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What Do Jabari Parker's College Numbers Tell Us About His NBA Future?

Duke's Jabari Parker (1) looks up for a rebound against North Carolina State during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C., Saturday, March 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)
Bob Leverone/Associated Press
Ian LevyContributor IJune 18, 2014

Over the past two weeks, I have introduced Bleacher Report readers to the idea of Similarity Scores, a system I created for making accurate statistical comparisons between 2014 NBA draft prospects and those from previous seasons. We've already looked at Marcus Smart and Andrew Wiggins, sifting through their numbers and searching for information to help predict what they might look like as NBA players.

In this piece, we'll meander through the same process, but this time we will be looking at the statistical profile for Jabari Parker.

The Similarity Scores are calculated in an effort to leverage predraft player comparisons in their most useful form by analyzing statistical profiles as opposed to just making subjective observations. Draft prospects from a particular year are compared across 21 different statistical categories, which are all weighted equally, to draft prospects from previous years. Unfortunately, this method only works when comparing apples to apples, so the system is limited to collegiate draft prospects and does not include any international players.

The output of the model is a Similarity Score that ranges from one to 1,000, representing how similar the players' statistical profiles are. When we run Parker through the system, these are the three closest profiles we find: 

PlayerSimilarity Score
Tobias Harris906
Carmelo Anthony905
Kris Humphries901

It's an interesting mix of comparisons. Both Harris and Anthony are players whose games tilt toward offensive strength. Also, both appear to straddle the line between power forward and small forward, something that Parker may be prepared to do in the NBA as well. 

Humphries, meanwhile, has developed into a very different kind of NBA player. He's a solid role player, but most of his contributions come on the defensive end and on the glass, which is not exactly where Parker's strengths are expected to lie.

Beginning to dig into the numbers by category, we can flesh out some of Parker's strengths and weaknesses and see why he matches up with these three players.

For example, if we focus solely on Parker's offensive numbers, here are his three closest comparisons:

PlayerUSG%PTS/40FTA/403PA/FGAPTS/POSPercent Match
Jabari Parker25.325.38.10.211.15-
Brian Cook25.525.58.80.211.1598.0%
Alec Burks25.525.19.70.181.1795.2%
Alando Tucker26.824.88.40.231.1495.1%

The percent-match column shows how close of a match these players would be if we only took into account a handful of offensive numbers instead of the 21 total categories that make up an overall Similarity Score.

If anything, this group of comparisons makes things even more complicated. Brian Cook was a big man who played mostly in the post in college, and he morphed into a stretch-4 in the NBA who did most of his damage from behind the three-point line. Burks is an NBA shooting guard who essentially functioned as a point guard in college, as he was responsible for most of the ball-handling duties during his time at Colorado. Tucker was a small forward who's offensive signature was versatility.

It would be difficult to come up with a more disparate mix of offensive comparisons, but all three players have a few things in common: they shouldered huge offensive loads for their collegiate teams, scored fairly efficiently and got to the free-throw line a ton.

Anthony, the most attractive of Parker's original three comparisons, drops down the list a little bit when we focus on just offense, with a match of 92.4 percent. Anthony scored slightly fewer points and took fewer free throws in college, but he converted more three-pointers.

If we focus the comparisons on shooting percentages alone, we again see a strange mix:

Player2PT%3PT%FT%Percent Match
Jabari Parker50.3%35.8%74.8%-
Jared Cunningham50.7%33.8%73.7%97.0%
Ronnie Brewer49.3%33.8%75.0%96.9%
Dahntay Jones49.8%39.8%74.9%96.3%

Cunningham, Brewer and Jones are all players whose NBA scoring has mostly come at the basket and as the beneficiary of other actions—off cuts and in transition. Looking at their shooting percentages, we see some of the in-between quality of Parker's offensive game.

Although he was a capable post scorer in college, Parker's two-point percentage is slightly lower than players like Drew Gooden, David West and Jared Sullinger, who have been able to carry that skill over to the NBA. His three-point percentage also compares with a mix of outside shooterssome who were able to continue hitting three-pointers at the NBA distance and some who were clearly taking advantage of the closer collegiate three-point line. 

Mar 21, 2014; Raleigh, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Jabari Parker (1) dunks the ball over Mercer Bears forward Jakob Gollon (20) in the second half of a men's college basketball game during the second round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament at PNC Arena. M
USA TODAY Sports

There is a bit of good news if we again compare Parker to Anthony, as all three of Parker's shooting percentages were higher than Anthony's. But what these numbers seem to indicate is that there is a bit of a "tweener" quality to his offensive game at this point. His college numbers show some versatility, but his numbers are below the level of players who went on to specialize in either area in the NBA. 

Figuring out his scoring identity will be crucial for Parker, because he doesn't contribute too much else at the offensive end. Here are the three closest profiles in terms of passing and ball-handling numbers:

PlayerAST/40AST/FGATO/POSPercent Match
Jabari Parker1.50.080.14-
Anthony Bennett1.30.080.1499.0%
Brandan Wright1.50.100.1498.4%
Wayne Simien1.60.100.1497.9%

All of Parker's comparisons in this group are big men who have rarely created shots for their teammates. This is almost certainly where we would expect Parker to fit in on offense at the next level.

We also see some interesting bits of information when we look at Parker's rebounding numbers. Here are the three most comparable profiles in terms of rebounding:

PlayerOREB/40DREB/40Percent Match
Jabari Parker4.07.4-
Yancy Gates4.07.399.5%
Arnett Moultrie4.17.598.7%
Chris Bosh3.87.397.9%

Parker's raw rebounding numbers are strong, but we can see that they are tilted toward the offensive glass; relatively speaking, he looks like an above-average offensive rebounder and an average defensive rebounder, especially given his size and position.

However, much of his offensive rebounding prowess in college was based on his strength advantage, something which should be much smaller or even non-existent at the next level. 

Putting all the pieces together at this point, we are getting the picture of a talented player who may need to rediscover himself to some degree in order to ensure NBA success. You can see in this video breakdown from DraftExpress.com that Parker ended up facing a lot of contested shots when playing against Arizona's Aaron Gordon, one of the best defenders in college last season:

You can also see in the video that playing against someone with Gordon's length and athleticism almost neutralized Parker's work on the glass as well.

Parker is highly skilled offensively, but his advantage in talent, size, skill and athleticism is going to be much smaller for him when he moves to the NBA. His fundamental skills should allow him to be successful, but he'll have to continue refining them.

The other area in which he really needs improvement is figuring out how to attack a defense efficiently. SB Nation's Tyler Lashbrook noted the way his shooting percentages dropped as the level of competition he faced increased.

"On offense, Parker tries to do too much when nothing is there," Lashbrook stated. "He shot the ball efficiently out of conference, but struggled against ACC opponents, shooting just 45 percent from the floor and 30 percent from deep in conference play."

Sorting out all of these offensive issues will be important for him, because he doesn't project well defensively. Here are his defensive comparisons:

PlayerSTL/40BLK/40PF/40Percent Match
Jabari Parker1.41.63.1-
David West1.41.73.098.3%
Donte Green1.41.83.297.6%
Greg Monroe1.41.83.097.6%

West has become an effective defender with experience, intelligence and brawn, but it took a while for him to get there. Neither Green nor Monroe could ever be confused with a net positive on the defensive end of the floor.

Parker is usually referred to as the most polished of this year's draft prospects, the one most likely to come in and contribute right away. But the numbers seem to indicate he's more unfinished than that.

Grantland's Ryen Russillo collected assessments of some of the top draft prospects from anonymous NBA scouts, and here was one of the assessments of Parker: 

He can score in different ways, rebounds [sic], pass. I worry about him as a small forward. If he was an elite athlete you could get by with him being a below-average shooter. If he was an elite shooter you could get by with him being a below-average athlete. Unfortunately, he’s below average in both. I’m a fan, but he can’t be your best player. 

That quote sums up what the numbers seem to be saying about Parker—he's not quite a small forward and not quite a power forward, not quite an interior scorer and not quite a perimeter scorer.

In college, it didn't matter; his skill level, strength and motor made those questions irrelevant, and he was able to be versatile. But the level of difficulty is rising around him, and he may need to figure out some areas to specialize in, at least at first, to make an immediate NBA impact. Parker clearly admires Carmelo Anthony, admitting as much to ESPN's Dana O'Neil this winter:

Parker was asked about the Anthony comparison after the game and he didn’t deny it. But his answer was a nice peek into the quality of Parker as both a player and a person. 

"He’s always about his fundamentals," Parker said. "He’s someone who constantly works on his craft."

Circling back to the Anthony comparison is interesting, because the former Syracuse standout is someone who once struggled with many of these same questions that appear to be staring Parker down. Anthony has never really figured out how to use his talent to become a force on the defensive end. On offense, he was very post-oriented in his early seasons, but his peak efficiency came as his three-point shot developed and he became more threatening from the perimeter.

Often, the numbers lead us in a different direction than our subjective comparisons do, but in this case, all roads lead to Carmelo Anthony. That's not to say Parker will become as good as Anthony, but his skills and collegiate production compare favorably to Anthony's and there might be a template there for Parker to follow.

The bottom line is that any team selecting Jabari Parker will get a player with considerable talent, but also one, like everyone in the draft, who has plenty to work on.

 

You can find the rest of the 2014 NBA draft prospect Similarity Scores at Hickory-High.

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