Anyone who thinks the 2014 NBA draft is "Andrew Wiggins or bust" clearly doesn't know enough about Jabari Parker. While Wiggins should be considered the early favorite to go No. 1 in the 2014 draft, Parker isn't far behind.
Before Wiggins reclassified to the recruiting class of 2013, Parker was viewed as the top prize in that year's group. At the end of his junior season in high school, Sports Illustrated featured Parker on a cover, and SI writer Jeff Benedict called him the "best high school basketball player since LeBron James."
His praise didn't stop there.
Benedict described Parker as an NBA superstar in the making, saying, "Jabari handles the ball like a point guard and has a crossover that makes defenders stumble. His first step has been compared to Oscar Robertson's. He can drain threes, yet he goes to the rim with power and uses his 6'11½" wingspan to block shots and snatch rebounds."
When you're drawing comparisons to two of the top players in NBA history as a junior in high school, you're doing OK for yourself.
Here, we'll look at how Parker became one of the most lusted-after prospects in the class of 2013, how he'll fit in at Duke University during the 2013-14 season and what to expect from Parker if (and when) he declares for the 2014 NBA draft.
Breaking Down Parker's Game
The term "combo forward" tends to have a negative connotation in the NBA. It often suggests a player isn't quick enough to guard 3's but is too weak to guard 4's. Parker, on the other hand, should be successful rotating between both forward positions interchangeably upon joining the league.
For a player who's listed at 6'8", 241 pounds, Parker possesses sensational ball-handling ability. He's not a point forward like James or Magic Johnson, but he's a willing passer who should thrive both in college and the NBA because of his basketball IQ.
Unlike many elite prospects who develop go-to moves early in their careers at the expense of their overall development, Parker touts a more well-rounded game. He's got enough mass to bully opponents in the post, but he also possesses a nice shooting stroke all the way out to the three-point line.
The main thing that could hold Parker back from becoming an NBA superstar? He's not an athletic freak along the lines of Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook.
Concerns about his athleticism only escalated after he suffered a fracture in his right foot before his senior year and initially struggled to recover from it. He reportedly gained upward of 35 pounds, according to Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune, before bouncing back into shape and leading his high school team to its fourth straight state championship.
If Parker maintains his conditioning throughout his freshman year at Duke, he should mitigate many of the questions about his athletic ability. There aren't many 6'8" forwards who can consistently blow by their defenders off the dribble, after all.
What to Expect at Duke
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has a dilemma on his hands with Parker, as C.J. Moore, Bleacher Report's lead college basketball writer, explained in mid-July.
Rodney Hood, a 6'8" transfer from Mississippi State, told the Associated Press he sees himself as a shooting guard on offense and a small forward on defense.
Assuming Coach K agrees, the 210-pound Hood could end up pushing Parker to the 4.
If Parker manages to hold his own against opposing power forwards, he'd only become that much more appealing to an NBA team in the summer of 2014.
Defensively, Parker should be able to step up to the challenge. His near-seven-foot wingspan will help compensate for his average lateral foot speed, which tends to prove even more problematic when challenging elite wing players like Wiggins.
Offensively, Parker will have his way with most opposing bigs. They won't have a chance of stopping him when he's attacking the basket facing up, and he'll be able to break most opponents off the dribble, too.
While Parker projects more as a 3 than a 4 in the NBA, showing off his versatility at Duke should only help his draft stock.
How He'll Fit in the NBA
Assuming Parker decides to declare for the 2014 draft, he'll have plenty of competition at the top. Wiggins, Julius Randle, Marcus Smart, Aaron Gordon and Andrew Harrison all lurk as potential top-five picks at the moment.
Despite the league's continued movement toward small ball, Parker will likely see a majority of his time as a rookie at small forward. He won't be able to bully NBA power forwards nearly as easily as he will while playing at Duke.
His elite shooting ability should make him a surefire star for whichever team is lucky enough to draft him. He's able to score in a number of ways—facing up, off the dribble, in transition, attacking the post—which should prove nightmarish for the opponent tasked with guarding him.
Then again, Shabazz Muhammad entered college with the perception of being an unstoppable scorer too. An unfortunate series of circumstances during his freshman season sent him plummeting down draft boards, turning him into a late lottery pick in a weak draft.
Barring another bad injury and rapid weight gain, Parker likely won't have those concerns. He is, after all, the first-ever freshman to play for Simeon High School's varsity team, an honor that not even Derrick Rose (another Simeon alum) has on his resume.
Back in December 2012, B/R's Lance Fresh identified Carmelo Anthony as an apt NBA comparison for Parker. He highlighted the ability to light up the scoreboard as their main similarity, noting that each can open up offense for his teammates.
While Anthony tends to take plays off, Fresh pointed out Parker's motor isn't wired the same way. He's a player whose effort likely won't ever be a question during his NBA career.
The aforementioned questions about his athleticism and his ability to guard 3's on a full-time basis will assuredly persist until he makes it to the NBA. Even if Parker spends most of his time at the 3 while at Duke and dominates his competition, going against players like James, Anthony and Kevin Durant is an entirely different beast.
As long as he continues to hone his all-around game, however, there's no reason to believe Parker won't be up to the challenge. Few forwards possess the ball-handling and passing ability he does, which, combined with the multitude of ways he can score, makes him an all-around dangerous player.
Wiggins may be the most can't-miss prospect in the 2014 draft class, but Parker shouldn't be seen as a consolation prize. Had he been eligible for the 2013 draft, he would have most assuredly been taken No. 1 overall.
Despite the competition in 2014, don't be surprised to see Parker selected within the first few picks.
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