HOUSTON – The man from the radio station has him running through a list of the familiar questions: favorite restaurants and foods and things to like about Christmas, when suddenly here comes a curveball.
“Do you know the words to Rudolph?”
Chandler Parsons grins while looking around for a way out.“I guess the smart answer for me at this point would be to say no,” he replies.
Then a few seconds later, his head is bouncing up and down as he’s singing: “… and if you ever saw it, you would even say it glows.”
Why not? Parsons is having the time of his life.
In a season when the first verse of every song about the Rockets centers on the high-profile backcourt pairing of James Harden and Jeremy Lin, Parsons has been in the background providing the chorus. The 6-foot-9 forward is averaging 15.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. The fact is he scores significantly more than the heralded Lin (11.3) and ranks 12th in the league in average minutes played (37.6).
“Where would we be without Chandler?” asked Rockets’ assistant Kelvin Sampson, who served as interim coach for nearly a month when Kevin McHale took a sabbatical. “Not as much in the mix of a lot of games.”
Parsons has been the stirrer, whether by making 3-point shots, driving to the hoop or hitting the boards. He’s one of those players who finds a way to get a rebound, a tip-in, a loose ball, anything to make something happen. The kind of role-filler that every good team seems to have.
So how does that kind of player have workouts for 17 different teams prior to the 2011 draft and have all but one pass on him? How does a live wire not make a spark to be selected until the 38th pick of the second round?
“Because he’s not great at any one specific thing,” Sampson said. “He doesn’t seem to have a discernible talent. I don’t know if enough people in the NBA value intangibles when it comes time to draft or acquire players.”
Parsons first opened Sampson’s eyes early last season during a practice when after a defensive switch he was suddenly matched up against 6-foot point guard Jonny Flynn.
“I’m thinking, ‘Oh, this will be interesting,’ ” Sampson said. “But I’m telling you Jonny Flynn did everything he could to get by Chandler and he couldn’t. He moved his feet and he kept in front of him. Left, right. Time after time. Jonny Flynn couldn’t find a way around.
“Then I noticed that in our 2-on-2, drills, 3-on-3, 4-on-4, 5-on-5, Chandler’s team always won. There’s a value to that. That’s a big deal to me. After all, winning is what we’re supposed to be all about.”
General manager Daryl Morey says the non-traditional analytics used by the Rockets actually rated Parsons high.
“I think often teams believe that guys that play roles in college can’t translate that over to the NBA,” he said. “But the truth is we’ve got him doing the same things here that he did at Florida.
“It’s hard to know for sure what happened. It’s not an exact science. Obviously, he shouldn’t have made it to 38.”
When the lockout hit a year ago, Parsons signed to play in France to stay active and upon his return was forced to miss just about all of the abbreviated training camp while bureaucratic details with his contract were being worked out. Yet Parsons quickly found his way into the lineup, starting 57 of the 66 games and watched over the summer as the Rockets did a purge of almost their entire roster, trying to land Dwight Howard, and eventually bringing in free agents Lin and Omer Asik. But there were several weeks when he was one of the few holdovers and the Rockets sent him out into the community as a face of the franchise.
“I was watching all of the things that were going on, seeing what Daryl was doing and it got me excited,” Parsons said. “I kept thinking that I was glad that I was staying. Or at least I hoped to be staying.”
He spent the offseason in the gym working religiously on his outside shooting. He knew the only way he would ever get to do the things he liked in the NBA — attacking the basket to make plays for himself and his teammates — was to make defenses honor him on the perimeter.
“I was always shooting the ball differently last season,” Parsons said. “I had no arc on my shot. It was flat. Everything was a fadeaway. I wouldn’t hold on my release. It took thousands and thousands of shots in the summer, but now I feel comfortable.”
His 3-point shooting has improved from 33.7 percent to 37.5 and his free throws from 55.1 to 72.6. He’s scored in double figures 17 times in the 23 games he’s played and had his biggest games against high profile teams — 25 vs. the Heat, 24 vs. the Lakers and 31 vs. the Knicks, 20 vs. the Spurs.
“I think the best thing I do on the court is my playmaking,” Parsons said. “And I think now that teams are respecting me more for my shot, it opens up the floor for me. Now I’m shot-faking, making plays for other guys and having the time of my life playing ball for a living and doing anything they want. I’ll sing. I’ll dance.”
For now, the Rockets will be content to keep Parsons humming.