DALLAS -- The early-season misery for Chandler Parsons, the struggles he endured in his return from hybrid microfracture surgery on his right knee, might seem like a distant memory.
After all, Parsons has played the best basketball of his career over the past couple of months, averaging 17.1 points while shooting 51.5 percent from the floor and 45.4 percent from 3-point range. His scoring average has steadily increased each month of the season, starting in the single digits while he dealt with strict minutes restrictions in November and spiking to 18.8 points per game in February.
But those dreadful nights in November and December, when Parsons was a shell of himself and wondered whether he would ever return to form, still are fresh in his mind.
“It was just a mess,” Parsons said after putting up 29 points, six rebounds and four assists for the Dallas Mavericks before sitting out the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 128-101 rout of the Minnesota Timberwolves. “It was something that was very hard to go through, but I’m glad because all the pain, all the struggle, all the work I put in, I use that every time I step on the floor. I realize no one’s worked as hard as me to get here.”
Where is Parsons as a player? Pretty close to where he expected to be when he signed a three-year, $46 million deal in July 2014 to leave Houston for Dallas, betting that he could thrive as an offensive focal point for a playoff team.
Those dreams were detoured when he crashed to the floor in Indianapolis last March. The damage to the cartilage in his right knee eventually ended his season prematurely after a failed comeback attempt for the playoffs. He would then require a new version of the dreaded microfracture procedure.
After a summer of rehab, Parsons hoped to prove his doctors and the Mavericks’ medical staff wrong by showing that their warnings he would need weeks, if not months, to return to form weren’t necessary. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way.
Parsons acknowledges that he hurt the Mavs much more than he helped for the first month and a half of the season. He screwed up the rhythm of the rotation because had to be yanked in and out of the lineup due to his minutes restrictions and couldn’t play on both ends of back-to-backs. And, to put it bluntly, he was one of the worst bang-for-buck values in the league at that point, a player on a near-max deal averaging a puny 8.4 points on 43.5 percent shooting.
Since those struggles, Parsons hasn’t just gotten back to being himself. He has expanded his game. He has proved he can play power forward in small-ball lineups, a look that accentuates his playmaking ability. He has morphed into one of the league’s best long-distance shooters east of the San Francisco Bay Area, splashing 48 percent of his 3-point attempts this month.
“He’s been in a great groove for really two months, even longer than that,” said face of the franchise Dirk Nowitzki, whose shooting technique tips helped Parsons catch fire from the perimeter. “It started clicking there for him in one game, started making some shots, and it feels like every shot is going in for him now. He’s in a great groove. You see the confidence in him. The shots he’s taken, he’s just stepping right into it. He’s aggressive with it. It’s been fun to watch.”
There are no complaints about Parsons’ contract now. In fact, it’s a safe bet that he’ll get a significant raise this summer if he opts out of the final season of his deal, as expected.
“He’s come a long way,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t think we’re completely out of the woods yet, but he’s right there. Now it comes down to the ability to sustain.”
Parsons has answered the questions about whether he could come back from such a major injury. The biggest question about him now: Can he be a consistent go-to guy, particularly against good competition?
It’s one thing to light it up against the Nuggets and Timberwolves, as Parsons has done in the Mavs’ past two games, while putting up a total of 56 points on 32 shots and dishing out eight assists.
For the 32-28 Mavs to have any hope of being more than first-round fodder, and maybe for them to even make the playoffs, they need the prolific version of Parsons to show up consistently against playoff teams.
It’s not that Parsons hasn’t balled at all against good competition. He scored 26 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder, 26 against the Memphis Grizzlies, 25 points against the Cleveland Cavaliers and 23 against the Golden State Warriors, all in efficient fashion. But he has had a few notable duds in the past six weeks, including five- and six-point stinkers against the San Antonio Spurs and a foul-plagued six-point outing against the Thunder.
Parsons always has wanted the go-to role. He doesn’t shy away from the responsibilities that come along with it.
“I’ve worked extremely hard to get to this point, but you’ve got to keep it going,” Parsons said. "You can’t just have a game here or there or put two or three together. The goal now individually is to keep consistently playing at this level, and as a team, we have to continue to win games. With everything being so close, we have to get these games coming up. It’s not about me individually. It’s about our team, but everyone’s got to chip in and play their part.”
After a tough road, Parsons is up to playing the part he has always wanted, the role that’s required to justify his paychecks.