I have been tweeting negative statements about Jabari all week, and after his 20 point, 15 rebound finale Bucks fans may be hoping I have some positive takeaway from the performance that he can build on. Unfortunately I do not. After watching him play against competition on his level of size and athleticism for 5 games, I have nothing but disdain for his summer league play. If you’re a Bucks fan who prefers to think happy thoughts, it may not be the best idea to read on.
Statistically, Jabari did alright. He only shot 2/11 from 3, but he made 47% of 2 point attempts and attempted 34 FT’s in 5 games. He finished averaging 15.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.2 steals in 28.6 mpg which are all good numbers for a 19 year old. But I’m less interested in the stats themselves than I am how they were accrued, so let’s tabulate. He converted 24 FG’s inside the arc:
8 were in transition. 4 of them were breakaway dunks. 1 was a dunk after he blew by his man before the help defense was set. 2 of them were coast to coast finishes against Cleveland and he was fouled on one of them. The other was when he caught Phoenix napping on free throws by hanging by his basket and getting a layup with 1 second left in the quarter.
5 of them were halfcourt attempts at the rim. 1 was a dunk following an offensive rebound. 1 was him bullying Andrew Wiggins when they were isolated in the post w/ no help. 3 were nice attacks from the perimeter where he finished at the rim.
The other 11 were all mid-range shots. Most of them were ugly, off balance attempts preceded by too much dribbling. I believe he was fortunate to make as many as he did. Two of them were goaltended. This is also where most of his misses came from, although he missed some decent shots at the rim that were contested as well.
Let’s assess what talent went into creating these shots. The breakaway dunks are mostly because he is mindful to leak out when he sees the opportunity, and he also has the defensive instincts to pick off some passes and take it the other way and finish. The coast to coast attacks I feel exemplify his talent: he isn’t that athletic, but for a fat man he is fairly explosive and is comfortable handling the ball in the open court. These are baskets that somebody like Doug McDermott could never dream of creating.
This is further exemplified by his rim finishes. He didn’t excel at getting to the rim, but given enough attempts he got there a few times and was able to finish. Again, he has enough handling, athleticism, and scoring instincts to be a competent at creating and finishing quality shots on occasion. This isn’t exactly a foundation for offensive dominance, but it’s something to build on.
Bullying the 6’8″ 200 pound Wiggins was Jabari’s bread and butter in college, as some weaker opponents featured centers of that size and he beat them up and dunked all over them. Given that Wiggins is a SG/SF in the NBA, these opportunities dried up in summer league and Parker was only able to generate one bucket of this ilk. On most occasions when he gets matched up vs. a Wiggins type, help defense will be there to prevent it from being so easy.
His mid-range performance was particularly putrid. Parker would often catch the ball, attack, and when he could only get within 8-12 feet from the basket he’d launch off balance jumpers that normally brick. A number of them actually went in, but that was largely luck. He’s not creating 38-40% shots, these are at best low 30’s and sometimes even in the 20’s. Not to mention that he stops the ball and kills any flow of the offense to create these. He is big and athletic enough to get a number of these off, but they are such a horrible use of any possession that it’s a big drag on the offense if he insists on taking 5 per game. And it’s not like he can just cut these out and everything is peachy– these shot attempts are the opportunity cost of his attacks that actually made it all the way to the rim as well as his FT attempts. These shots aren’t only indicative of his willingness to submarine the offense by stopping the ball and taking poor shots, they are also indicative of his inability to create quality shots with any regularity.
Also a number of his FTA came from poor offense. Against the Cavaliers he was fouled on a couple of horrible mid-range shot attempts. Against the Warriors he had one foul where his opponent played perfect defense standing upright with his hands up while Jabari triple clutched and threw up a shot against the underside of the backboard and fell down. The official couldn’t believe that the #2 overall pick missed a shot that badly without getting fouled and blew the whistle. On another occasion Parker ripped down a defensive rebound, dribbled around for a while, and then attacked the rim where 3 defenders converged on him and one of them hacked him for FT’s with 11 seconds on the shot clock. While the outcome was good, he wasn’t getting anywhere without the fortunate foul and he took 13 seconds of dribbling in the process.
Further it’s a misnomer to call him a stretch 4. He takes 3’s sometimes, but he currently doesn’t take or make enough 3’s to be a spacer compared to how much time he spends inside or pounding the air out of the ball on the perimeter. He ran bad to only make 2 out of 11, but he needs to attempt more than two 3’s a game to truly space the floor. (EDIT: apparently this is wrong, since 1 3PA/100 possessions is all that is needed for bigs to space the floor. But his high ratio of poor mid-range shots to 3PA is currently looking like it will make it difficult for him to score with efficiency.)
Parker did show some willingness to pass. My perception is that he sees the floor fairly well and can tell when his teammates are in a favorable position to receive the ball, and he does enjoy occasionally setting up a teammate for an easy bucket. But his passing is also a work in progress, as a number of his passes ended up nowhere near his intended target for turnovers. And he still doesn’t pass nearly as much as he should, since he has a laser focused passion on getting buckets. He often decides to attack and shows no sign of reconsideration once he puts the ball on the floor. Consequently he finished with 7 assists and 25 turnovers.
I didn’t pay particularly close attention to his defense but when I did notice him on that end it was normally not good. He looks slow to rotate and his quicks caused him to struggle to stay in front of his man. Perhaps if I reviewed the tape diligently he wouldn’t look that bad. But given all of the energy he invests into his offensive game as well as his physical limitations, it’s hard to see him becoming a good pro defensive player and easy to see him becoming a sieve.
Ultimately it’s easy to see why Jabari was able to achieve such high RSCI and draft ratings: he is highly competitive with a superstar personality, a knack for scoring, and he’s capable of getting buckets from anywhere. But it’s also the same reason why he’s going to disappoint as a pro. I love competitive players, and it’s great when players like Marcus Smart channel their competitiveness to dominate defensively. But when Jabari gets mad and wants to win, he channels it by black holing it up and chucking awful shots, so his competitiveness works against him. While he is capable of scoring from anywhere he doesn’t have a single hot spot. And he creates cold spots by willfully launching the most difficult shots imaginable. Sometimes these go in, which make him seem all the more impressive when scouting him in HS/college when he has access to transition + bullyball buckets that make his overall stat line look good. So he gets 5 dunks, a 3 pointer, and an off balance Dirk shot from midrange as well as a handful of FT attempts, and he deceives observers into thinking that he’s a future NBA star. In reality he doesn’t really have a go to creation move. He doesn’t have Durant’s go go gadget arms, he doesn’t have Melo’s quick release, he doesn’t even have Wiggins’ super athleticism to create loads of space with step backs. He merely has the size, strength, and athleticism to get off a high volume of contested, off balance shots from mid-range that aren’t likely to go in. He still wasn’t the most efficient scorer in college, so as his volume of poor shots increases and his dunk volume decreases, it stands to reason that his NBA efficiency might get ugly.
Parker does have enough going on to become something, but I don’t think he’s a top 5 talent. While he’s decently explosive, his athleticism isn’t great and it’s largely offset by his lack of quicks that inhibit his perimeter defense and half-court creation. While his size and strength is good, he’s just barely big enough to play PF and this probably contributed to his deception. Much of his low level dominance can be chalked up to him physically developing sooner than his peers. His ability to score efficiently in the NBA largely hinges on the development of his shot making ability. But even if he becomes adept at making outside shots, he still plays an abhorrent style of offense that is not conducive to winning. He doesn’t seem to grasp that ball movement is a thing that matters on offense, and he also doesn’t seem to grasp that it hurts his team when he misses an awful shot or turns it over. As badly as he wants to win, he’s not going to succeed at it so long as he continues to go about it the wrong way. His style is the antithesis of what the Spurs do, which is a strong sign that it’s suboptimal. It’s nice that he’s a great rebounder for his size, but overall his non-scoring game isn’t too great considering his current lack of defense, passing, and floor spacing.
There is a case to be made that it’s just summer league, his teammates aren’t all that good, and teams are willing to let players play inefficiently to see what they have to offer. It’s just not a case that strikes me as likely to be true based on his college play. He started off by looking great in non-conference play: he was making his shots from everywhere, he was sharing the ball with his teammates, and none of his weaknesses were evident yet. But then he started to get exposed when conference play began, defenses became tougher, and games became tighter. Aside from the fact that his outside shots stopped falling, he started passing less and taking bad shots more. At first I thought maybe he was just adjusting to more athletic competition, or maybe he was just pressing due to being in a slump. Based on all of the reviews of his intelligence and feel for the game, I kept waiting for him to adjust to the tougher competition and adjust his game. It never happened, and by the end of the season I was done expecting good things from him. As a Duke fan, the toughest part of the Mercer loss was that I couldn’t place the biggest bet of my life on Jarnell Stokes and the Tennessee defense forcing Jabari into endless difficult shots and winning as a likely underdog. But instead Jabari turned on the cancer a game early when his teammates were creating an endless supply of 40% 3 point shots since he simply he had to get his 30% 2 point attempts off from mid-range. I was actually nervous that he was going to stay in college and ruin the 2014-15 team just like he did this past year’s team, so I decided to follow my strongly negative subconscious feelings and drop him on my draft board. Now that it appears that he’s taking the same hero ball approach to his NBA career that he did in college, I am done squinting for signs of change. Wake me up when it actually happens.
He still has some shot of becoming a useful fantasy player, but the combination of limited talent and horribly inefficient style of play is brutal for an actual NBA team that is trying to win. At this point I’d handicap his future to be something like this:
10% Carmelo Anthony
45% Glenn Robinson
45% Evan Turner/Derrick Williams hybrid
I would not take that player in the lottery. Aside from the fact that I feel I am stretching my optimism to its boundary by giving him 10% Melo equity, I believe it’s a crappy upside since I don’t think Melo is nearly as valuable to winning as his box score stats suggest. The other outcomes are completely worthless. Even though Glenn Robinson posted a 17.5 career PER, I don’t perceive him as a useful player since you need to be much more efficient than he was to black hole it up on offense, not play defense, and still make a positive impact. And if Jabari hits his downside, he’s contending for worst player in the NBA.
The only way Parker actually becomes a winning player is if he somehow sees the light and massively improves his defense, passing, and shot selection (which would give him value that the aforementioned comparisons lack), but he showed no signs of this at Duke and doesn’t seem that interested in it based on summer league. Perhaps he can be the one to prove me wrong, but I think this is just who he naturally is and I am not one to bet on a person changing his nature, especially not when his nature has earned him such positive feedback up to now. And even if that miraculously happens, I still don’t think he has crazy high upside like Andrew Wiggins would if he suddenly “gets it.” As of right now I feel that Jabari Parker was comfortably the worst pick in the draft, and he very well may be the most harmful player in the NBA in 2014-2015.
A few notes before Bucks fans hate and unfollow me
I assume I’ll get some comments like “cool out man, it’s just summer league.” My negativity regarding Jabari may not be fully warranted, he had elite recruiting pedigree, elite draft pedigree, and posted good stats at both Duke and during summer league. These signs generally point toward a player being good, and even the sideline reporter Alie LaForce was gloating about how big of a mistake it was for the Cavs to take Wiggins over Parker when Jabari went off yesterday (I’m a huge Wiggins critic but at this point I take Wiggins over Jabari in a heartbeat). But considering all of the macro information suggesting good potential for him, I just don’t feel it when I watch him play. I’m publishing this as a test of my scouting aptitude. I never watched Evan Turner or Derrick Williams much in college, but based on their stats they seemed like totally reasonable selections at #2 overall. But stats never tell the full story so I’d like to see if I can pick out these disappointments before they are obvious to the untrained eye. And if Jabari actually becomes good, at least I will know in the future that these signs aren’t a full fledged death knell. But I’m a gambler and I like going out on limbs, and this is the one limb that I really feel like going overboard on from summer league. So let’s see how it all works out. In the meantime I wouldn’t mind hearing devil’s advocate cases in the comments regarding what lack of negatives or presence of positives set Jabari apart from the Williams/Turner types.