One of the moves that turned heads over the offseason was the Memphis Grizzlies’ addition of unrestricted free agent Chandler Parsons. Memphis signed the 28-year-old forward to a four-year, $94.8 million maximum deal in an effort to find another offensive weapon and someone who can stretch the floor since he shot 41.1 percent from three-point range last season.
Entering this season, Parsons had career averages of 14.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3 assists from his stints with the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks. With Memphis’ core returning and Parsons joining the mix, the Grizzlies hoped to once again make noise in the Western Conference. They have made the playoffs in six straight seasons, advancing as far as the Western Conference Finals in 2012-13.
However, injuries have limited the team a bit so far this season. Parsons has played in just six games thus far. Initially, he started the season on the sideline because was recovering from offseason surgery to correct a torn meniscus in his right knee. Then, once he made his return, he suffered a bone bruise in his left knee and has been out since (but he will be re-evaluated this week). In addition to Parsons’ injury, Mike Conley is out indefinitely as he recovers from a fracture in his vertebrae. Despite these setbacks, the resilient Grizzlies are still in the West’s sixth seed with an 11-8 record.
Basketball Insiders recently caught up with Parsons to discuss his decision to join the Grizzlies, what it’s like getting acclimated to a new NBA team, his first impression of Memphis and how good this team can be when they’re at full strength.
We also talked to Parsons about his involvement in a new television show called “The 5th Quarter” on go90. The show is a comedy – think of a spoof of the 30 for 30 documentaries – and it features many different professional athletes.
“We were excited to work with Chandler because off the court, he is seen as a pretty boy in the league – always doing the modeling shoots, at fashion week and so on,” Michael D. Ratner, who co-created the show while also directing eight episodes and serving as showrunner, told Basketball Insiders. “No one knows he’s actually got some comedy chops. But they will now. While basketball fans will recognize many familiar faces throughout the season of The 5th Quarter, this is a show that offers something to a much bigger audience. This will be a way sports can finally be enjoyed by everyone, as you don’t need to know what happens on the field or the court to appreciate Blake Griffin blocking a 7-year-old’s shot or Chandler Parsons giving commentary on Metta World Peace changing his name.”
Here is our one-on-one Q&A with Parsons:
Basketball Insiders: First of all, let’s talk about “The 5th Quarter” since that your episode with Metta World Peace just premiered. What drew you to this project and how did this all come together?
Chandler Parsons: “Basically my relationship with Michael [D. Ratner] is kind of how it all transpired. I’m very outgoing, very personable, and getting to know Michael and all the guys, I knew that it was going to be hilarious. I knew that it was going to be awesome. It’s got some really cool, interesting and funny people in on it. It was just right up my alley to do something like this and kind of show a side of my personality that you can’t exactly show in other things I’ve done. Michael does a great job giving me the platform to showcase that and do other things that I’m interested in off the court, which is stuff like this that’s going to be extremely funny.”
BI: You’re in a few different episodes; can you kind of give me a summary of what you do on the show?
Parsons: “Yeah, there’s a couple really funny ones. I did one with Metta World Peace, and obviously Metta World Peace is known as a tough guy in the NBA. In that one, I’m being told by this little kid [who is tormenting Metta] that I need to basically have an altercation with Metta World Peace. And there’s a hilarious one about ugly players in the NBA and I’m basically putting off this persona that I’m so handsome and better looking than everyone else that this really hideous [former] player really did nothing for me ‘cause I don’t know how to relate to how ugly this guy was or what it’s like being ugly. That was part of my favorite clip that we did. I have a little cameo in the Mark Cuban one too, and obviously my relationship with him makes that even funnier. It’s just a lot of cool ideas we were able put together and do with some cool people.”
BI: Is acting in general something you could see yourself doing more of down the road?
Parsons: “Yeah, for sure. Definitely if it’s something like this where I’m able to be myself and be funny and be comfortable with people like Michael. I think that’s definitely something I would pursue after [my basketball career] and even now while I’m still playing to kind of set that foundation to be able to get involved in things like this. The more stuff I do like this, the more comfortable I’ll be and, I think, the better it will go.”
BI: How cool is it to have basketball open all these doors for you? You have this, you’ve had modeling gigs – so many different avenues that have kind of been opened because of basketball. How exciting is that?
Parsons: “It’s awesome. Obviously, I understand that basketball comes first and without me being successful on the court, all these opportunities wouldn’t be coming and I wouldn’t have nearly the success that I do off the court [or] the opportunity to do all this cool stuff. So it’s crazy what the game can bring you and what it’s brought me and the relationships that I’ve made throughout the years, all the cool people I’ve gotten to meet and work with. Obviously that wouldn’t have happened without basketball, so I’m very grateful and just continue to work extremely hard and just keep trying to take advantage of every little opportunity.”
BI: Focusing on on-court stuff, what’s been your early impression of Memphis and the organization?
Parsons: “It’s been very fun. It’s definitely a culture shock to me, moving to Memphis, Tennessee. I live in L.A. in the offseason and I’m from Orlando, but as far as the city, I’m loving it. I love the culture there, I love the people there and the fans are unbelievable. The real reason why I went there was the current players that they have on their team, guys like Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, Z-Bo, Tony Allen. See, they’re all guys that have had so much success, and I felt like plugging me into that lineup, being able to play with those guys as kind of the piece they’ve been missing [would be great]. And with the new coaching staff with [David] Fizdale and J.B. Bickerstaff, those are two guys I’ve had previous relationships with and I just hit it off with them. Those are guys that I’ve trusted, and I think we’re going to have special seasons as soon as we get fully healthy. We’ve got a lot of guys banged up right now, but I think we’re going to be a tough team to beat come playoff time.”
BI: Memphis is always one of those teams that no one wants to face, but do you guys feel you’re being underrated a bit? It seems like when people talk about contenders in the West, everyone just talks about the Warriors, Spurs and Clippers. Do you guys feel like maybe you’re being underrated a bit just because you haven’t gotten to full strength yet?
Parsons: “Maybe a little bit, but there are just so many good teams in the West. You got to look at the Warriors, who obviously got better adding KD. The Spurs are very good. A team like Portland with a guy like Damian Lillard, who is playing out of his mind. Russ [Westbrook] is playing out of his mind in OKC. There are such good teams that, yeah, maybe teams aren’t talking about us as much right now and we didn’t get off to the hottest start. The Clippers [started] 10-1. There’s just so many good teams out there right now that are playing well. I think we’re just starting to scratch the surface. Like I said, health is our biggest issue. We have an unbelievable team and an unbelievably experienced coaching staff and, if we’re healthy, it’s going to be hard for a team to beat us four times in a playoff series.”
BI: You’ve gotten acclimated to a few different cities now: Houston, Dallas and Memphis. What’s the key to getting acclimated to a team and a city? What’s that process like?
Parsons: “It’s different; it’s kind of like moving schools when you’re a kid. You’re the new kid in school, you’ve got to adjust. First off, you have to find a place to live. You have to move all your stuff to the new city. You have to develop all these new relationships with people that you’re going to work with that you really don’t know. You’ve got to start developing that chemistry on the court with your teammates and your coaching staff. It’s different, it’s a huge challenge. I’ve obviously gone through it once before with the move from Houston to Dallas, and it’s always exciting – change is always a good thing. But the guys here in Memphis have made the adjustment much easier. These are great guys, unselfish guys, who truly just care about winning. They understand that when I’m healthy, I’m going to help them win a lot of games. So I think it’s just a mutual respect, the relationship that we have. It’s a great working relationship.”
BI: You’ve gained the reputation as one of the best recruiters in the NBA. You’re very good at connecting with guys and pitching them. I think your charisma and ability to be friends with guys obviously helps a lot. Do you want to continue to be a free-agent recruiter in Memphis?
Parsons: “Yeah, for sure. I think how we play on the court speaks volumes, and I think that shows players and future free agents what it would be like to play here. Obviously me having a relationship with guys that are going be up, being able to talk to them and kind of convincing them to come to play with me is something that I’m very good at, something I’m comfortable doing. But I think the more success that we have on the court, the more guys will watch us and see how much fun we have. The deeper the run we make, [the better]. That’s where you really start getting respect and players considering coming.”
BI: The continuity in Memphis is pretty amazing. You don’t usually see a team’s core stay together for this long. When you see the continuity and the chemistry, how huge is that for a team to have so many guys that have been together so many years?
Parsons: “Yeah, it’s awesome. Like I said, these guys have been together for a long time, so it’s different in the beginning kind of being the odd man out and getting used to it. But they’ve made me feel extremely comfortable from day one. Even coming off of injury, coming off of surgery, I’ve played against these guys now for five years and they know what I can do and they’re telling me not to rush back, that they need me for the long run. So they’ve been very welcoming, and the culture that they’ve developed here is something that I’ve always really, really respected. When I got a chance to possibly join that, I wasn’t going to turn that opportunity down.”
Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards
Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.
We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.
The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.
With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.
The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.
Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old
Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.
He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.
Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.
Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old
Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.
He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.
Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.
Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old
Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.
He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.
One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old
Looking Toward the Draft: Small Forwards
Basketball Insiders’ examination of the 2020 draft class continues with a look at the small forwards.
It was announced on Wednesday that the NBA Draft would be delayed from Oct. 16 to Nov. 18. The rationale is that the extra month gives the league and its players association more time to negotiate changes to the CBA. It also grants teams additional time to procure information on prospects and allows the NBA to establish regional virtual combines. But nothing is set in stone.
Still, draft prep must continue. This year’s draft class has more question marks than usual – which was complicated by the cancellation of the NCAA tournament (along with the NIT and a number of conference tournaments). There are incredibly skilled offensive players with limited offensive upside and jaw-droppingly talented defenders with incomplete offensive packages. But if (recent) history serves as a guide, there will be a few guys who make an immediate impact – and some of them very well could be small forwards.
The small forward position is key for the modern NBA. Want proof? Survey the league and you’ll find that most – if not all – contenders have an elite small forward – Milwaukee, Los Angeles (both), Boston, Miami, Toronto.
But the list of can’t miss small forward prospects feels smaller than usual. Scanning the numerous legitimate mock drafts (including our own by Steve Kyler), it becomes apparent that we lack a consensus on which small forwards will be selected (and in what order) after the top 3 or 4. Can any of them grow into a star? Maybe. Maybe not. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s identify what the top few bring to the table.
Deni Avdija, Israel – 19 years old
Avdija is a relatively well-rounded prospect who’s played professionally since he was 16. He boasts good height (6-foot-9) and uses it effectively to shoot over and pass around opposing defenses. Further, Avdija is an exceptional playmaker and he’s incredibly confident, enabling him to take chances many players would be apprehensive trying. Avdija is a high-IQ player. And what’s more, he’s a surprisingly strong defender. His height and above-average athleticism allow him to block shots, and he’s more physical than you’d expect him to be.
But there are drawbacks to Avdija, too. His main issue is around shooting. Avdija shot only 28% in the EuroLeague last season, and he shot only 60% from the free-throw line. Further, while he’s a decent athlete, he’ll struggle to secure a role in the NBA. He’s going to need to add speed to stay with modern wings, and he’ll also have to bulk up to bang with power forwards.
Still, Avdija’s upside is alluring. He’s only 19, and his smarts, confidence and grittiness should provide him cover for much of his rookie season. Avdija should be the first small forward off of the board.
Isaac Okoro, Auburn – 19 years old
Avdija might be the flashier name currently, but Okoro will give him a run for his money in terms of which small forward is first off the board. Okoro is built like a traditional NBA wing; he’s 6-foot-6 with good strength packed in his muscular frame (215 lbs). Okoro finishes well around the rim and he converts well through contact. He’s an exceptional athlete who excels catching the ball on the move. Like Avdija, Okoro has the poise and composure of a more experienced player. Also, like Avdija, Okoro looked the part of a high IQ player in his lone season at Auburn.
And while all that is great, the main allure of Okoro is his defense. He’s a fairly advanced defender given his age, and his athleticism and timing make him an effective weak side help defender.
While Okoro’s raw abilities are exquisite, his refined offensive skills leave something to be desired. Okoro shot 28 percent on three-point field goals and he struggled from the free-throw line (67.2 percent). His mid-range jump shot also needs work, and he struggles in isolation situations.
If Okoro can hone his offensive game, he could grow into an All-Star. He has the ability to guard multiple positions, and his strength and athleticism give him a leg up on most prospects. But even if he doesn’t become an All-Star, he possesses a fairly high floor given his defensive abilities — and the guy definitely fills the state sheet (12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, .9 steals and .9 blocks). He has lockdown defender potential and he’ll put his stamp on the game beginning on night one.
Devin Vassell, Florida State – 20 years old
Vassell played two seasons at Florida State, but he came into his own in his Sophomore season. He averaged 12.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He shot a more than respectable 41.5% on three-point attempts, and he demonstrated a strong stroke from the free-throw line (73.8 percent) and on two-point field goal attempts (53.2).
Vassell is an extremely athletic leaper, who can rise up for a highlight dunk and sprint down the floor with ease. He has good body control and demonstrated a strong mid-range game, especially his step-back jump shot. But Vassell must generate more free throws through decisive moves to the hoop, which would be bolstered by a more muscular frame. Additionally, he must improve his ball-handling to get more from isolations.
Vassell will have an adjustment period in terms of scoring the ball at the next level. Fortunately, his defense and shooting should get him by. If he can bulk up and improve his handling, Vassell could grow into a serious player.
Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt – 20 years old
Nesmith probably has a lower floor than any of the other top small forward prospects given that he’ll be 21 by the draft. Still, he looked quite good in his Junior year, averaging 23 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game on a scorching 52.2 percent shooting from deep. Nesmith is an incredibly gifted shooter who has impressive range. His ability to catch-and-shoot and create space with fakes makes him a promising prospect – for the right team.
Nesmith is a high IQ player who uses his smarts on the defensive end. He’s also quite strong, can get buckets in the open floor and demonstrates above average ball-handling skills, as long as he’s not taking the ball to the hoop.
But there are inherent limitations in Nesmith’s game. He’s doesn’t create for his teammates too effectively and he turns the ball over more frequently than one would like with. Further, Nesmith is plagued by robotic movements that limit his athleticism. His ball-handling breaks down when taking the ball to the rack – something he’ll certainly have to work on in the NBA if he wants to be a versatile scoring threat against the bigger and stronger competition.
Still, Nesmith’s positives give him an excellent chance at being selected in the first round. His range alone will intrigue teams in need of a shooter.
Saddiq Bey, Villanova – 21 years old
Jaden McDaniels, Washington – 19 years old
Robert Woodard II, Mississippi State – 20 years old
With the uncertainty around small forward prospects, expect to see a revolving door of names enter the discussion after the first four wing prospects are off the board prior to Nov. 16 – assuming the draft is held then. But regardless of how you have them ranked, all of the aforementioned prospects have question marks. But all have had far more time to improve than they would have in years’ past. Let’s hope that shows come next season.
NBA Daily: Opposite Plotlines for Today’s Matchups
With the two matchups going on today, Matt John examines the two teams who could be in the most trouble because of one of their individual stars for opposite reasons.
The second round of the NBA playoffs was hyped up to be one of the most entertaining we’ve had in years. So far, they haven’t fallen short of expectations. We knew that Houston and Los Angeles’ battle of opposite philosophies would make for some twists and turns. We knew that Boston and Toronto would duke it out in an Atlantic Division showdown. We knew that Miami would push Milwaukee to new heights. We didn’t really know if the Nuggets would give the Clippers a good series, but the fact that they have so far has made an intense postseason all the more gripping.
Anyway, today we’re getting two games from two series in completely opposite places. The Lakers and the Rockets will face off for the series lead, while the HEAT will try to finish off the Bucks once and for all. Below, we’re going to focus on two teams who have an individual star that either may be more flawed than we thought or one that may not be as flawed as we thought.
Bucks vs. HEAT: Giannis is great and all, but…
We all pretty much knew this was going to be a good series. We did not expect this.
The buzz surrounding Bucks v. HEAT was that Miami was going to make Milwaukee earn every win they got in this series. If that was the plan, then Miami has failed miserably, because until Khris Middleton went supernova on them on Sunday, Milwaukee had come up terribly short.
Let’s first give Miami the credit that they are due and more. With Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler alone, Miami was going to be a tough matchup for Milwaukee – but to see the Bucks all but roll over in this series is an unpleasant sight. Acquiring Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala has paid huge dividends and it’s showing. There are other factors involved, but Miami’s defensive efforts have limited Giannis to 21.8 points a game and that’s played a role in the HEAT being in the driver’s seat of this series.
Speaking of Giannis Antetokounmpo, this series has not been a good look for the Defensive Player of the Year. Especially since it looks like his second consecutive MVP (presumably) is right around the corner. So, to see both him and Milwaukee, once an unstoppable force without an immovable object in sight, get stopped by a sturdy but not immovable squad is saddening.
Nearly a year ago, Basketball Insiders compared these current Bucks to the Dwight Howard-led Orlando Magic from the late-2000’s/early 2010’s. To oversimplify things, both were contenders led by a superstar with a rare physique that made them tough to stop. To put the superstar in the best position, they surrounded them with playmakers and three-point shooters.
While the teams’ roster constructions weren’t exactly the same, their strengths as a team certainly were. Now we’re seeing the Bucks’ flaws just as we did the Magic 10 years ago. If you have the personnel to make the lone superstar uncomfortable, the team doesn’t function as well.
Giannis is near impossible to stop, but the one major flaw is that if you take away his ability to drive and force him into a jumper, he loses his rhythm. Even if his shot is on – never a guarantee – his opponents will let him beat them that way until he makes them pay. Hardly any team can pick on this, but the HEAT are one of them, and now they’re one win away from their first Eastern Conference Finals since LeBron James took his talents out of South Beach.
This ultimately is what puts Antetokounmpo below the likes of LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard for now. Those guys are rare physical specimens like him, but their elite games don’t revolve entirely around their natural gifts as he does or Dwight did. At 25 years old, there’s plenty of time for him to change that and, for all we know, he will, but to see him struggle at a time when the conference was supposed to run through him has ignited tons of questions.
Milwaukee’s technically not out yet, but they’ve shown their mortality against Miami. If this really is it for them, then they’ve got to find a quick fix for this problem because if they don’t, then the unspeakable may happen.
Lakers vs. Rockets: Westbrook has been bad and all but…
Shaking off the rust and recovering from a balky knee would be tough for anyone. For Russell Westbrook, it’s killing his productivity and, in turn, the Rockets’ playoff chances. He’s averaging 15.6 points on 39/16/47 splits with a most recent 10-point, 4-of-15 effort from the field which included seven turnovers and air balling wide-open threes sticking out like a sore thumb.
It also doesn’t help that he’s playing the Lakers of all teams. When Westbrook has been in, the Lakers have taken advantage of his shortcomings offensively and it shows both on the court and the stat line.
Most of Westbrook’s damage is hurting Houston on the offensive end. With the All-Star guard in the game, Houston is minus-13.7 with him on the court, the worst offensive rating on the team. The 12 turnovers he’s coughed up in this series probably have something to do with that.
With Westbrook’s struggles and his predecessor Chris Paul coming off of his best individual season since 2016, this, of course, has led to many second-guessing the swap last summer. Or let’s rephrase that: People have been second-guessing that trade since the moment it was announced and, in light of recent events, they’re piling on now more than ever.
Maybe they’re right. Even after playing in the NBA for over a decade now, Westbrook still hasn’t proven that he can control himself enough to reach his potential as a team player. We’ve seen glimpses. On the other hand, Paul showed that he can still pick apart defenses while holding his own on that end.
But replacing Paul with Westbrook was Harden’s idea. He didn’t want to play with Paul anymore and chose to play with one of his closest friends. You may think that the better fit is what’s best for the team, but we’ve seen the damage that can happen when your team’s best players have friction with one another. It hurt Utah this season. It hurt Boston last season. It destroyed the Lakers back in 2013. There’s no telling what it could have done to Houston this season.
Besides, we know that as bad as Westbrook has been, he’s capable of being better. Not a knockdown shooter, not even an efficient scorer, but he has done better in the past when the focus was on him. The more days he takes to shake off the rust from his knee, the more optimistic the Rockets ought to be.
The Rockets have to take the glass-half-full on this one because they don’t really have a choice otherwise.