It seems as if Andrew Wiggins' legend has grown to the point where his seat atop draft boards is reserved.
He's the favorite coming in for sure. The heavy favorite. But favorites don't usually have challengers like Jabari Parker in their class.
The 2012 Gatorade National Player of the Year and a four-time state champion at Simeon Career Academy, Parker can ball.
I'd consider him the most refined offensive player in the draft class. And with a 6'8'', 235-pound frame in the mold of a young Carmelo Anthony, he has the look and game of an NBA superstar.
But this Wiggins kid, though.
He has upside that rarely shows up on NBA radars. And with a first pick in the draft, that's what teams chase after.
However, Parker's ceiling doesn't exactly stop at the third-floor cafeteria. His elevator goes all the way up to the rooftop where the NBA stars throw private parties.
And Parker has an extremely good shot at copping an invite one day.
Though he's not leading it, he's at least in the discussion for No. 1 prospect in the country. To grab that top spot on the board, he must clear a few things up with regard to his on-court capabilities. Then, cross his fingers and hope that Wiggins doesn't blow up.
Wiggins' towering ceiling is powered by his unparalleled athletic ability, which is what ultimately gives him the edge over Parker.
Parker lacks full access to what I like to call the "easy bucket feature." While Wiggins is often seen soaring above traffic for uncontested finishes above the rim, Parker relies on more difficult shot-making at tougher angles.
In the past, we haven't seen the same lift from Parker that allows Wiggins to get dunks instead of finesse shots or off-balance layups.
This isn't to say Parker can't throw down, but we're talking about two different kinds of elevation here.
This might be a perfect opportunity for Parker to take advantage of a bar that's set low. Many are sleeping on his athletic ability as he starts his freshman season at Duke.
Given that we're sizing up Parker with Wiggins, as well as superior athletes like Kentucky's Julius Randle and Arizona's Aaron Gordon, the perception is that "he [Parker] isn't as athletic compared to the rest of his class," as one NBA scout told me.
But Parker is no stiff out there. He's actually a lot better than advertised when you factor in his size and strength.
And Parker needs to show it whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Wiggins is going to make some plays this year that make you question what you saw. He's like an animated cartoon or video-game character. With some highlight plays of his own, Parker can help close a gap that's perceived to be significant in size.
If Parker can prove he's really not that much worse of an athlete, maybe his refined and loaded offensive game could make for a more attractive draft-day package.
He's already put his deceptive athletic ability on display a number of times early this year. Making plays like the one below on a regular basis would help eliminate the ammo for critics.
One weakness that might be tough for Parker to hide is his lateral quickness as a defender away from the rim. Wiggins has him good in that department.
But Parker can help diminish the concern over his defensive ability by playing with a little more bounce in his step.
Parker's defensive motor tends to sputter from time to time. Whether it's just been high school boredom or general fatigue, taking possessions off isn't going to fly from here on out.
I've caught him a few times showing a lackluster effort chasing his man around the floor.
Check out this play below. With his eyes locked in on the ball-handler from across the court, Parker completely loses sight of his man, who slips backdoor for a run.
While his man is cutting through the lane, Parker can be seen flat-footed, showing little urgency or energy.
His man eventually pops out for an uncontested jumper, while Parker is caught up in traffic seconds behind the play.
Plays like these aren't going to break his draft stock, but they're certainly not going to give it a boost. When you're competing with a guy like Wiggins, there's just no room for unforced errors.
Getting to the Bucket
Between his lack of explosiveness and comfort on the perimeter, Parker ends up settling for a lot of tough jumpers.
He lacks that turn-the-corner burst and blow-by speed, at least when you compare him to Wiggins.
Completely isolated at the top of the arc, Parker is in a position where he can get any shot he wants. There's a wide-open driving lane on his strong side without any help in sight. In fact, the only help defender has his back turned on the play.
But instead of taking it to the rack, Parker settles for a lower percentage shot, opting for a challenged step-back jumper.
Parker's lack of explosiveness is a weakness known among NBA scouts. Settling on the perimeter when lanes are available could add fuel to skeptics' fires. On the other hand, attacking the rim and getting to the line could help put those fires out.
Parker went through a tough period during the summer of 2012 after breaking his foot playing for Team USA in the FIBA Under-17 World Championships. His conditioning took a hit during the recovery. Unlike Wiggins, Parker isn't exactly a feather out there. He doesn't move or glide as effortlessly.
Parker appears to be in tip-top shape entering the year, but it's staying that way that should ultimately be the challenge moving forward. "Can he stay healthy, especially throughout the grind of an NBA season?" was one scout's question with regard to his future outlook.
If Parker shows any sign of being injury-prone or susceptible to weight gain, it's highly unlikely a team will risk a No. 1 pick on him with Wiggins on the board.
So You're Saying There's a Chance...
At the end of the day, based on the whole "potential" factor, the race to the top of draft boards might be out of Parker's control. The odds aren't in his favor, but the door isn't exactly sealed shut. He'll need to maximize what he can control and hope Wiggins shows signs of vulnerability.
But I've seen crazier things happen. Parker enters the year as our No. 2 prospect on the board with a long but possible shot at usurping Andrew Wiggins from No. 1.
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