Jabari Parker is a once-in-a-generation talent on the basketball court. Anyone who has watched him play at Duke or even at the prep level in Chicago can attest to that.
It’s not as if Sports Illustrated throws the title, "best high school player since LeBron James," around lightly.
Parker may very well end up becoming the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft after only one season at the collegiate level. He has the perfect blend of size (6’8” and 235 pounds per ESPN) and athleticism that scouts craving the next versatile hybrid forward who can play up to four positions are always trying to find. He can score from anywhere on the floor, is quick with the ball or in the open floor and is a formidable rebounder.
Sure, Parker may still have some improvements to make on the defensive end of the ball, but NBA teams probably won’t have much trouble overlooking that for someone who is so dominant on offense. Thus far, Duke’s superstar freshman is averaging 19.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game behind 50 percent shooting from the field and 41 percent shooting from downtown.
In 13 nonconference games, Parker scored at least 21 points 10 times and finished with double figures every single time he took the floor.
As of three games ago, it would have sounded completely ridiculous to even bring up the notion that Parker may not be the go-to option for Mike Krzyzewski during the meat of the ACC schedule. However, the freshman has looked like just that—a freshman—in Duke’s last three games, including the first two ACC contests.
Parker forced the issue against Elon, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech, had trouble dealing with double-teams and generally just couldn’t find his shot. He scored 12 points on 5-of-13 shooting against the Phoenix, seven points on 2-of-10 shooting against the Irish and 12 points on 4-of-12 shooting against the Yellow Jackets.
The Blue Devils lost that game against Notre Dame and looked incredibly vulnerable during the first half against Georgia Tech in Cameron Indoor Stadium before pulling away after intermission. Were it not for Coach K’s other superstar, Rodney Hood, putting up two incredible performances, the Blue Devils may be staring at an 0-2 start in the league and would have lost by much more to the Irish.
So, blasphemous as it sounds given Parker’s can’t-miss talent, is there a chance Duke would be better served with Hood as its go-to option going forward?
Before you write this off as a complete overreaction to a small sample size of games for Parker, understand that raising this question says much more about Hood’s general excellence than Parker’s recent struggles.
Much like Parker, Hood combines the length and athleticism that is so coveted at the NBA level with incredible offensive prowess. He is posting nightly averages of 18.5 points and 4.9 rebounds behind 53 percent shooting from the field and 47 percent shooting from behind the three-point line. He is also nearly automatic from the line at 85 percent.
Both Gary Parrish and Zach Harper of CBS Sports projected Hood to be a first-round pick alongside his teammate in the next NBA draft, and that was before the versatile forward dropped 54 combined points and 10 three-pointers in Duke’s first two ACC games. He was also a perfect 12-of-12 from the free-throw stripe in those games.
The two opposing ACC defenses that the Blue Devils have faced made it a priority to force someone besides Parker to beat them, which is exactly what Hood did against Georgia Tech and almost did against Notre Dame. The strategy was apparent with the extra pressure, collapsing defenders and constant double-teams that were thrown Parker’s way whenever he touched the ball.
Perhaps running more of the offense through Hood would open up more space for Parker and allow him to snap out of his recent funk. Plus, nobody ever faulted a coach for riding the hot hand.
If this becomes a pattern and Hood continues to deliver, does the onus of being the go-to option gradually shift toward Hood simply because opposing defenses are forcing Duke’s hand?
The answer still seems fairly straightforward now given Parker’s dynamic skill level and ability to completely take over a game at a moment’s notice, but if Hood consistently turns in performances like he has in the early going of ACC play, the question becomes a more serious debate.
Of course, there’s not a coach or team in the country that wouldn’t like to have the "problem" of figuring out which star and future first-round NBA pick should be the primary option in conference play.
Follow and interact with college basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.