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More Than Just A Pretty Face

February 15, 2013 8:39 pm EST

Forget the boy band looks, Chandler Parsons can flat out play

HOUSTON - Chandler Parsons’ day began with a media request to deliver a shout-out to all the Japanese women who find him attractive. Hey, when you have hair like he does, openly admire Justin Bieber, and willingly pose for pictures like the one featured in this story, then those are the kind of hard-hitting questions you should probably expect on NBA All-Star media day.

But if Parsons has proven anything during his year-plus in the NBA, it’s that little, if anything, catches him off guard or gets him out of his comfort zone. The 24-year-old Florida native has a natural ability to go with the flow and roll with whatever comes his way whether the assignment calls for sending a message to his ample and burgeoning female fan base or drawing the unenviable challenge of attempting to slow down Kevin Durant during his first career start. Sure, one of those things calls for a simple wink and a smile while the other demands something akin to superpowers possessed by no man, but the larger point remains the same either way:

Chandler Parsons belongs.

When assessing that statement, the conversation inevitably and understandably begins with the unique path Parsons tread just to get here: second round pick; short stint with Cholet of the French league during the lockout; no training camp participation once the work stoppage ended since he’d not yet been officially signed to a contract. In other words: not exactly the tried-and-true recipe for rapid NBA success. Nonetheless, Parsons needed a mere seven games to crack the Rockets’ starting lineup. And since that memorable matchup against Oklahoma City during which he boasted a game-high plus-minus of +14 while helping to hold Durant to 10-of-25 shooting, Parsons has not come close to giving that starting spot back.

What’s more, the former Florida Gator has only gotten better in his second season. He’s scoring more, passing better and his shooting has improved from almost every spot on the floor. Just check out this side-by-side comparison of his shot charts from his rookie season (on the left) and his current campaign.

And Parsons has not only been more efficient, he’s also made himself more effective as a playmaker as well. Right from the start of training camp, Parsons made a point to note that he had spent the summer improving his ability to exploit defenses with the ball in his hands. True to his word, Parsons has taken advantage of his role as a secondary playmaker alongside James Harden and Jeremy Lin. His proficiency running the pick-and-roll has increased from generating a paltry .632 points per possession during his rookie season to .831 points per possession this year, ranking him in the 76th percentile in that category according to Synergy Sports. His efficiency in transition has markedly improved as well. And the combined refinement of his shooting and ball-handling skill has made Parsons a double threat on the kick-outs that come his way when he sets up shop in the corners and on the wing. Close out too slowly and he can burn defenses from distance. Race out with a little too much zeal, however, and he is just as liable to pump fake his defender off his feet, allowing Parsons room to wreak havoc via a dribble drive to the rim.

Make no mistake, however: Parsons pays the bills by being the basketball version of a Swiss Army Knife. Sure he can carve up a defense now and then with a clever pick-and-roll, but he’s far more likely to inflict his damage with a well-timed cut creating either an easy scoring opportunity for himself or one that clears space for his teammates; you know, the kind of subtle, easy-to-overlook maneuvers that largely go ignored but are none the less essential for an offense to hit high gear.

And really, it is that last point which perhaps offers the most insight into how this player, little more than an afterthought on draft night, managed to make such an impact during the nascent stages of his career. Parsons’ game is certainly based upon versatility – both from the perspective of position and skill-set – but it is the overriding savvy that lies at the core of his court presence that makes him so integral to the Rockets’ success. As a rookie, Parsons saw Houston’s yawning need for a capable wing defender, so he focused all his effort into becoming the club’s wing stopper du jour. This season, with spread pick-and-roll maestros Harden and Lin aboard and the Rockets playing at breakneck speed, Parsons has proven to be the kind of complementary piece every contender covets, knowing full well he’ll find a way to contribute, no matter the role.

Chandler Parsons’ day ended with a 13-point performance in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge. Now he can kick back the rest of the weekend and enjoy the spoils that come with playing host to the rest of the NBA. Next week it will be back to work as the Rockets continue their push for the playoffs. He’ll keep filling the team’s glue guy role and, presumably, he’ll continue to field the occasional question and playful comment about his boy band appearance. And through it all, he’ll handle everything that comes his way with the exact same down-to-earth, good-natured self-assurance that has marked his first 2 years in the NBA.

“I feel like I’m having a good year and I think I’m looking pretty good while I’m doing it, too,” Parsons quipped to a reporter when asked about fans’ obsession with his looks. “I can multitask.”

Few leagues combine skill and style quite the way the NBA does. No wonder the 24-year-old feels right at home. In ways significant and silly, the truth has become increasingly clear: Chandler Parsons belongs.