The Education of Jabari Parker

Jabari Parker is still finding his way into the league after a shorten rookie reason. Despite a slow start can he prove that he’s worth the investment?  

Leading up to the 2014 NBA draft, the top two wings were clearly Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker. Wiggins was known as the raw prospect who had the higher ceiling, while Parker was known as the more NBA-ready guy who would have the skill to be a big time shot-maker. Two years later, Parker appears to be a bigger project to imagine.

Coming into the league, Parker was more considered a “tweener” on defense. At 6’8 he with a 6’11 wingspan, he had the size of an elite small forward, but his slow lateral quickness made him more fit to be a power forward. After his rookie season was cut short after 25 games, Parker re-created his body, shedding excess fat and began fitting more of the profile of a typical power forward. Despite this, last season showed that he has a lot of learning to do in his new NBA role.

What is Parker’s role at the next level? 

Based on the way Kidd has used Parker, it’s clear that they want to work him in as a four. This would mostly hide his poor lateral quickness, but more importantly give him an advantage against bigger opponents who can’t keep up with him offensivley. However, even in this position, Parker has still shown an inability to compete on defense. He looks like a deer in headlights whenever teams attack him in the pick and roll, and Parker hasn’t shown the ability to defend in the post where opposing players are finishing 6.8% better against him. Part of this could be that he’s still adjusting to the more physical role of playing in the frontcourt, along with the fact that last year was a de facto rookie season. However, the lack of effort and production is concerning. Parker posted a -2.0 DRPM which ranked 91st out of of a total of 95 qualified power forwards. That’s worse than the likes of Luis Scola, Nikola Mirotic, and Josh McRoberts.

Parker’s inability to rebound has also been a concern, his 9.4 rebounding rate ranks 67th amongst power forwards. Rebounding is a little more concerning than overall defensive efficiency because it’s usually a skill that guys are just born with. For example, Julius Randle, who’s also among one of the worst defenders at his position ranks second in total rebound rate. Guys like Kevin Love, Thomas Robinson, Tristan Thompson, and Jared Sullinger were good rebounders in college and the skill translated. Without the ability to effiectivley defend, along with his inability to rebound, Parker doesn’t give much to the team in terms of versatility. Bigger guys push him around, he can’t keep up with smaller guys. Without the ability to be competitive on the boards, the idea of the small-ball five is thrown completley out of the window.

If you find yourself thinking, “Well he came in as an offensive player anyway”, then you do have a point. Parker’s best skill coming in was supposed to be his scoring ability, most pegging him as a guy who could be 20ppg player within his first couple of years. Though that still may happen, his polish as a scorer is nowhere near as advertised.

Parker shoots an efficient 65.7% from the rim, however, he shoots sub-40% from every other level of the court. Though his mechanics are solid, he has a tendency to drift when he shoots instead of going straight up and down. Again, adjusting to his new role, the NBA game, and where he’s getting his shots from has been a bit of a challenge for him. The problem is he compounds this inefficiency by not doing much else on the offensive end. His 10.4 assist rates ranks 44th amongst power forwards, and in his limited attempts as a roll man he only averages .73ppp and shoots 32.6% in those attempts. That puts him in the  9.6 percentile. Not being a solid screener plus shooting a combined 36.4% from every level the 3 point arc not including the paint has a lot to do with it. Also, his lack of shooting from three (25.7% this season), makes his offensive skill-set more reminisenct to a back-up 5 than an actual four. Not very encouraging from a number 2 pick in a loaded draft class.

So is Parker worth the investment? 

Despite the disturbing statistics, Jabari Parker is still a player that the Bucks would be wise to invest in. Though his defensive numbers suggest he’ll probably never be a great defender, he may never have to if his offense reaches his full potential.

Parker may still be raw offensivley, but he’s nowhere near a lost cause. His feel for the game on that end of the floor has looked great. He knows how to fill the lanes well and does a a great job of probing the baseline while his guards collapse the defense.

He’s also showed flashes of a guy who can lead the break. Doing things like quickly looking up to make passes, or dribbling all the way down and finishing himself have been encouraging signs.

His 19.6 usuage rate ranks 17th amongst power forwards who’ve played at least 25 minutes (slightly more than Draymond Green). The Bucks want to feature him in their offense, and his flaws offensivley aren’t uncorrectable. Parker’s vision shows that he has potential as a passer, and as he builds more continuity with his teammates this should only continue to get better.

His shooting on the other hand shouldn’t be much of a concern at this stage. He’s still very early in his development, and the Bucks seem to have pivoted to developing their young core without the pressure of winning now. Parker was a 35.8% 3pt shooter in college, so it’s no surprise that he’ll probably need a little more time to adjust to the NBA range.

His ability right now as a face-up scorer is a skill that also needs to be featured a lot more next year. This has proven to be Parker’s strongest way to score in isolation, and he seems comfortable attacking opposing bigs with step-backs, hesitations, and hard drives. He’s also shown exceptional vision from the face-up position. Making promising play such as finding open cutters or forcing the D to collapse and kicking it out for easy three point attempts.

 

The Jabari Parker experience isn’t what we expected, but it may actually be a blessing in disguise. In a NBA landscape where the hot term seems to be “positionless basketball”, many forget that having a role is still something that all players need to have. When Parker came out of college, that was unclear what it would be, though we knew the skill was there. Going into his third season, Parker has re-worked his body, and found a role where he could potentially excel at. With all the tools to be an elite scorer, and all the IQ to at least be a passable defender, his upside is still high as ever. Could he potentially lead a break like Blake Griffin? Become lethal from mid-range like Al Horford? Create his shots as well as Carmelo Anthony? The jury is still out. But we do know he’ll be given every opportunity to find out.

 

 

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