Apparently, that freshman wall that was meant to slow Duke's Jabari Parker down just wasn't very sturdy.
It didn't take him long to bust right through it—after struggling early in January, Parker has officially relocated his zone, as he's started to cook again like he did back in November and December, when many started calling him the top prospect in the country.
He's coming off season highs of 29 points and 16 rebounds on 12-of-17 shooting against Boston College. It was really as good of an effort as we've seen from any of the projected top dogs in the class.
But it hasn't just been about scoring more points—it's how he's scoring his points and the tweaks he's making.
When Parker couldn't find a rhythm earlier in January, his shot selection was primarily to blame. All of a sudden, that jumper stopped falling—the one that carried him through his first seven games of the year, where he scored over 20 points in each.
And Parker had trouble adjusting without his reliable outside weapon. He found himself thinking and rushing instead of just naturally shooting with confidence.
Check out Parker's numbers from a couple of his letdown games earlier last month:
|Early January Slump|
|Two-Point FGs||Three-Point FGs||FTM-A||Points|
|1/4 at Notre Dame, Loss||1-of-5||1-of-5||2-of-4||7|
|1/11 at Clemson, Loss||3-of-7||2-of-6||3-of-4||15|
|1/13 vs. Virginia, Win||1-of-4||2-of-7||0-of-0||8|
He took more three-pointers than free throws in each one of those games, and two of them resulted in disappointing losses.
But this kid is smart, so he decided to change up his offensive approach a little bit.
Over his last two games, Parker has scored a combined 50 points, and none of them came on jumpers outside the paint.
Take a look at how he's been picking up his points:
|Point Distribution vs. Wake Forest (21 points)|
|Post-up||Transition||Catch-and-Finish||Driving Layup||Jumper||Three-Pointer||Free Throw|
|Point Distribution vs. Boston College (29 points)|
|Post-up||Transition||Catch-and-Finish||Driving Layup||Putback||Jumper||Three-Pointer||Free Throw|
Transition buckets, post-ups, putbacks, catch-and-finishes, driving layups—all of Parker's production lately has come at or around the basket.
Parker has been overwhelmingly dominant within 12 feet of the rim, given his 235-pound frame, above-average athleticism and terrific offensive instincts.
Based on his comfort level in the post and interior, along with his strength, you get the feeling Parker should be able to play some 4 at the next level to take advantage of matchups, the way Carmelo Anthony does at times for the New York Knicks.
While you often see Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins look to finish with finesse around the rim, Parker plays a more powerful brand of ball:
If there was a standout criticism of Parker entering the season, it was that he lacked the quickness and explosiveness of a kid like Wiggins, who can slice to the hoop in the blink of an eye. And the second Parker started settling for and missing his jumpers, that initial criticism resurfaced.
But Parker has been in attack mode lately—he isn't settling, and he's beating defenders off the dribble and getting to the basket.
“He didn’t settle tonight—he made sure he got to the rim,” Boston College head coach Steve Donahue said to Michael Schreiner of The Duke Chronicle, after Parker just went to town on his team. “[Duke] really worked it into him, and that’s a handful.”
Parker has now taken at least seven free throws in six of his last seven games. Instead of pulling up or stepping back for hero jumpers, Parker is looking to draw fouls and attack the rim.
He might take a heavy step, but Parker is a lot nimbler than he looks:
His post game also gives him a dimension of offense that few forwards have the option to go to. He's just so comfortable and refined with his back to the basket, where he can separate into balanced, unguardable, high-percentage shots.
Forwards who can command double-teams in the post do wonders for offensive spacing. If Parker can pair a post game with a consistent perimeter game, he's going to be a handful for defenses when he peaks as a pro.
He really hasn't been that bad on the defensive side, either, and though his technique and fundamentals could use some work in terms of defending the perimeter and post, he's at least making plays out there.
Parker recently blocked three shots against Boston College, and he picked up two more and a couple of steals against Wake Forest.
Not to completely compare him to Wiggins, but Parker, who's been knocked for his perceived "lack of elite athleticism," actually has a higher block and rebounding rate, and they're tied in steals.
He might have cooled off as a shooter, but Parker's recent surge has helped us remember what drove his upside to begin with—he's the most versatile offensive player in the country.
Anyone who jumped off the wagon last month should look for another ticket back on. After making a few adjustments, Parker is back in business, locked and loaded to make a serious run down the stretch.
Expect him to remain one of the favorites for the No. 1 overall pick from now until June 26.
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