As our summer mainstay, Aaron was writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. As the summer dies down and the leaves turn, this quixotic quest of a series has happily reached the last third. But it's certainly not done yet! Today we continue with Chandler Parsons, Thaddeus Young, and Keyon Dooling.
It's hard to find a rookie from a big name school who had fewer teams clamoring for him than Chandler Parsons, at least last season. While many jumped all over each other to try and figure out what was wrong with Kemba Walker, fought through the crowds to interrogate Tristan Thompson, or applied a critical eye to Jan Vesely and tried to figure out what happened... Parsons went generally unnoticed, both on draft day and throughout the season. A rookie forward out of Landon Donovan's (... uh, Coach Donovan's) school of the Floridian Arts, the Rockets picked up Parsons to no real fanfare with the 38th pick in the 2011 draft. There were a lot of nice signs -- NBA shooting range, legitimate NBA height for his natural position, and a fantastic handle for a guy his size. There were also a lot of middling-to-poor ones -- as a 4-year college player, Parsons had never really set the world aflame and had been present for several years of underwhelming Donovan teams in a row. His free throw shooting was an issue. And would he be able to put on the bulk to become an NBA player?
While all of those concerns still seem reasonable, at this point it's hard to look at Parsons as anything but a big draft day steal. Houston isn't completely finished in their steps to team building, yet -- they have room for another max player, and if they can plop someone like Josh Smith neatly into that role, they'll be much improved. But they have a magnificent core in place and Parsons is a large part of that. Parsons was underheralded as a rookie, taking a starting role with Houston just six games into the season and never relinquishing the honor. He did a lot of great stuff. Even looking beyond the threes, which could potentially be a fluke, Parsons fit the bill for virtually everything a team could want a rookie to do. He held his own on the defensive end, using his height and length to alter shots and keep offensive players off balance. He finished plays at the rim quite well and featured an extremely low turnover rate for a rookie starter. And perhaps best of all, Parsons refused to overreach -- he didn't try and act outside his comfort zone or dominate the ball with a series of ill-informed long shots or idiotic post moves, and he played to his strengths as a player. No matter where you are in your NBA career, that's a big asset -- when you're a rookie trying to prove yourself, that's downright incredible.
There are a few concerns, still. While he's put to rest any concerns about his conditioning or NBA-readiness athletically, Parsons could stand to rein himself in a bit on the defensive end. Namely by putting on a few pounds for post-D purposes and reining in his tendency for poor-decision steals. His steal rate was very high last year, well within the top 10% at his position. But watching tape on his steals you can see many of them where he sort of lucked into the ball, as well as failed attempts where he got quite out of position to watch the ball and gave up an exceedingly open shot. His shooting was overall pretty solid -- he was in the top quarter of all small forwards at his long two point shooting and slightly above average in three point shooting -- but there's a distinct pall on his numbers by his absolutely abhorrent midrange and low-post game. Parsons shot 21% from 3-15 feet last season, and my lord, it looked bad. Wooden release, poor sense of his shooting space, everything. To his credit, he didn't force it -- he took barely 12% of his shots from that range, far fewer than almost anyone else in the NBA. But he really does need to at least make that shot remotely passable. 30%, perhaps? It would help him get more open to convert at the rim, which is where the majority of his offensive value comes from.
Still. Big-picture, those are all relatively minor concerns -- in his rookie year Parsons was an asset from just about every angle and a fantastic pick by the Houston Rockets. For all the crap Morey gets, at some point, one needs to actually appreciate the fact that the man is very good at drafting players at lower-than-expected picks. He misses, sometimes, but everyone does -- getting a player like Parsons in the second round is doing some serious due diligence on the draft board. In general, you'd think a player who managed to start 57 games for a near-playoff team with good defense, decent shooting, and a sweet handle would get a bit more noticed by the world at large. But alas. Them's the breaks. When Houston's fighting for the 1 seed in a few years with this core and Parsons remains a key member of their starting rotation, perhaps then Parsons will be in line for the notice he deserves.
Funny story. First time I watched Thaddeus Young, I thought he was a small forward. Seriously. Don't remember the game at all, or even what year it was, but when he walked onto the court and matched up against a power forward I thought the Sixers were playing smallball. I was confused. And then they just kept doing it! Over and over again, Young would be banging in the post with these players that were just obscenely larger than he was. And it seemed to work just fine -- his height made it funny to watch, but Young really did look just fine. He got up into the larger player's grill, he put pressure on the ball, and he used his solid vertical to both block and finish with aplomb. His offense was fantastic, as well -- he was one of the best finishers at the rim last season. A crafty forward, Young uses his short stature to help navigate the post and leverages a phenomenal knack at taking care of the ball to keep the offense flowing when he's used as a pivot to redirect the ball. No three point shot to speak of -- at least not anymore -- but Young has a solid long two pointer and a reasonably good post game. He's a bit of a scant rebounder, due to his size, but he holds his own.
On defense? Picture's more interesting. Young raises a similar value proposition on defense to the one Matt Bonner raised last season (regular season only!). When Bonner was on the court in 2012, teams tended towards an absurdly single-minded offensive strategy. It was simple. Take Bonner to the post, back him down, make the shot. He's a poor defender, right? While this was (and will remain) true, opposing teams used this strategy so damn often that it became completely useless -- Bonner wasn't a phenomenal post defender (and never will be), but he was good enough that the Spurs rarely had to send a specific double team to handle Bonner's post option. Which meant the opposing offense was acquiescing any double-team worthy offensive strategy in favor of allowing the Spurs to run easy single-coverage and stay in prime rebounding spots. And with Bonner being a better-than-most-teams-realize post defender, the distinctly overuse of the "POST UP ON BONNER!" play call (teams ran it 3-4 times a night when Bonner stepped onto the floor) meant that the Spurs were actually more effective defensively with Bonner on the court.
It wasn't even all Bonner that did it. It was the general NBA strategy where 25 of 30 teams just decided to hammer at a perceived weakness that wasn't nearly as weak as they made it out to be. The predictability was what killed it. And Young performs a very similar function. When he comes in the game, teams try to hammer on Young in the post. After all, he's quite undersized for a big man and coaches look at it as a big weakness. But that's the problem. It simply isn't. Young isn't exactly a franchise piece defensively -- he's an asset, but he's no phenomenal shutdown defender. But Young is nowhere near bad enough that constantly going to the "post up Thad!" offensive strategy exogenous to every other option is actually going to help your team. Letting a team as chock-full of athletes and imbued with the power of Collins' defensive teachings play one-on-one defense as a play call is a stupid idea. And it's exactly the idea that NBA teams have in mind when Young enters the court, for reasons I have never quite been able to understand. Unpredictability in the offensive set is partially what separates creative offensive dynamos like the Spurs from solid offensive teams like the post-Melo Nuggets. Why are coaches so consistently intent on playing predictable offense and allowing the other team to constantly float easy one-on-one possessions? I simply don't get it.
Anyway. Your fun fact: Young isn't even 6'6" in socks. Seriously. He's an NBA power forward. World's wild, folks.
Follow Keyon Dooling by being open with yourself, even when stuff sucks and life's hard.
While Keyon Dooling has never been a phenomenal player, he's always been at least somewhat serviceable. That may sound like damning with faint praise, but it isn't meant to be. It's not a trivial accomplishment to be a serviceable NBA player when you're a thin 6'3" guard with a suspect handle, poor passing form, and a shoot-first mentality without the requisite shooting talent to back it up. Dooling's main skills are relatively common among NBA players. Reasonably solid long-range shooting (nothing incredible, as aforementioned, but decent enough to make a living), patently decent ballhawking defense, and a talent at driving from the left (if not a bit predictable, since he absolutely never mastered driving right). He stuck in the league a long time due to solid defense and a great personality off the bench. There's not really a ton to say about Dooling's game that hasn't been said before -- he was solid, not spectacular, and now he's gone. Alas.
The main thing I'd like to reflect on here and show appreciation for is for his relatively recent public reveal of the repressed abuse he's suffered in his life and the psychological issues it caused him. I don't want to go too deeply into the actual facts of the case -- many writers have given it better treatment than I've the time to right now. For instance, read Freeman's piece, which is relatively short but gets into it a tad more. But I wanted to voice some general support. Abuse is a terrible, terrible thing. I've been very close to others who have suffered silently through it, and I've undergone a fair share of trials in my life as well. I can't possibly vocalize strong enough support for the people like Dooling. It takes a whole lot of bravery to combat society's general dismissive air towards the maladies of the mind. There's nothing easy about reaching out to get help, and there's nothing easy about sharing it.
There's a dark pall of ignorance around the entire concept of abuse and mental illness that blankets the public consciousness. It's a pernicious sense that illness of the mind is somehow fundamentally distinct from illness of the body, and this idea that people with mental illness have a greater ability to fight it on their own simply because it's "all in their head." Dooling's public reveal helps push the collective consciousness -- if only just -- and continue the slow crawl towards acceptance. The more strong figures like Dooling come out with their problems and put them on the table, the more the unrealistic "in your head" sense shifts to the reality -- mental illnesses are illnesses. They are of no more fault to the sufferer than a rare disease is to a patient. It's hard enough dealing with the ramifications of these problems as is, and I would not begrudge anyone who cannot, will not, or feel unable to share their pain. There is nothing wrong with that. But those who do are heroes, to me, and they always will be.
So thank you, Keyon Dooling. Know that you're a hero to at least one person beyond your awesome family.
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At the end of each post, I'll be scribing riddles for the next group. Whoever gets the most right will get a shout out at the end of the next post. Tweet me your answers at @docrostov, or post them in the comments. Mike got yesterday's set within about 10 minutes of my posting them (clearly using some of his Small Market Monday sway) and @MillerNBA once again got them. I think Miller has gotten like a week of these shoutouts in a row. Dude's good at this.
- Player #274 was a phenomenal 4-year college player -- now he's a worse-than-you-think NBA player with a proclivity for incoherent ballhogging and atrocious shots.
- Player #275 took the league by storm earlier in his career, and not more than 5 years ago was a key cog in a media-anointed superteam. It didn't turn out that way, people left him behind, and now he's gone. Missing him, tho.
- Player #276 is nominally still in the league -- he was waived, but because he was on the roster during training camp it'd be a slight misnomer to say he is definitively retired. Very low chance any team actually takes a shot with him at this point, though. Offensively woeful defenders who can't actually defend anymore aren't really in high demand.
Whoo. Tomorrow, tomorrow.
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