Duke University's Jabari Parker has the potential to be a franchise player in the NBA. And with the size and versatility to play either forward position, landing him would be on par with hitting a jackpot for the Utah Jazz.
The team's essentially set for the future at four of the five starting positions—Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors inside, Trey Burke at point (though I'm not sold on that one yet) and Gordon Hayward at one of the two wings.
Not long ago, I thought Alec Burks would soon establish himself as the starting 2, but it's looking more and more like he's best suited for the role of sixth man. That leaves an opening opposite Hayward.
Parker could be the young man to fill that opening. And there's a good chance he'll be available right around where the Jazz are selecting in the 2014 draft.
Before Andrew Wiggins reclassified to a senior in high school, Parker was the top prospect in the 2013 recruiting class. A foot injury and the emergence of a few other prospects has caused his NBA stock to fall even further. He's now fourth in Chad Ford of ESPN's top 100 prospects, and seventh in the rankings from Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.
I see Utah finishing somewhere in the 5-to-10 range of the lottery, which is right where these projections have Parker ending up.
Of course, that all could change depending on how everyone performs in college this season. Wiggins, Dante Exum, Julius Randle or Aaron Gordon could underwhelm while Parker thrives—or vice versa. But for the purposes of this discussion, let's just assume Parker falls to whatever spot in which Utah finds itself.
If he does, the Jazz should not pass up the opportunity to take him for at least three reasons: He can provide a scoring punch, make the other young players better and his character will be welcome in Utah.
When you watch YouTube highlight reels of Parker, you usually just see a bunch of dunks. The BallIsLife.com mixtapes of his junior and senior seasons are fun to watch, but don't fully capture his complete offensive game.
To get a sense of everything Parker can do as a scorer, watch the highlights of his 28-point performance against Oak Hill in January, 2013.
Bear in mind that this display came against a team that was ranked higher than Parker's Simeon Wolverines and that the majority of his points came from jumpers.
Go to the 2:00 mark and watch the next three plays to get a feel for his ability as a shooter. The first is a catch-and-shoot three, followed by a fadeaway from the short corner. The third play is the most impressive to me—an 18-foot pull-up off a spin move and with a man in his face.
At times—this game certainly being one of those—he looks like Carmelo Anthony offensively. That's where I think his ceiling is as a scorer. And even if he doesn't quite get there, the points he can provide might be just what Utah needs.
Right now, it looks like the only two players on the roster who can provide consistent offense are Gordon Hayward and Enes Kanter. Parker may have the potential to be a better scorer than both.
Parker also has the abilities of a potentially great playmaker. He's 6'8" with a 7'0" wingspan, but handles the ball like a guard—keeping both his dribble and center of gravity low.
He's also shown the ability to find his teammates and a willingness to get the ball to them if he isn't open himself. Even as his team's primary offensive option, Parker averaged 2.7 assists a game as a senior, according to his bio on Duke's website.
And simply passing the ball isn't the only way Parker would make the young core in Utah even better. Hayward is the best playmaker on the roster right now and having an elite scorer like Parker on the floor with him would increase his assist totals. He'll also make it more difficult for opposing defenders to help down on Kanter when he catches the ball inside.
In a May 2012 feature from Sports Illustrated, Jeff Benedict profiled Parker—not just as a basketball player, but as a young man who's deeply influenced by his faith.
Parker is a practicing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (also known as Mormon or LDS), who woke up at the crack of dawn every morning in high school to attend seminary and study the scriptures. Not only does that indicate a level of commitment and discipline most prospects completely lack, but it makes him a great cultural fit in Utah.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, over 60 percent of the Beehive State's population is LDS. Parker will likely be a fan favorite wherever he ends up, but if it's in Utah, the reaction will be borderline euphoric.
He'll also fit the team because of his willingness to defend. This is an area in which Parker can be much better than Anthony. He averaged 2.1 blocks a senior in high school and playing for Mike Krzyzewski at Duke will only improve his defensive instincts, habits and IQ.
General manager Dennis Lindsey wants to build a team that wins on defense and Parker could be nearly as important in achieving that as freshly extended Derrick Favors.
Parker isn't without flaws. Some scouts feel he's merely a solid athlete and not a great one (though plays like this one from Duke's intersquad scrimmage suggest otherwise). And there is some question about his long-term upside.
But the good outweighs the bad—by a lot. And adding Parker to the young core of Kanter, Favors and Hayward could make the Jazz a playoff team as early as 2015.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.
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