COMMENTARY | After Paul George, there are a myriad of up-and-coming small forwards who have the potential to work their way in the league's elite.
Rookie Otto Porter Jr. (Washington Wizards) should find his way into the conversation in the next couple years, while Harrison Barnes (Golden State Warriors) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Charlotte Bobcats) both showed enough in their rookie campaigns to prove they're headed for a lot of success soon.
In the past several years, we've seen a handful of small forwards emerge and threaten to break into the elite category, such as Rudy Gay (Toronto Raptors), Nicolas Batum (Portland Trail Blazers), Jeff Green (Boston Celtics) and Danilo Gallinari (Denver Nuggets), but, for the most part, their production will plateau.
Parsons and Leonard will be seeing a lot of each other over the next handful of years, as both forwards are crucial parts of top-flight teams in the Western Conference. While both guys serve different functions for their teams, they will both see increased roles this season and going forward. Right now, I think Parsons is slightly ahead of Leonard in terms of total impact, but that could all change in the coming years.
For the sake of comparison, let's take a deeper look at the similarities and differences between Parsons and Leonard:
Similarity: 3-Point Shooting
Last season, Parsons shot from distance at a 38.5-percent clip, and Leonard shot the long ball at 37.4 percent. However, Parsons flexed his 3-point muscle more often last season, averaging 5.2 attempts a night while Leonard averaged 3.0 attempts per game.
Houston had a run-and-gun offense in place last season, which was predicated on a drive-and-kick game that led to a high number of shots from distance. Meanwhile, San Antonio had more of a balanced, inside-out offensive scheme, which means that the Spurs' respective offensive systems dictated their number of attempts while their percentages proved their ability as shooters (proving that they are relative equals from beyond the arc).
Difference: Offensive Style
Parsons possesses more guard skills than inside skills while Leonard can play on the outside, but it's apparent that he was an inside player before he got to the NBA. Both guys have the ability to take the ball to the basket, but Parsons is more apt to catch on the high wing, and then beat his man with a crossover or an inside-out dribble.
On the other hand, Leonard is more likely to catch in the high-post or lower on the wing, and then face up, jab step, and blow by his man with a hard right-handed dribble. Leonard uses his skill set to his full advantage, serving as a floor-stretcher, offensive rebounder, screener and whatever else Greg Popovich asks him to do. Parsons mainly lurks out on the 3-point line, sliding the arc in hopes of creating enough space to catch and shoot, but he's also a good cutter as Rockets fans saw last season with a number of backdoor cuts for dunks.
Similarity: On-Ball Defense
Both Parsons and Leonard are quality on-ball defenders, although if I had to pick who's better, I'd give the edge to Leonard at the moment. Both guys are long and lean, and they both draw the assignment of the best opposing wing player on a nightly basis. Leonard has the ability to guard the smaller power forwards in the league, too, which gives the Spurs some flexibility with their lineups. Kevin McHale showed no faith in Parsons last year as a post defender, as he normally put Carlos Delfino on the opposing 4s when the Rockets played small ball (which led to big numbers for many opposing power forwards).
Difference: Future Roles on Their Current Teams
Unfortunately, for Leonard, when Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili retire in a couple years, it looks like he'll have to be the second star to Tony Parker, which may be a problem for San Antonio. Although Leonard still has room to grow, he'll have a hard time transitioning to being a second option and hopefully for San Antonio, his offensive improvement will coincide with the improvement of center Tiago Splitter and shooting guard Danny Green.
On the other hand, Parsons is going to be the third option offensively in Houston, which should suit him better than last season's role as a second scorer. Due to Parsons' abilities as a passer, ball-handler and floor-stretcher, he should flourish this season in Houston (next to Dwight Howard and James Harden).
Similarity: Unselfishness and Understanding of the Game
Both Parsons and Leonard are team-first guys, and although it sounds trite to say something like "these guys always give it their all," it's definitely the truth. Parsons is the dominant vocal leader of the young Rockets, while Leonard takes the role of pupil playing alongside seasoned veterans like Parker, Duncan and Ginobili. Both guys have already shown big-time basketball smarts in their young careers, and as their bodies and games mature, that knowledge will become more apparent and more useful.
Parsons averaged 3.3 more shots per game than Leonard did last season (12.4 for Parsons and 9.1 for Leonard), but neither of them are defined by their points column in the box score, as they both supply the total package and fill up the stat sheet on a nightly basis.
M. De Moor is an NBA junkie and a general columnist on Hoopshabit.com. He has followed the Rockets from the championship days of Hakeem Olajuwon, to the years of Francis and Mobley, to the McGrady and Yao era, and will continue to follow them through Harden and Dwight's reign of destruction.
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- Kawhi Leonard
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