As Duke freshman Jabari Parker auditions for the NBA, the basketball world is trying to get an early read on how his talents project to the pro level.
Despite his unsightly outing at Notre Dame (seven points on 2-of-10 shooting), Parker remains the most NBA-ready youngster in college basketball, and he could soon be a star in the Association. The 6'8" forward has a tremendous combination of skills and savvy, and his inside-outside repertoire will pose matchup quandaries for foes.
The two superstars he's regularly compared to are Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce, and fans are already debating which player Parker will mirror more closely throughout his career.
He exhibits striking similarities to both, but what does the future hold? In playing style and overall impact, is Parker the next 'Melo or Pierce?
Shot Creating and Scoring
Anthony and Pierce are two of the best shot creators of their generation, as they rely more on skill and footwork than sheer athleticism. They can score in any situation because they use elite ball-handling skills and angles to find holes in opposing defenses.
Both design separation for jumpers. Both use dribble spin moves. Both finish smoothly with either hand.
Where they differ is the speed and cadence of their footwork and movements. Even in his prime, Pierce tended to meander and weave deliberately as he worked for a shot, whereas 'Melo utilizes speedy bursts.
While Parker has the patience and composure to slowly find his windows like Pierce, he also possesses the quick first step and linear movements of Anthony.
Parker also springs up and elevates on his jumper to shoot over opponents like Anthony does, whereas Pierce has never relied much on lift to get his shot off.
In addition, Parker's spin move is similar to 'Melo's. Watch Anthony post up and wheel around on a dime to finish...
...followed by Parker's identical spin cycle:
Pierce uses spin moves as well, but they're usually off the dribble, slower and not quite as tight (yet still highly effective).
To be fair, some of Parker's best shot-creating maneuvers are carbon copies of Pierce's.
Here's where the Pierce-Parker comparison falls short of the 'Melo-Parker comparison (in the offense department, at least): low-post production.
Sure, Pierce can take advantage of mismatches here and there or occasionally post someone up for a short-range jumper or pump fake. But Parker is 6'8", 240 pounds, and he'll be able to do a lot more in the paint. His impact and scoring ability will be much more comparable to Anthony, who has become a force on the block and can legitimately compete with power forwards.
The Dirty Work and Intangibles
There's no need to complicate things: As a passer, Parker will probably be more like Pierce. "The Truth" is a much better distributor than 'Melo, mainly because he's a more willing passer than Anthony.
Even at 18 years old, Parker exhibits a mature approach to each possession. For the most part, he tries to procure the best possible shot for his squad, even if it means passing up his own opportunity and finding a teammate.
Time will tell if he registers the kind of assist numbers that Pierce enjoyed over the years (he averaged four-plus assists per game during seven different seasons), but it's no stretch to think he'll be a better passer than Anthony.
In the rebounding department, Parker's upside will be a bit closer to 'Melo, who notched seven-plus boards per game a couple of times. Pierce is a good rebounder for a 6'6" swingman, but he doesn't possess the height and length of combo forwards.
Parker's defense is frustratingly inconsistent thus far, especially from a footwork and awareness standpoint. In help-defense scenarios, he's often too late or opts not to physically contest drives and shots. He has frequently looked lost, especially on screens.
Remind you of anyone in particular?
ESPN's Jeff Goodman pointed to Parker's lackluster defense as the reason for his benching at the end of Duke's loss to Notre Dame: "He needs Jabari to start taking more pride in defense. This was clearly a message."
The good news is he can correct many of his 'Melo-esque shortcomings on defense over time.
As he embarks on his NBA career, he has a chance to be an improved stopper and competitor like Pierce. While Parker may not have the same fire and outward intensity that Pierce owns, he could still end up being a more focused and effective pro defender than 'Melo.
Parker's potential in the passing and defense departments is a reflection of his Pierce-like intangibles.
We're not saying Parker will automatically become the effective, passionate vocal leader to the extent of Pierce, or that he'll be a prolific facilitator. But he has the wherewithal to surpass 'Melo in those areas and thus be more like Pierce, a two-time NBA finalist and 2008 Finals MVP.
Now that we've looked at styles of play and nightly influence, it's time to project Parker's statistics alongside Anthony and Pierce.
His output could depend on where he lands, but we can roughly project his NBA production based on his Duke exploits. We factored in the size and speed of the NBA, as well as the deeper three-point line.
Here are his projected stats alongside 'Melo and Pierce's career numbers:
|Parker's Projections vs. Anthony and Pierce|
|Points||Rebounds||Assists||3-PT / FG|
|Parker||24.6||7.1||3.6||37% / 47%|
|Anthony||25.1||6.5||3.0||34% / 46%|
|Pierce||21.6||6.0||3.9||37% / 45%|
All three post similar figures across the board, but the categories that stand out are points and rebounds.
Parker will be the type of inside-out presence that Carmelo has been for the past decade, and the statistics will back it up. The Duke star's scoring potential is incredibly high, and his rebounding instincts are as good, if not better than Anthony's.
The Verdict: Carmelo Anthony
Believe me, this was not an easy decision.
Pierce displays a slew of the same traits we're seeing in Parker at Duke, and they are both heady ballplayers.
But when it comes to overall playing style and production, Parker is closer to Anthony. Unlike Pierce, Parker and 'Melo can battle in the paint as well as the perimeter. They have quick first steps, nice vertical bounce on their jumpers and a more formidable low-post attack.
When Parker incorporates the best of both worlds from 'Melo and Pierce, he's going to be one heck of a star. For now, if we have to pick one or the other, we're forecasting a more efficient version of Anthony.
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