A year ago, the Milwaukee Bucks decided to take a risk by drafting Giannis Antetokounmpo. Now, management must resist the urge to do so again and play it safe by drafting Jabari Parker with the second overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft.
While it's true that fellow classmates Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid possess slightly more upside, Parker's potential isn't lacking, and more importantly, he doesn't carry as much risk of becoming a bust.
With a wide array of offensive skills, a high level of maturity and relentless work ethic, Parker has all the tools necessary to instantly make an impact on the NBA stage.
And when you take a deeper glance, it becomes more evident that he's the correct choice.
The Bucks were horrendous on offense throughout 2013-14, and not having a consistent, go-to scorer played a huge role in that.
Brandon Knight came closest to filling that role by averaging 17.9 points, but he didn't do it very efficiently—he shot just 42.2 percent—and his offensive arsenal isn't exactly immeasurable.
Parker would prove immediately valuable by providing the Bucks with a player who can score consistently and in a variety of ways.
During his lone season at Duke, Parker shot 47.3 percent from the floor. Impressive on its own, that number wows even more when you consider the fact that the freshman struggled with his jump shot throughout the year.
And though the inconsistency of his jumper is of some concern, it's something that can be corrected with proper time and effort.
But just how polished if Parker on the offensive end?
ESPN's Ryen Russillo wrote an article for Grantland recently and, in it, posted a bit of commentary from several anonymous, front-office sources. One of them had the following to say about Parker:
He’s the best basketball player in the draft. IQ, passing ability, a fadeaway, post-up, step back, and ballhandling skills. As the no. 1 pick, he’s safe, meaning: I’ll know I’m getting something from him. Doubt he’ll do anything to hurt your organization. I’d shocked if he isn’t a 12-15-year pro. Worst case, he’s Shane Battier. But he’s better.
He has really improved his workout habits. Length and body type remind me of Pierce. More skilled with ball than Pierce at the same age, but he might not be as good as Paul’s career.
He can take over games, he’ll fit any system. Defensively he’s a problem, but in a team concept he can figure it out.
Do me a favor: Ignore the Shane Battier comment.
The chances of Parker's career mirroring Battier's are slim to none given the drastic difference in style of play.
And it's not just that Parker is great on offense—it's that his style fits when you look at Milwaukee's other personnel.
Assuming John Henson and Larry Sanders make up the starting frontcourt in 2014-15, sliding Parker in at the 3 makes the Bucks tough to defend.
Bigger defenders will need to stay with the aforementioned Henson and Sanders because of Parker's playmaking ability. He has a quick first step and, once he gets by his man, can either finish or dish it to a big.
The majority of power forwards, who try, will be too slow to defend him on the perimeter, and he should have his way in the post against most small forwards.
Overall, he's a definite matchup problem for opposing teams.
However, the concern about defense is valid.
Parker was exposed plenty during his freshman season and will never be an elite defender at the next level. That doesn't mean he can't, or won't, ever become effective.
Buying into team defense—by learning how to rotate and funnel his man into help—will be crucial to his progress on defense. If he can do that, he'll be fine.
Even with those concerns, his offense is far too valuable, especially for a team like the Bucks.
Milwaukee is in desperate need of someone to step up and become an efficient, game changer on the offensive end.
Given what Parker showed in his lone season of collegiate ball, he is that guy.
Maturity and Work Ethic
Some players just get it, and Parker seems to be one of them.
Instead of spouting off about taking the league by storm or how he's ready to begin etching his name into NBA history, the humble 19-year-old summed up his decision to go pro in an essay featured for Sports Illustrated:
Ultimately, I boiled my decision down to two simple questions:
Which environment -- college or the NBA -- offers me the best opportunity to grow as a basketball player?
Which environment -- college or the NBA -- offers me the best opportunity to grow and develop off the court?
The answer to both questions is undeniably the NBA.
He continued in eloquent fashion:
Growing up I couldn't afford the newest gym shoes or the latest fashion fads. But I always had my milk crate nailed to a light post in the alley near my home in Chicago. That's where I fell in love with the game that has brought excitement and passion to my life. I am now ready to take the leap to the NBA. It's a dream come true.
On Tuesday I thanked Coach K for preparing me to become a professional. I expressed my appreciation to him for helping me grow so much as a person and a basketball player. And he reminded me how successful a season it was for our team and me personally. I told him that he is always going to be my coach. But the time has come for me to join the best basketball league in the world.
Did Parker craft this essay with assistance? Probably. But that doesn't take away from the sentiment, and it doesn't negate the fact that he is clearly a high-character young man.
Why does this matter?
Let's just say Milwaukee's roster isn't exactly full of those types of players.
Yes, Antetokounmpo's naivety and genuine passion for life bring a smile to your face. Yes, Knight showed glimpses of being a leader. But for every Antetokounmpo and Knight, the Bucks take steps back with guys like Sanders and O.J. Mayo.
Simply put, the Bucks need a bona fide leader on and off the court.
Could Wiggins and Embiid be that guy? Maybe. But some doubt Wiggins' focus, and Embiid's ability to take ownership of a team has yet to be seen.
But from everything Parker has shown thus far, he certainly could fit that role.
Not only that, but his own words suggest he's willing to work hard to improve on whatever deficiencies he may have.
Back in 2011, Michael O'Brien of the Chicago Sun-Times talked with Parker's high school coach, Robert Smith, and wrote an article on the topic of his work ethic:
“Jabari has the work ethic,” Smith said. “How he values and appreciates basketball is very similar to Derrick. They appreciate the game and go at the game totally different than a regular kid. That is something huge. Jabari wants to be great at it. When you have a kid that wants to be great they put out their full effort at it, like a doctor or a brain surgeon wants to the best. Jabari wants to be the best basketball player ever.”
Parker is one of the rare players I’ve talked to over the years that regularly references past players and games and seems to know his hoops history.
“Jabari has an old soul,” Smith said. “He researches things and wants to know who was the best, how can I be the best, what do I have to do to be the best. That’s a great quality to have. Some of these other guys that are real good don’t know. He knows all the kids in the country that are good. He researches them, how they are doing, how they are playing.”
What's not to like about that?
Many players get drafted, think they've got it made and fade into obscurity. Don't bet on Parker being one of them.
Look for him to show poise, maturity and work harder than anyone else on the floor—well, except for maybe the Greek Freak.
And with the Bucks going through major changes, Parker is exactly what you want out of the second overall pick.
It doesn't hurt that he's a rare talent, either.