Carlisle did his best to make sure the media didn’t get too carried away after the small forward with the big contract carried the Mavs to a 106-94 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves with Dirk Nowitzki nursing a swollen knee. Carlisle isn’t budging off his declaration that consistency can’t reasonably be expected from Parsons, who is coming back from hybrid microfracture surgery on his right knee, until after the All-Star break.
One efficient 30-point performance doesn’t change the big picture, according to Carlisle.
“Just because of this game, he has not arrived,” Carlisle said. “This is another step. This is a strong step toward the goal, which is 100 percent health, 100 percent conditioning, rhythm, all those things. The fact that he was able to make a variety of shots in overtime when he was fatigued, that’s a great sign.
“But let’s not assume that this is the guy whose back we’re going to jump on every time in crunch time. That’s not fair to him.”
It’s certainly not fair to expect Parsons to light it up like he did against the Timberwolves on a regular basis. He got his 30 points on 13-of-20 shooting, hitting half of his six 3-point attempts and repeatedly attacking off the dribble, particularly when exploiting mismatches while playing power forward in small-ball lineups.
Carlisle hammered home the point that Parsons is still entrenched in the process of coming back from a major surgery, one that some in his inner circle thought should have sidelined him until at least December. Parsons hasn’t regained his full explosiveness and has been told it probably won’t happen this season.
“Just because I had a good game like tonight, it doesn’t mean my knee is magically 100 percent,” said Parsons, who also had eight rebounds and two assists in the win. “It’s not going to be probably all season long, but as long as I can manage it and continue to get stronger and better and keep playing confident, I can play at a high level.”
Parsons has proven recently that he can play at a high level. The question is whether he can perform to the standard of his paycheck on a consistent basis.
It’s not like this night came out of nowhere. On the whole, Parsons has been pretty good since his minutes restriction was lifted, averaging 12.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists while shooting 50.3 percent from the floor in the past 17 games. Those numbers are close to his career norms other than the scoring being down a bit.
There have been flashes of brilliance, and they’ve come more frequently in the past couple of weeks: a 21-point, eight-rebound, six-assist performance as the lone active regular starter in a Jan. 6 win over the New Orleans Pelicans; a 25-point, eight-rebound outing in an Jan. 12 overtime loss against LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers; the dominant display Wednesday against the Timberwolves.
But there have also been nights when Parsons might as well have been invisible: a three-point dud in a Jan. 8 loss at Milwaukee, a five-point stinker in Sunday’s spanking by the San Antonio Spurs.
Carlisle considers the ups and downs part of the process of battling back from an injury that could be considered career-threatening.
“I’m creating a situation where he’s allowed to achieve at the right pace, at the proper pace,” Carlisle said. “He and Wesley Matthews are some percentage of the way to where they’re going to be eventually, but those guys aren’t there yet. I’ve been through season-long injuries and tried to come back. I understand this is a long process.”
To support his point, Carlisle referenced how difficult it was for Nowitzki to come back after missing the first 27 games of the 2012-13 season following arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. He applauded Parsons for “working his butt off” but emphasized that there is much more work ahead for the 27-year-old to accomplish his goal of being better than he was before the surgery.
“I’m really happy for him. It’s great,” Carlisle said of Parsons’ performance against Minnesota. “It’s going to give him huge confidence, but let’s keep our eye on the ball here. This is a process.”
Parsons has at least progressed to the point that his wallflower nights should be a thing of the past. Even the elite players have off shooting nights, but there’s no reason now that Parsons shouldn’t be involved and aggressive on a nightly basis.
“That’s the kind of player I am and the confidence I have,” said Parsons, who anticipated making the jump to star status this season despite coming off the surgery. “I’ve thought I’ve been good enough [to contribute consistently] all season long. That’s the approach you’ve got to have as a basketball player and a competitor.
“Games like this definitely make it more of a positive thing and a step forward, but you’ve got to string a few of these together before you can say you’re that guy.”