Duke's freshman star Jabari Parker spent the 2013-14 campaign impressing NBA scouts with his next-level skills, but his sensational season is suddenly in the rearview. The Blue Devils were upended by No. 14 seed Mercer 78-71 in the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.
That leaves us with a lot of questions regarding Parker, mostly revolving around his potential jump to the pros.
Throughout the year, he displayed a robust offensive repertoire to go along with an NBA-ready body. Compared to his freshman peers, he seems much better equipped to make the jump to the NBA and enjoy immediate success.
However, there are concerns about certain areas of his game.
Don't get me wrong, he's still a top-three pick. His flaws and subpar finish to the season won't change that. But the way scouts and executives view his pre-draft workouts, play and interviews will influence whether he goes No. 1 overall or slides to second or third.
Can He Play Decent Defense?
Parker's defense has intermittently come under scrutiny this year, as he hasn't excelled on that end compared to Marcus Smart, Andrew Wiggins or Aaron Gordon.
He frequently got beat by quicker slashers and gave up a few critical layups. On the interior, he was often out of position and caught in no-man's land. That's a bad place to be, especially on pick-and-rolls and weak-side rotations.
The defensive issues and foul trouble cropped up again against Mercer, as he had trouble slowing down his counterparts on the Bears' attack. From a basketball IQ standpoint, Parker seems like a bright enough kid to clean up some of the mental errors and really apply himself on that end.
The foot-speed issue is the one that may concern NBA decision-makers the most. Parker will be able to guard some post players, but not all of them, so he'll have to spend time on swingmen. His quickness needs to improve, as one scout told Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders:
...There are questions about Parker’s body and athleticism. He’s not the quickest guy and his athleticism has been questioned. He’s had some explosive moments, but there are a lot of times when he doesn’t look like a good athlete. Teams will likely want to change his body and conditioning once he gets to the NBA.
If he can become just a little leaner and a bit swifter laterally, it could go a long way to help him hold his own on that end of the floor.
The good news for Parker is that bad defense won't be a deal-breaker for most teams. His offensive appeal and potential is just too enticing and valuable.
Will He Become a Truly Efficient Outside Shooter?
The answer is yes, but the point is that it's something Parker must work on and display for scouts during the combine and private workouts for teams.
After lighting it up from downtown against nonconference competition, Parker shot 30 percent from distance against ACC foes. Once opponents game-planned for him and made him uncomfortable on the perimeter, he wasn't nearly as effective.
The narrative all season has been Parker' s NBA-readiness, and he's certainly more refined than Andrew Wiggins or Joel Embiid. But his game still needs some polishing, and honing an NBA-range jumper is a good place to start.
Parker's inconsistent shooting numbers are due in large part to questionable shot selection. Sometimes he forces up ill-advised jumpers, or he settles for a step-back triple when he should have explored other options.
Fortunately, he has the wherewithal to upgrade his shot selection, and his actual shooting motion is pretty close to what any NBA coach would want from a rookie.
He's sometimes been compared to Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce, and they respectively shot 33.7 percent and 30.4 percent from three-point land as freshmen. They went on to be dangerous three-point shooters, especially when their teams played a balanced brand of hoops.
Is He a Winner? Is He Someone Who Makes His Teammates Better?
We're not putting Parker's character on trial here, or his will to win. By all accounts, he's a mature young man who plays to win every time he steps on the floor.
Nevertheless, executives and general managers want to see championship-level intangibles.
His Blue Devils were a young squad just coming together, which helps to explain losses to programs like Clemson, Wake Forest and Mercer. But we can't just completely let Parker off the hook, because talented freshmen have led young teams to NCAA titles in the past.
The premature exit is a little disappointing, but what I'd like to focus on more is his game-to-game approach and decision-making. This is closely tied into the aforementioned shot-selection issues.
Parker drew a ton of defensive attention because he was Duke's No. 1 scoring option, and the Blue Devils had plenty of capable role players who could shoot and score. Yet he averaged just 1.2 assists per game (1.6 per 40 minutes). Even Anthony, a high-volume scorer, had 2.4 assists per 40 minutes as a freshman.
During interviews and pre-draft scrimmages, scouts will keenly watch for Parker's court awareness and mental approach. They want to know if he'll be able to make the plays necessary to get his squad over the hump.
Parker's Draft Outlook Moving Forward
Although Parker's minor flaws shouldn't affect his draft stock much, he's no lock to enter the draft.
Duke's gut-wrenching loss to Mercer might sway him to return to Durham for another season to take care of unfinished business. If he chooses to play for coach Mike Krzyzewski for another year, he could hone his shot selection, upgrade his defense and potentially lock up the No. 1 spot in 2015.
On the other hand, if he chooses to cash in on his already high stock in 2014, he'll be fine. After all, he's a top-three lock regardless of how embarrassing the Mercer loss is.
He just needs to hold his own defensively in pre-draft drills and look as sharp as possible on the offensive end. NBA clubs will understand that he's not perfect, as long as he shows progress in all of the key areas.
The 2014 NCAA tournament got the best of Parker and the Blue Devils, but his future is bright no matter where he ends up.
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA draft for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR