Since signing with the Grizzlies in the offseason, all eyes have been on Chandler Parsons. A max contract will do that, particularly in a small market like Memphis, which, until Parsons, had never been able to attract big-named free agents. (At least, none still in their prime years.) And for a fan base so fond of its Core Four, expectations for a highly compensated outsider were always going to be sky high.
As the old saying goes, “Heavy lies the head that wears the max contract.” Or something like that.
An eighth of the way through Parsons’ contract, things have not gone well. Parsons’ initial recovery took far longer than first projected. When he finally did return to the court, it was with obvious signs of rust. In the six games he played, Parsons never looked comfortable, moving clunkily and with no life to his already flat jump shot.
Parsons’ reception in Memphis wasn’t helped by his social life. Throughout his career, Parsons has always carried the reputation of someone who, shall we say, enjoyed the nightlife. The move from Dallas did little to change that. And between Instagram posts and late nights with the Kardashians, a decent portion of the fan base talked themselves into believing that Parsons cared more about courting celebrities than performing on a basketball court.
Lets be honest, though: If Parsons were healthy, playing well, and scoring as he’s proven capable of, it’s likely that KardashianGate would be a non-issue, and a large contingent of Parsons’ detractors would disappear. For all the complaints of Parsons not being “Memphis enough,” most of the outrage has stemmed from production on the court.
This, of course, begs the question, Will Parsons ever be that guy? Will he ever be the player that the team paid him to be, the player Memphis fans wanted, even hoped, that he could be? And if he can, how much longer will it take to shake the rust? How long should fans cling to the last strands of hope that this contract isn’t already an albatross?
Since Parsons’ return from the bone bruise, he’s moved better than he did in his first six games back. Unfortunately, that’s damning with faint praise, more an indication of how badly he moved in his first six games as a Grizzly than anything. He’s flashed good performances, in games against Utah and Golden State, while also throwing in a few clunkers (the game at Houston comes to mind).
The question is whether or not Parsons is actually getting better, if the bad performances are becoming less frequent and the good games more common.
As I’ve watched Parsons and tried to get a sense of where I should set expectations, I keep coming back to what Tim MacMahon said on Chris Vernon’s podcast. When Parsons returned to basketball action following his first knee procedure in Dallas, it took two months for Parsons to look like himself. It wasn’t until January of 2016 that Parsons was truly healthy.
Statistically, Parsons’ improvement was steady. Below, I’ve charted those three months (November 2015 - January 2016) with Parsons’ effective field goal % and his points per game, taken in three game clusters.
The improvement is obvious. Parsons’ numbers steadily trended upward through December to January, when he looked like the player he’d been in seasons past.
So, how does that compare to Parsons’ time in Memphis?
Throwing out the first six games, I’ve charted the same data since Parsons returned from the bone bruise, starting with the game against Detroit on December 21.
(Author’s Note: Before we go anywhere, this data should have a few comments added. First, there’s certainly the usual “small sample size” caveat. It’s also worth noting the difference in evaluation. To give myself a couple of more data points to work with, Parsons’ numbers from Memphis are broken into two-game segments rather than three. As a result, there’s more variance, but the important part of this is the trend rather than the absolute numbers.)
There are certainly positives to take from this. While the trend isn’t as obvious as Parsons’ Dallas days, it at least appears to be moving in the right direction. Parsons has also only been back from the bone bruise for just over a month, meaning, if we take Dallas as the model for our expectations, he still has some time left before he hits that threshold. He’s also had his minutes closely monitored, meaning any measure of per game scoring should be looked at with that in mind.
There’s also reason to grade on a curve. This is Parsons’ second surgery, not to mention the setback he suffered. It took Parsons two months before he was healthy in Dallas after the first surgery. In Memphis, it may be more reasonable to add a month to that return window.
In other words, barring no further setbacks, I’d at least wait until the middle of March before really starting to worry about the Grizzlies’ new max man. Hopefully, by that time, Parsons is back to his old self, even if his minutes and his participation in back-to-backs are still limited. That puts Parsons healthy in time for the stretch run and the playoffs, when the Grizzlies will truly need his talents.
If that’s not the case, the Grizzlies’ final hope will be that a full off-season is the panacea to what ails Parsons. Otherwise, the front office will be stuck building around a sinkhole that is Parsons’ contract for the next three years. And that is what Grizzlies fans should be the most terrified of.