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2016 NBA Free Agency: Chandler Parsons fits the Pelicans needs, except for his knees

Parsons would be the first real small forward on the roster in years. Can he stay healthy with the Pelicans medical staff?

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Pelicans small forward. Only the Defence Against the Dark Arts position at Hogwarts saw more turnover in the last decade. Dante Cunningham, Alonzo Gee, Luke Babbitt, and James Ennis all started at small forward. That’s just the list from last year!

The last time a starting small forward in New Orleans logged even a league average (PER of at least 15.0) season was 2008 thanks to Peja Stojakovic. Since moving to New Orleans for the 2002-03 season this franchise has produced just two league average or better seasons; Jamal Mashburn in 2003 (18.0) and Stojakovic in 2008 (15.7).

Note: Stojakovic did log a 15.8 PER in 2007, but he played just 13 games due to injury.

That’s amazing! A stupendous accomplishment. Since Stojakovic was traded to Toronto in 2010 it has been a revolving door. Trevor Ariza woefully under performed and was traded in 2012. Al-Farouq Aminu could not shoot and moved on after the 2014 season. Quincy Pondexter showed glimpses during the 2014-15 season yet posted just an 11.1 PER thanks in part to horrendous rebounding numbers.

It goes without saying that the Pelicans have a need at small forward going into free agency. That free agent is going to come with risk. Let’s begin the hunt for wings with the riskiest one of all, Chandler Parsons.

Bad news first

Let’s get the bad news out of the way. Chandler Parsons has bad knees. Parsons played just one game in the 2015 playoffs before succumbing to a knee injury. He had surgery in the spring that was later revealed to be a “minor hybrid” microfracture operation. I know, you’re already salivating over the Pelicans putting down a big offer to Parsons but I’m not done.

After rehabbing and working on a strict minutes restriction Parsons really starting to get into the groove as the calendar flipped to 2016. In his last 31 games Chandler Parsons averaged an impressive 18.2 points and 5.8 rebounds while shooting 52.6% from the floor and a scorching 47.8% behind the arc. Next stop, another knee injury!

On March 22nd Parsons was shut down to undergo another surgery, this time to repair a torn meniscus in the same right knee he had the “minor hybrid” microfracture procedure on just 10 months prior. So, one of the most available small forwards on the market also happens to have an awful right knee. Ready for the good news?

A real small forward

Remember, we’re talking about a franchise that has experienced just two league average seasons at the small forward position in 14 years. Parsons has produced a PER of 15.3 or higher in four consecutive seasons in the NBA. Were you considering Harrison Barnes? He has yet to get to 13.5 despite the meager load he carries with the Golden State Warriors.

Chandler Parsons does a little of everything. He’s a superb shooter behind the arc, connecting on 41.4% of 251 attempts last season. Even more impressive, Parsons shot 44.4% on catch and shoot opportunities. Before you ask, yes that was much better than Harrison Barnes who shot 39.2% on catch and shoots.

That’s not all. Parsons was a capable facilitator posting a 16.0% assist rate (Barnes, 7.8%) while also contributing on the defensive glass to the tune of a 15.6% defensive rebound rate (Barnes, 12.4%). While he was at it Parsons also posted more blocks and steals. Prefer more advanced stats? Good!

Box Score Plus-Minus has consistently rated Parsons as a positive on both sides of the ball. In five seasons just once (2014-15, -0.2 DBPM) has Parsons posted a negative OBPM or DBPM. ESPN’s Real-Plus Minus is slightly less bullish on Parsons, yet Parsons has ranked 13th, 11th, and 22nd in RPM among small forwards over the last three seasons.


Beyond just being an actual small forward, Parsons provides significant versatility. Parsons measured 6’9.75” in shoes at the Draft Combine and has logged more and more minutes as a small ball power forward. According to Basketball Reference he has logged 35% of his minutes at power forward in the last two seasons with the Dallas Mavericks. Nylon Calculus estimates Parsons logged 33.4% of his minutes at power forward last season.

A small ball lineup of Jrue Holiday, Buddy Hield, Quincy Pondexter, Chandler Parsons, and Anthony Davis could be absolutely terrifying. All five players are excellent shooters. Both Holiday and Parsons are proven creators for others and Anthony Davis is improving in that area. Davis and Holiday are plus defenders, Pondexter and Parsons are average defenders, and Hield wears a bullseye on his back. (Welcome to the NBA rookie.) The one weakness with this lineup is defensive rebounding. Parsons is competent for a small forward but below average as a big. Pondexter and Holiday are both negatives on the defensive glass for their position. Hield should be better than Eric Gordon, but that doesn’t say a lot.


Chandler Parsons is opting out of his player option. He will be an unrestricted free agent. Additionally, the Mavericks are not planning on offering a max contract, electing instead to chase free agents Mike Conley and Hassan Whiteside. Thanks to being a second round pick and signing just a 2+1 contract two years ago Parsons is becoming a free agent while still in the lowest max contract tier.

A max offer to Parsons for the Pelicans requires $22.2 million in cap space and costs a total of $94.8 million over four seasons. That’s a whole lot of money to bet on his right knee! Beyond the injury concerns Parsons is a little older than the majority of the core on this roster; he will turn 28 in October while Jrue Holiday is just 26 while Anthony Davis is 23 and Buddy Hield is 22.

On the plus side, Parsons is a noted recruiter around the league. He nearly convinced DeAndre Jordan to sign with the Dallas Mavericks last summer. A group of Anthony Davis, Chandler Parsons, and Buddy Hield could be extremely inciting for the 2017 summer. Retaining Jrue Holiday would be easier and if a new CBA includes an amnesty clause the Pelicans could have room to add another free agent after getting Omer Asik off the books.

Signing Chandler Parsons is an enormous risk. The injuries are real and terrifying considering the Pelicans medical staff. Should the Pelicans take the plunge? I really can’t say. Parsons improves the small forward position immediately. If he stays healthy it puts this franchise firmly into the playoff picture. If not? Ouch.