Jabari Parker was lights out last season when Giannis Antetokounmpo moved to the point. In the 28 games following the All-Star break, Parker caught fire, averaging almost 19 points and 6 rebounds per game, all while shooting just a hair under 50% from the field.
Before the 2014 Draft, most experts projected Parker to be an explosive scorer in the ilk of a Carmelo Anthony, but limited in other areas, such as defense and passing.
Looking at the numbers for both players in their second season, there’s not actually as large of a gap, as one would expect. Anthony, who also played just one year of college basketball, averaged just under 21 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game. Parker’s line was 14.1, 5.2, and 1.7, but bear in mind that Parker was coming off an ACL injury and missed almost 75% of his rookie season.
A more accurate comparison would be using Parker’s post All-Star break numbers, and although it’s a limited subset of games, it’s actually indicative of what Parker would have looked like without the injury. Prior to his injury, he had only played 25 NBA games, and then appeared in 76 games this past season, with 28 after the All-Star break. Parker played 73 games between his curtailed rookie season and pre-offensive explosion, just under a full season of games.
Parker’s line included 18.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game, while shooting 49.8% from the field.
Anthony’s line was again 20.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game, while shooting 43.1% from the field.
In the equivalent of about 1.25 NBA seasons, Parker is already advanced to an efficiency point that Anthony didn’t hit until his third season. His scoring isn’t far behind Anthony’s, nor are his assists and he’s actually been a better rebounder too.
Parker is already awfully good, but there are still a number of areas he needs to iron out. The first one that jumps to mind is of course offensively is his three-point shooting. For his career, Jabari only attempts one three-pointer every two games. Unfortunately, the modern NBA is predicated on spacing and the ability of power forwards to shoot the ball from beyond the arc, and Jabari’s unwillingness to even attempt one can be troublesome for the Bucks. When he does shoot a three, he often misses, shooting just about 25.5% from beyond the arc.
Anthony didn’t make the leap into true offensive superstar until his third season, in which he scored 26.5 points per game on 48.1% shooting, and it wasn’t even until his fifth season that he became a consistent three-point shooter. In his first four seasons, Anthony shot at a 27.9% clip from beyond the arc, a pretty awful number. That number skyrocketed to 35.6% for the next four seasons of his career. It’s not unlikely that Parker can make a similar jump, especially given that he’s already displayed an affinity for efficiency.
There is some bad news though. While Parker shoots an excellent percentage from the field overall, he struggles from midrange. The reason his field goal percentage is so high is because of how selective he is with his shot attempts, which is a tremendous sign of maturity on his part. 46% of the shots, he takes are within three feet of the rim, and on such shot attempts Parker converts at an extremely high 65.7% rate. However, from 3-10 feet, his clip plummets to 35.6%. At the 10-16 feet range, he is actually a little better shooting a sliver under 40%, but beyond 16 feet he absolutely falls apart.
Parker also has some other areas he could improve.
An underrated part of his game is actually his athleticism and ball handling ability. At Duke, Parker demonstrated a knack for grabbing a rebound and actually taking it all the way to the rim for a basket. It would be great to see him to do more of that in the NBA. Another thing he could do is to pass the ball in transition, once he pushes it up the court. Parker’s assist numbers are surprisingly low for a player, who understands the game, so well. Even during his stint at Duke, he wasn’t really great at getting assists, and while he has improved in the NBA, it’s still a weakness of his.
A part of the low assist rate comes from the Bucks overall lack of perimeter shooting, but this past season Parker played 90% of his time on the court as a power forward. If he can develop into an adept passer, especially from the elbow, it would generate easy cutting opportunities for players like Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton.
On top of that, there is a really interesting wrinkle that the Bucks started employing after Antetokounmpo took over at the point. It involved a spread pick & roll, and when defenses opted not to switch it, Antetokounmpo would simply go to the low block, where the original screener started the play and post up on the smaller defender. Often times, the screener would be either Plumlee or Parker.
Both players would often then cut to the rim allowing Antetokounmpo to give them an easy pass, but it’s likely that opposing teams will begin to double Antetokounmpo next season with Plumlee or Parker’s defender in order to prevent the pass to the cut. In that case, Parker could just sit at the elbow and take a midrange shot, or he could wait for the weak side defender to switch over and then hit an open player on the opposite side of the court for an easy three. It’s that kind of decision-making and deft passing that Parker will need to develop to become an overall offensive threat, rather than just being an explosive scorer.
Thus far, Parker’s best talent has been attacking the rim, but if he can develop a more consistent jumper and become a better passer, not only will he generate easy offense for himself, but his teammates as well.
Going back to Anthony, his career high in assists per game actually came this past season at 4.2 per game. As Parkerand the players around him improve, he could easily top Anthony as a passer, starting very early in his career.
Another area where Parker already has Anthony beat is his ability to move without the ball. This past season alone, nearly 72% of Parker’s 2-point makes were assisted. Parker is not a ball stopper, a label that has haunted Anthony throughout his career. This is important because as Anthony has grown older, he has become more and more of an isolation scorer and that coupled with his inability to distribute the ball makes it easy for defenses to zero in on him and suffocate his team’s offense.
Parker has all the makings of being an offensive superstar, but has already made improvements, which could put him on a career trajectory far beyond anything Carmelo Anthony has been capable of. While there’s no doubt that Anthony is an offensive superstar, it’s exclusively a result of his ability to score. Parker can be far more than just a scorer and he’s in a situation, which will allow him to impact the team’s offense in ways other than just putting the ball in the basket.