by Jake Fischer / @JakeLFischer
Making his first appearance since missing three games with a bum knee, Chandler Parsons caught the ball on the right wing during the Houston Rockets’ first possession Monday night. As Jeff Green inched closer toward him, he threw a pump fake straight up in the air. Green followed the ball and leapt to block the shot, expecting Parsons, a 38.1 percent three-point shooter, to let it fly. Instead, Parsons brought the ball back down to his hip and dribbled straight to the rim. He ended up getting bumped by a big man and lost the ball, but it was a key moment in Parsons’ return to the hardwood. Even after missing three games over the span of 10 days, the Florida product immediately used his court instincts that have made him such an effective player in the League.
“You have to throw it at them early and see who’s going to jump,” Parsons told SLAM after the Rockets defeated the Celtics 104-92 on Monday night. “Then once you know who’s gonna jump, you can take it by them all the way and finish. And if you know they’re gonna stay put, you’re gonna have a wide-open jumper all game.”
While the Pacers’ defense dismantled the usually flawless and analytically sexy Houston offense in Danny Granger’s return on December 20, I left that game more impressed by a single move of Parsons’ rather than Frank Vogel’s impenetrable defensive scheme: the pump fake.
With 9:40 left in the second quarter, and the Rockets still very much in the game, Parsons darted to the right elbow from the right corner and received a pass from Francisco Garcia. Once he had possession, Parsons found Lance Stephenson draped all over him. In his mind there was only way to shake himself free, and he did so by making Born Ready look silly.
The play got Hubie Brown, on the color call for ESPN’s broadcast of that game, gushing. “This guy’s a cerebral player,” Brown explained. “He understands angles, he gets in the painted area, he has the ball fakes, he’s got the mid-range game, he can take it all the way and play the glass.”
Parsons wasn’t done messing with Stephenson and the entire Pacers lineup with an array of fakes that quarter. Just about a minute later, the 6-9 forward in his third year in the League sliced through the middle of Indy’s stingy defense with a beautiful up-and-under running layup and he left Stephenson helpless on the floor with 2:20 left to go until halftime.
The first pump fake that ever caught my eye was Sam Young’s back when he and DeJuan Blair ruled the Big East at Pitt. I grew up going to Villanova basketball camp in the summer, so watching Big East basketball in the winter was an unwavering habit—pour one out for the old Big East. Young’s fakes were so exaggerated, when you watched them in slow motion it was almost comical defenders bit on them. He would hold the ball as if he was about to throw a skip pass like a soccer player—not even close to his one-handed shooting form.
Parsons’ fake uses the exact same arm mechanics as his actual shot, teasing over-zealous defenders like Stephenson routinely. The technique, simple yet lethal, is something Parsons says he’s been doing for years.
“It’s just something I kind of picked up over the years where, I’m not really gonna cross someone over or break someone down with lightning speed, so it’s kinda like a thing I’ll do when I read the defense and get them off balance to create and make something for someone else,” Parsons said. “Then I can get to the basket or pull-up. It’s just something that I do. It started off as a joke. The team started yelling, ‘Stop doing it so much.’ Now it’s just kind of like my go-to move to get me free and let me start creating.”
The pump fake used to be a specific part of Parsons’ game that he would work on daily, now it’s more of an old habit that pays dividends on a nightly basis.
“I used to [practice it] as part of my pre-game routine,” Parsons said. “I would work on pump-faking and getting up on my toes and exaggerating it. But now I just kind of get some shots up and it’s just more of a read now.”
What may have started off as a gimmick is one of the most affective tools in the entire League. Parsons has become one of the most dangerous wing-slashers in the NBA and he’s been faking people out of their shoes in the process. On Christmas Day, five days after Parsons’ filthy fake in Indy, while most were crying about the spectacle that was the special jerseys, Parsons’ began his cajoling of the San Antonio Spurs’ defense.
Parsons literally made Manu Ginobili go flying into the first row and watch him drill an 18-footer while sitting in a courtside fan’s lap. Later in the second quarter, he used the ball fake and a shoulder jab to create space and score on the Argentinian once more. But Parson’s most impressive misdirection came with roughly 30 seconds left. His ball fake to James Harden sent Patty Mills hilariously flailing in the air.
“I’ll notice right away if the guy guarding me is over aggressive or jumpy and if I see that he’s going to jump early. Then I’ll hear the coach yell telling him not to jump, so the next time I’ll just shoot the ball. You’re really just making reads. My jump shot never gets blocked so having my size helps, too.”
You can’t blame the Spurs for buying into what Parsons was selling. He torched Pop’s club with 21 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists, with 14 points coming in the first quarter alone.
Later in Parsons’ return against the Celtics, he caught the ball at the top of the key from Omri Casspi. As Gerald Wallace approached Parsons, he threw a nasty fake and Wallace hopped three feet forward while the Rockets’ third-leading scorer slithered past him and two other Celtics defenders.
“He has one of the best pump fakes in the game,” Jeff Green said. “It’s even tough to defend when he’s not shooting it well.”
For some reason, most teams are not prepared for it.
“By now you’d think it would be on the scouting report of every team we play,” Parsons said. “But when you’re in the game and I’m shooting close to 40 percent from three, guys are still going to be on their toes and they’re going to try and contest me. No matter how much film they use of me from the game, it’s still gonna get people jumping.”
Parsons’ coach, Kevin McHale, relishes how effective he can be with the ball in his hands.
“I hate the pump fake. I hate that pump fake. Chandler’s pump fake drives me nuts. He’s got that one-footed pump fake and he falls in love it,” McHale said with a big smile. “No, he’s able to get to the rim. Chandler has a lot to add to our team. He does a lot of good stuff. He moves the ball. He kind of does a little bit of everything for us so he’s really a guy when he’s not playing we definitely miss him. He’s working on his game all the time and he’s getting better. I think he’s much, much improved than he was from his rookie year and he just keeps getting better.”
Before Houston’s victory over Boston, Parsons nodded toward the locker to his left and said Casspi has even been trying to mirror the starting small forward’s trademark move.
“It works, why not try to copy it?” Omri Casspi said. “People aren’t buying mine though,” he admitted with a laugh.
Casspi’s learning the hard way that Parson’s pump fake is something special. Most of the League has already fallen victim to it. And if you didn’t know, now you know.