The thought of a top-ranked recruit—a possible one-and-done player—like Duke's Jabari Parker playing out of position as a freshman would seem to be an oddity in this era of college basketball.
Coaches not only have to sell these recruits on the program, but also how they fit and how they’re going to get to the league. The goal of getting drafted high after one season is a top priority.
In the case of Parker, there's a good chance that he'll have to sacrifice.
Duke swingman Rodney Hood, a transfer from Mississippi State, recently told the Associated Press that he considers himself a shooting guard on offense and a small forward on defense.
Hood is 6'8" and 215 pounds. He's best equipped to start at the 3 for the Blue Devils. That just so happens to be the position of Parker as well. Parker is 6'8" and 235 pounds.
If playing a guessing game on which player Mike Krzyzewski will play at the 4-spot, the smart money would be on the guy carrying around 20 more pounds.
It's also not fair to pigeon hole every one-and-done recruit as the same. Parker is a winner. He won four Illinois state titles at Simeon High School out of Chicago, and guys who go to Duke aren't typically going to show up and tell Coach K what's best for them.
What's best for the Blue Devils is to get both Parker and Hood on the court at the same time as much as possible.
This could be beneficial and at the same time add an element of the unknown for Parker's future NBA draft stock.
The one knock on Parker is that he’s not an elite athlete. ESPN.com recruiting analyst Dave Telep wrote recently about Parker, "He's capable of slowing down small forwards, but the high-high-level athletes can give him trouble."
There's no shortage of high-level athletes on the wing in the NBA, although it's not like Parker will be seeing those types on a nightly basis in the ACC at small forward.
The question for Duke becomes: Can Parker hold his own on the defensive end against power forwards?
Parker definitely has the size, and as Telep noted in his scouting report, Parker guarded a lot of bigs in high school. The ACC will have a mix this season of face-up 4s—Notre Dame's Cameron Biedscheid comes to mind—and big men who prefer life in the paint—like NC State's T.J. Warren.
Parker will hardly ever be at a size disadvantage at 6'8". The only notable power forwards in the league taller than 6'8" are both 6’9”—North Carolina's James Michael McAdoo and Pittsburgh's Talib Zanna.
If Parker can hold his own on the defensive end, his presence at the 4-spot makes Duke extremely dangerous on the offensive end.
From what I've seen—mostly watching the high school All-Star games—Parker has the most developed offensive game of any of the heralded incoming freshmen in this class.
Parker has range out to the arc and also has a really nice mid-range game. He can attack facing up and he'll be able to use his quickness—compared to the bigs who may have to guard him, he should hold the advantage in that department—to get good shots. On the rare occasions that Parker is guarded by a defender who can match his size and quickness, Parker's footwork and understanding of how to attack angles should allow him to get his points. That's what separates him from the rest of the class.
Parker also gives Duke the option of posting him up, where he can use his smooth turnaround jumper or attack the rim.
This all sounds like the description of a heady NBA veteran—maybe a Paul Pierce—and that's why Parker is so special. He may not be an Andrew Wiggins-level athlete, but his understanding of the game is at such a high level that he'll be coveted at the next level.
Even if he cannot show off his ability to guard NBA small forwards, the NBA likes productive winners with skill. That's Parker.
As for the Blue Devils' chances of contending for a national title, they need a productive Parker. And just because the skill level and hype is there, that doesn't mean Parker will be dominant right away. A few years ago, Harrison Barnes showed up at North Carolina with similar acclaim, and it took Barnes some time to adjust. He has almost been a better fit in the NBA than he ever was at UNC.
On the defensive end, it would also help Parker if Duke's one true big man with size, 7-footer Marshall Plumlee, develops and plays a lot of minutes. Having a rim protector next to Parker would make his move to the 4-spot easier.
But even if Plumlee isn't able to play big minutes and the Blue Devils are forced to go "small," they have the luxury of a 6'8" small forward in Hood to help in the post and on the boards.
It's an arrangement that Coach K should be able to make work and Parker should embrace.