is a solid-enough defender to cover most power forwards, although his leaping ability (he has a reported 31.5" vertical) may limit his effectiveness in the air (he's not a great rebounder at either forward spot), and the bigger guys could beat him up in the post. That's why Zach Randolph will still be the starting power forward this season.
The Grizzlies have long needed an All Star-caliber wing who could log minutes at either forward position, and now they've finally bagged one. Their past several seasons have been littered with the carcasses of small forwards who could moonlight at the four: Shane Battier, Rudy Gay, Jeff Green, and Matt Barnes. The passing acumen of Marc Gasol and Mike Conley has proven to work wonders for catch-and-shoot forwards like Mike Miller. Imagine what one of the league's best catch-and-shoot players will be able to do for them. Every other contender in the league has had a fleet-footed small ball four ready to stretch prior Grizzlies iterations to the breaking point. And now the Grizzlies can fight back.
The Warriors now have two stretch fours who number among the 10 best players in the NBA in Kevin Durant and Draymond Green. The Cleveland Cavaliers have the single-best player in the game playing at that position (LeBron James). The San Antonio Spurs have one of the four best players moonlighting as a backup four (Kawhi Leonard). The Clippers have two young-ish, speedy and lengthy guys who can play stretch four (Wesley Johnson and Luc Richard Mbah A Moute), plus Marresse Speights, who shot 38.7% from deep last year. The Toronto Raptors have DeMarre Carroll. The Boston Celtics have Al Horford. There's never been a better time than now to spread the front court.
Fizdale is ready to modernize the Memphis Grizzlies, and that all starts with line-up decisions like spotting Chandler Parsons plenty of run as a stretch four.
(Stats provided by basketball-reference.com and NBA.com/stats)