It was just five short years ago that Jabari Parker was the center of the amateur basketball world. He was the reigning Gatorade Player of the Year, winning it as a Junior in high school, and was heralded as the best high school player since LeBron James. He won four straight Illinois State Championships, something no one in the history of the state had ever done.
After a fracture in his foot slowed him during his senior year in high school, he had a very unceremonious career at Duke, probably best remembered for getting upset by Mercer in the first round of the NCAA tournament. During this run, Parker ceded his title as the No. 1 player in the class of 2013 to Andrew Wiggins, and went from the lock number one pick in the 2014 NBA draft to the second pick at best. After being selected by the Milwaukee Bucks second overall, Parker saw his rookie season come to a screeching halt after he tore his ACL. During his second year, Parker struggled to find his offensive game and found himself getting lost defensively as many rookies do.
Now, finally, in what is technically his third season, Parker is showing everyone why Sports Illustrated pegged him as the next big thing.
During his second season, Parker found his place in the offense late in the season as an effective off-ball cutter, ripping down dunks off of baseline cuts. Giannis Antetokounmpo is clearly the lead dog for the Bucks, but Jason Kidd has done a nice job staggering minutes and allowing Parker to run the show with second units. With his body all the way back to pre-injuries form, Parker has regained his explosive first step to the hoop and exploits slower forwards who try and guard him. Teams have tried to hide smaller, quicker players on him to avoid this, and Parker burns them, too, with a commanding post up game and his rediscovered mid-range jump shot.
Where Parker has made his most noticeable strides this season is beyond the three-point line. He’s shooting 41.2% from distance on nearly four attempts per game. This kind of leap is astronomical, given that he attempted 35 threes all of last season. This has put to rest a lot of the questions people were asking about the Giannis-Jabari pairing. Last season, there were legitimate concerns about whether, long-term, those two could play together, since neither are seen as plus shooters. With the emergence of Parker as a genuine three-point threat, they have gone from potential disaster pairing to among the best young duos in the league.
Parker is far from a perfect player; his net rating is a measly .2 because his defense is still suspect. He has done a nice job guarding bigger wings, but has struggled to guard the screener in pick and roll situations. This is a concern, but remember that Parker is only 21 years old. The two things NBA players get better at as they move into their prime is jump shooting and defense, and Parker has already taken a massive step forward as a shooter – it’s safe to assume he will become a better defender. Jump shooting and defense can be taught; there is no way to teach this.
If someone asked general managers and coaches six months ago who would end up being the better player, Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker, almost every single one of them would have said Wiggins. Odds are both players will end up being phenomenal, but if Parker can continue to ascend and work out the holes in his game, he may pass Wiggins by. Giannis is finally getting the recognition he deserves, and it will not be long before Milwaukee’s other budding star gets his just due as well.