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The Parsons Effect

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From second-round draft pick to a starter for the fifth-best team in the West, Chandler Parson does all the little things for the Houston Rockets.

The 2011-12 season has quickly turned into a year of great promise for the Houston Rockets. With a laughably shortened camp (the start of the season – free agency, camp, and preseason – was put together in less than a month) and a new head coach and system to boot, the Rockets predictably got off to a 3-7 start, all against teams who were all in the playoffs a year ago.

However, things changed. Drastically. The Rockets sat at 16-11, fifth in the West, heading into Sunday’s game at Golden State. More than a third of the way through the ridiculously condensed 66-game season, Houston had a better record than the Lakers, Nuggets and Blazers and were a half-game behind Dallas and 2 1/2 games behind the Spurs for third. Though ESPN or any other national outlet refuse to acknowledge it, the Rockets are one of the surprises of the season. And nobody could have said as much a month ago.

The explanation for this is quite simple. There has been more time for practices lately. Players are getting more acquainted with first-year coach Kevin McHale’s ways. The bench has blossomed into arguably the best in the league. Even without no true floor leader, the quintet of Goran Dragic, Courtney Lee, Chase Budinger, Patrick Patterson and Jordan Hill make the Rockets legitimately 10 deep, and that is HUGE in a season like this.

But let’s take a particular look at a crucial reason behind the Rockets’ sudden surge of success that has seen them win 13 of their last 17 games. That reason is rookie forward Chandler Parsons, the 38th pick out of Florida from last year’s draft who has managed to even upend prized pick Marcus Morris, who currently plys his trade in the D-League while Parsons owns a starting role.

First, the numbers: In 24.4 minutes per game this season, Parsons is averaging 6.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.3 steals on 41.4 percent shooting. As always though, dig deeper. Parsons actually attacks and connects at the rim (57.8 percent), where 83 of his 186 shots have been taken. He averages 1.3 offensive rebounds per game and has a solid plus-assist/TO ratio (46 assists to 21 turnovers). He is smart and assured in his decisions, and he plays like a veteran. He doesn’t take dumb shots and doesn’t force things.

He is an enabler offensively, and his knack for getting to the glass has helped Houston advance to the top five in the NBA in rebounding.

But what really makes Parsons special is his ability as a game-changer. His forays to the rim often end up in fouls or easy buckets. His aggressiveness adds a dimension to the wing spot that the Rockets haven’t seen since the days of Tracy McGrady. Early this season, he made a name for himself with dramatic tip-in slams in four of his first six starts, a sure sign of his aggressiveness and willingness to attack.

Not only that, but watching him play brings to mind that of another legendary Rocket.

Parsons is doing the Rockets’ No. 25 justice. His game actually does bring to mind that of Robert Horry. Horry did all the little things that added up to victories. Parsons is heading the same way. He’s always making things happen, always in the mix.

Here’s a look at some of Parsons’ earlier games:

But forget offense. That end of the floor isn’t even where Parsons stars, as he is one of the team leaders in fewest defensive breakdowns. As a rookie. His know-how and awareness on that end of the floor is, in my opinion, what truly makes a difference. It’s why he’s in the starting lineup now. The Rockets have finally adopted McHale’s emphasis of defense and rebounding, and Parsons helped enforce that. Next to Lee, he is Houston’s most versatile defender.

If you’ve been watching this Rockets team the past few seasons, then you know Parsons is a breath of fresh air. The Rockets, since Rick Adelman took over, have long been an offensive-minded unit where defense was optional. McHale has desperately tried to return to a more defensive mindset, and so far he’s done a fine job of that, but the bottom line is it’s tough to entirely change the culture when two of your top three players (Luis Scola and Kevin Martin) are poor defenders and many others (Budinger, Hill, Dragic) are not much better.

But Parsons offers some light. He plays defense. He’s unselfish. He plays with effort. He tries. He’s a big reason Houston is where it is right now. When it was realized last week that he won’t be a part of the rookie-sophomore game at all-star weekend next week in Orlando, it didn’t really bother me. I wasn’t too surprised to learn as much, because Parsons is more substance than style.

And, to me, that means a lot more than filling the stat sheet and coming away with the ‘L’ every night.

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