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Duke Basketball: Would Duke Have Been Better Off Without Jabari?

GREENSBORO, NC - MARCH 16:  Jabari Parker #1 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts during their final minutes of their loss to the Virginia Cavaliers in the finals of the 2014 Men's ACC Basketball Tournament at Greensboro Coliseum on March 16, 2014 in Greensboro, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Dantzler SmithContributor IIIApril 22, 2014

Jabari Parker’s announcement that he’ll enter the NBA draft came as no surprise. The highly talented forward will likely be one of the top picks and begin a successful NBA career shortly thereafter. In his short tenure at Duke, Parker treated Blue Devils fans to amazing plays and frequently carried the team to hard-fought wins.

Ultimately, however, Parker leaves Duke after a season in which the team failed to win the ACC regular season, the ACC tournament and exited in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

This begs the question, would the Blue Devils have been better off if Parker never came to Duke?

Now, before anyone accuses me of being ungrateful for the privilege to root for Parker in a Duke jersey, let’s ask the reverse of the previous question. Would Parker have been better off if he hadn’t come to Duke?

If the one-and-done rule didn’t exist, Parker could’ve headed straight to the NBA after high school. Last year’s draft was profoundly weak. Given that Parker was highly regarded, showed tons of potential and demonstrated an ability to score at any level, he likely would’ve been one of the top picks in last year’s draft.

Chuck Burton

So, if Parker would’ve been a top pick straight out of high school and if he’s a top pick coming off a single year at Duke, then Parker didn’t really do much to improve his admission into the NBA.

In fact, the one-and-done rule essentially just afforded scouts and pundits the opportunity to watch Parker play for free in college so that they could pick apart his flaws. Thus, without gaining financially, Parker basically spent a year providing fodder for people who wanted to find weaknesses in his game.

For pundits who get paid to forecast, or essentially just guess, a player’s NBA potential and for NBA personnel who want as much film on a player to avoid a draft-day bust, the one-and-done is a boon. For the player, however, it’s more or less a forced internship that opens them up to a media that either overhypes college stars or seeks to make waves by being overly critical of them.

It’s possible, if not entirely likely, that Parker really enjoyed his time at Duke and valued the education and life experience. Nevertheless, his basketball career was more or less unaffected by his time in Durham. He certainly received top-notch coaching and clearly improved over the course of the season, but Duke’s lack of postseason accomplishments opened the door for critics to, unfair as it may be, paint him as someone who doesn’t win big games.

Hence, Parker’s short tenure at Duke wasn’t a screaming success in terms of his future as a professional. His draft stock didn’t improve much, if at all, and the college exposure gifted critics a critical narrative to unfairly foist onto him.

So if Parker might have been better off without Duke, is it possible that the Blue Devils would’ve also been better off if Parker had been able to leap straight into the NBA?

Parker’s absence on the Blue Devils’ roster would’ve exacerbated Duke’s already problematic lack of post players. All season, points in the paint, interior defense and rebounding were critical issues for the Blue Devils. A team that lacked Parker would’ve been even further plagued by those factors.

DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 25:  Marshall Plumlee #40 of the Duke Blue Devils dunks a rebound over Trevor Thompson #32, Christian Beyer #22 and Marshall Wood #33 of the Virginia Tech Hokies during a game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 25, 2014 in Durham,
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

To make up for Parker’s absence, Marshall Plumlee would’ve been heavily relied upon. Plumlee only averaged 8.5 minutes and 1.3 points per game. It’s likely, therefore, that Duke’s problems in the post would’ve been a real albatross around the team’s neck.

Moreover, Parker was frequently integral in Duke wins. His ability to score in a variety of ways kept the Blue Devils in games and caused all sorts of matchup problems for opponents. In all, without Parker to fill the void in the post and provide a dynamic offensive threat, the Blue Devils would’ve probably lost more than the nine games they did with him on the team.

That being said, there could’ve been long-term benefits. For one, Plumlee’s increased role would’ve given him greater game-time experience. That would’ve expedited his development. Amile Jefferson would have been more involved in the offense. He too might have benefited from being forced to add an offensive threat to his game. Presumably, Semi Ojeleye would have also seen more time on the floor.

One could even speculate if the lack of Parker would’ve meant more playing time for Alex Murphy. Had Murphy had been a regular in the rotation, would he have decided to transfer?

While Duke’s 2013-14 season would’ve been worse without Parker, the development of Plumlee, Jefferson, Ojeleye and even Murphy might have paid dividends down the road.

At this point, it’s worth returning to how Duke finished the season. The Blue Devils didn’t win the ACC regular season, ACC tournament and lost to Mercer in the first round of the NCAAs. Given that Duke didn’t win anything, would it have mattered if a Blue Devils team without Parker lost more regular-season games?

GREENSBORO, NC - MARCH 16:  Anthony Gill #13 of the Virginia Cavaliers and Amile Jefferson #21 and Jabari Parker #1 of the Duke Blue Devils go for the ball during the finals of the 2014 Men's ACC Basketball Tournament at Greensboro Coliseum on March 16, 2
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Beyond that, if the development of the Duke players likely to stick around for four years could have been helped along by increased playing time and involvement, wouldn’t putting up with one bad year be worth it for a couple of good ones later on?

Obviously, this is all conjecture and reliant on an alternate history in which the one-and-done rule doesn’t exist. However, the larger point is worth considering. Duke seems set on competing for the nation’s top recruits. While these elite players certainly provide quality memories, it’s possible that neither the Blue Devils nor the players themselves benefit from the single-season arrangement.

What’s more is that the players Duke has who will be around for a full four years might actually have their development stymied by having to constantly sit on the bench behind transient stars.

Ultimately, every Duke fan is glad to have been treated to the Jabari Parker experience. Parker was not only a wonderful talent, but seemed to revel in the Duke atmosphere and proved himself to be a real class act. The one-and-done rule, however, puts players like Parker in a tough spot. Sticking around for more than one year risks injury or a subpar season that hurts a player’s draft stock.

DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 22:  Jabari Parker #1 of the Duke Blue Devils shoots over C.J. Fair #5 and Rakeem Christmas #25 of the Syracuse Orange during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 22, 2014 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halve
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Similarly, the one-and-done rule puts pressure on top programs to recruit highly regarded high school students who will shuffle off to the NBA after only a brief stint on campus. Long term, that retards the development of less highly touted players who intend to play full four-year careers.

With those two factors in mind, it’s not unimaginable that Parker’s lone year at Duke, excellent as it was, didn’t do him or the Blue Devils too many favors in terms of sustained success. It's not Parker's fault and it's not Duke's fault, but there's something gravely amiss in college basketball when it's not unimaginable to think that a team would've been better off without a player destined for great things in the NBA.

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