Say hello to the wall that just about every freshman hits. Its latest victim: Duke's Jabari Parker, who's now been held in check for almost two consecutive weeks.
You knew he'd cool off eventually. It's all just a part of the process. And this is the phase where we see what Parker is really made of.
The basket has suddenly shrunk for him—shots he had been sinking are no longer falling, and now he's starting to press.
He was even benched down the stretch of a tight game that Duke ended up losing to Notre Dame.
“He wasn’t playing well,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News. “For any kid who is not playing well, you should try to find a kid that is playing well. But that happens. Sometimes kids don’t play well throughout the game. He just wasn’t having a good game.”
It hasn't gotten much better since, as he's now averaging just 10.8 points and six boards on 32.2 percent shooting and hitting 5-of-21 from three over his last five games:
|at Notre Dame||2-of-10||7||4||0||1-of-5|
|vs. Georgia Tech||4-of-12||12||6||0||0-of-2|
Ultimately, the ability to stay productive on off nights separates the greats from the good ones. Parker has to figure out how to neutralize a poor shooting performance and a defense that game-plans around him.
The root of his recent struggles has actually been fairly easy to detect. It's no mystery as to why his play has fallen off. But that doesn't necessarily make it easy to fix.
Parker takes a lot of tough shots. Deep step-backs and pull-ups, fadeaways, turn-arounds—he'll need those shots at the next level but shouldn't overly depend on them.
He's become so confident in his perimeter game that he's abandoned the dribble-drive—either that, or he just lacks the explosiveness to consistently beat defenders off the dribble.
Take a look at this possession, which sees him grab a defensive rebound before taking the ball up the floor. With driving lanes on both sides of his man and nobody underneath the basket, Parker inexplicably decides to take a hard dribble to his right and step back for a low-percentage, long, two-point jumper—with 30 seconds on the shot clock.
He seems more comfortable attempting clean shots on the perimeter than attacking the basket and shooting amongst traffic. He'd rather take his chances with a jumper, knowing he can get a good look at the rim, as opposed to putting it on the deck and potentially losing his scoring opportunity (thanks to help defense).
He's also been overthinking, which most players tend to do when struggling to locate their zone.
On this play, Parker catches the ball on the wing with plenty of space to rise up and fire. He can also drive right or left, given there's no help defense or protection at the rim. He has three high-percentage scoring options from this current position (spot-up jumper, drive left, drive baseline):
But instead, he takes a step back further from the rim, turning an easy jumper into a longer, tougher one while also passing up the chance to drive.
He needs to fine-tune his shot selection a little bit and look to find some easier avenues for offense. The step-back and pull-up jumpers are good shots at the right time, but they can hurt the team's offensive rhythm and his individual efficiency at the wrong time.
Not that Parker takes too many shots, but sometimes, just giving it up and moving the ball is the best possible play.
Finding Easier Buckets and Points
One of the questions surrounding Parker's preseason was his lack of explosiveness off the bounce. And there's no denying it's still a question—he lacks the ability to accelerate and blow by from a standstill position. And that can prevent him from getting to the basket.
Still, that's no excuse for attempting just 4.9 free throws a game. That's an awfully low number for a guy who's as physically overwhelming and talented as Parker—not to mention he's ranked No. 37 in the country in percentage of possessions used (similar to usage rate), according to Kenpom's advanced statistics (subscription required).
Over his last five underwhelming games, Parker has rarely found the stripe:
|vs. Elon||at Notre Dame||vs. Georgia Tech||at Clemson||vs. Virginia|
You don't need to be a dynamite athlete to draw fouls. Parker's NBA comparisons, Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce, are both under-the-rim scorers who've made a living at the line. It's going to take time for him to learn the tricks and nuances of the game, but there's no better cure for a cold shooting hand than free points at the stripe.
He is going to snap out of this funk sooner or later. He just needs to pick up some easier buckets and restore that offensive confidence.
Until he relocates his stroke, Parker might want to be a little more selective with his shots. Getting the easy ones first will likely improve his odds of connecting on the tougher ones.