Early Friday afternoon Jabari Parker of Duke, a player many thought had a chance to lead the Blue Devils on a Carmelo Anthony-esque run to a national championship, possibly saw his career come to an unceremonious end when his team fell to a 14th-seeded Mercer team by a 78-71 final. Parker turned in one of his worst performances of the season in the loss, scoring just 14 points on 4-14 shooting and missing all three of his three point attempts. Parker was a liability on defense, much like his teammates, as an experienced Mercer team ran their offense at will and handed the Blue Devils an opening game loss to a double-digit seed for the second time in three seasons. As the freshman from Chicago soaked up arguably his most painful loss to date, speculation as to whether he would enter the 2014 NBA Draft immediately moved to the forefront. Parker was noncommittal following the loss, but many imagine he will enter the draft as he is widely considered one of the top three potential prospects in what is a loaded 2014 class.
Parker’s comment on his NBA or stay decision: “I don’t know. Me and coach will talk about it. But I don’t know right now.”
— Stephen Wiseman (@stevewisemanNC) March 21, 2014
For months now, Parker has been the most common of the prized freshman prospects as far as possibly returning for his sophomore year. While putting an entire season, especially one as impressive as Parker’s, under a one-game microscope does not do justice to the ACC’s freshman of the year, it was tough to ignore some of the holes in his game as Duke fell to Mercer.
Nevertheless, every potential entry into the 2014 Draft has his red flags. Whether it is Joel Embiid‘s ailing back, Andrew Wiggins penchant for checking out of games, or Julius Randle‘s undefined position there is no slam-dunk prospect that a franchise can hitch its wagon to and ensure a vault into title contention. Depending on who enters their name in the draft, though all of the aforementioned names will be lottery picks, the poking and prodding of each one will reveal the strengths and weaknesses as they translate to the NBA level.
Though, somewhat unsurprisingly, it is surfaced recently that the 76ers prefer Wiggins over the lot, they will most certainly place Parker under almost equal level of scrutiny should their top target not be available. Despite being in the forefront of college hoops since he committed to Duke and turning in several prolific performances, not every 76ers fan might know what type of player they might be getting if Parker ends up in Philadelphia. I am no NBA scout and am certain to be missing key aspects of the young man’s game that people actually get paid to nail down. That said, I have watched a lot of Duke games and have picked up on both desirable and troubling areas of Parker’s game that affect my opinion of him as a draft prospect.
Starting with the negatives, though few, are glaring. Simply put, Parker’s defensive effort leaves much to be desired. In games like Friday’s it was a serious hindrance to his team’s efforts in trying to comeback. In fact, Duke’s best stretch of the second half came with Parker on the bench and they were unable to pull out a win over an overmatched Mercer team. Despite being an imposing physical presence, Parker often refused to engage his man in Duke’s pressure man-to-man defense, the same style that will be required of him at the next level. Parker occasionally would turn in a highlight reel block and was a formidable presence on the boards, averaging almost nine a game. Still, on a bad Duke team in terms of their defense, Parker managed to stand out as often the worst of the bunch.
We’ll highlight the positives of Parker’s offensive game down the road, but there are some areas that got him in trouble at times. Early on against Mercer, something that happened against strong defensive teams such as Virginia, Parker tried to bull his way to the rim only to turn the ball over or force up a bad shot. Parker is strong and explosive enough to dominate in the lane against more porous teams, but he sometimes failed to acknowledge when pulling the ball out and reassessing the situation would have been a more effective approach. Being aggressive is a good thing for an offensive player of Parker’s caliber. It can be a negative, though, if one fails to recognize when a more methodical approach would help the greater good. Though he has the capability to, Parker’s three point shot became much less of a threat as the season went on. In five of his last seven games, including the loss to Mercer, Parker did not hit a single shot from deep and it made it easier to defend him. A lot of this can be chalked up to the fact that Parker is only 19 and the wear and tear of the college season will make any freshman lose his legs down the stretch. Parker will have to improve his endurance and athleticism at the next level, something one can assume will happen with an NBA training staff at his disposal.
Now to the good, and after highlighting his shortcomings, Parker’s game is well beyond his years and he will be a force on the next level. On several occasions during his season, Parker demonstrated a staggering offensive skillset complete with an array of moves that some NBA players are incapable of executing. He can shoot, he has deceptive explosiveness when attacking the rim, and is not afraid to mix it up inside to pick up the dirty points. Parker is an excellent free throw shooter and an adequate passer for his position.
For those who watched Duke games this season, an impressive area of Parker’s game was his ability in transition. Sometimes on multiple occasions, he would snare a rebound and go coast to coast for a thunderous dunk. This would be more difficult at the NBA level, but one has to assume that Parker will be a more developed athlete in a year and it is a skill that could help him get easy points in the NBA.
A big part of Parker’s total package is the intangibles. He is a vocal presence on and off the court and relishes the pressure of being the focal point of the opposition. Though he did not have a good game against Mercer, that did not stop him from staying aggressive and going down guns blazing. For those who prefer Parker ahead of Wiggins, it is this area of his game that sets him apart. Especially as a scorer, Parker must maintain his short memory when he is having a bad game. Rarely did you see the young man get down on himself, even when he went through a few swoons over the course of the season. Much of this is in part to the mentoring of coach Mike Krzyzewski, but Parker’s upbringing in Chicago also played a big role in developing a bullet-proof exterior. Any player, especially a 19 year old, can be upset about getting knocked out of the NCAA tournament. Parker was, but it was one of the few signs of vulnerability shown by him despite having a spotlight on him since committing.
Parker turned in as strong a freshman season as any could have expected from him and he wore a huge target on his chest while doing so. It has gotten to the point, between Parker, Wiggins, and Embiid, where a selection may just come down to personal preference. Each player will almost certainly bring an immense talent to a team in desperate need of one. Parker may decide to go back to school, and one could not fault him for doing so. However, should he declare for the draft, he will have proved everything on the college level that he had to for consideration as the top pick.