Duke Basketball: How Quickly Will Jabari Parker's Game Translate to the NBA?

Scott PolacekFeatured ColumnistJuly 2, 2014

Milwaukee Bucks first round draft pick Jabari Parker is flanked by coach Larry Drew, left, and general manager John Hammond as he is introduced at a news conference Friday, June 27, 2014, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Morry Gash/Associated Press

Jabari Parker is a 19-year-old kid who just finished his one and only season of college basketball at Duke. He grew up in Chicago, learned the game for a brief time from the legendary Mike Krzyzewski and can score at will.

He is also seen as the savior for an entire NBA franchise.

No pressure, kid.

The Milwaukee Bucks—who just so happen to be the closest NBA team to Parker’s hometown outside of the Bulls—selected the Duke product with the No. 2 pick in the 2014 NBA draft. The question now is how quickly his college game will translate to the next level.

If we are to start with Parker’s strengths, his offense is clearly the first thing that jumps off the page. That is simplifying things a bit, though, because he is more of a pure scorer than an overall offensive machine, which is why he is so often compared to Carmelo Anthony.

Parker can hit from behind the three-point line and open up the floor, which was evidenced by his 36 percent mark from downtown at Duke. He can also attack off of dribble penetration and finish through contact. If and when he draws a foul in traffic, Parker knocked down 75 percent of his free throws.

Despite his efficient scoring marks, the most encouraging sign from an NBA perspective is the fact that he developed such a reliable post-up game as his one season at Duke progressed. In fact, the Blue Devils broke out of their midseason slump when Parker started going down low more frequently to find higher percentage shots instead of simply settling for contested jumpers.

Outside of his lethal scoring prowess, Parker’s list of strengths has to include his rebounding.

Gerry Broome/Associated Press

He grabbed 8.7 boards a night as a freshman for Duke and helped carry a squad (with Amile Jefferson) that was otherwise weak on the boards. The fact that he can contend on the glass is very important going forward because it means he can be a productive power forward in smaller lineups at the next level.

Unfortunately for the Bucks, there are some weaknesses to consider from Parker’s college game as well.

Before delving into the more well-documented areas of concern, Parker’s passing and overall assist numbers in college were worrisome. He only averaged 1.2 assists per game at Duke, which is downright abysmal when accounting for the extra defensive attention he drew as the star player.

Gerry Broome/Associated Press

Outside of his lackluster ability to find teammates open looks, Parker’s athleticism leaves something to be desired. However, this was a bit overanalyzed during the entire predraft process because it was compared to Andrew Wiggins’ athleticism instead of being considered on its own merits.

It is downright unfair to compare almost anyone on the planet to Wiggins in the athleticism department, including Parker. 

Andrew Bailey of Bleacher Report looked to some video evidence when noting Parker is much more athletic than he gets credit for:

Parker’s defense is a much more prominent weakness than any real or perceived lack of athleticism. The entire Duke squad was suspect at best on that end of the floor, and Parker wasn’t exactly a stalwart. He didn’t always have the lateral quickness to stay in front of small forwards or the strength to deal with power forwards, especially in the ACC.

So what does all this mean in terms of his immediate NBA fortunes?

Parker’s scoring will obviously translate. He is in a very similar situation in Milwaukee that he was at Duke as the focal point of the offense. What’s more, there isn’t a ton of pressure to lead the Bucks to the playoffs right away seeing as how they were absolutely terrible last season. He can take a year or two to find his footing as a potentially elite professional scorer, much like Kevin Durant did in Seattle.

Parker won’t be quite the nine-rebound-a-game man that he was at the college level simply because the level of competition and size of the opponents is so much better. Still, his high motor isn’t going anywhere, and he will likely be put in a power forward role at times, so we could see around five or six boards a night right away from Parker.

As for the weaknesses, as simple as it sounds to say pass the ball more, some players are blessed with natural court vision that just cannot be coached. Parker has not shown something like that yet, and it’s hard to imagine him becoming an elite passer as an NBA rookie. But with talented teammates in the NBA and opposing defenses collapsing on him, Parker will be able to rack up more assists than he did at Duke over time.

Gerry Broome/Associated Press

We already mentioned that his lack of athleticism is somewhat overblown, and his ability to hang with the league’s quicker players will improve as he enters his prime in his 20s.

Parker’s defense is the biggest concern, though, because on a night-to-night basis he could be guarding the likes of LeBron James, Durant, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and plenty more as a small forward. He simply won’t be up to snuff right away.

However, with the work ethic that he seemed to have at Duke, Parker will gradually improve defensively as his career progresses. He is already prepared to work, if his comments via Jon Greenberg of ESPN Chicago are any indication:

I got real emotional outside the media. Because I put in a lot hard work to be in this situation. It wasn't given to me. I didn't have lot of hype. Everything was earned. I want to keep that mentality, as coming in as an underdog. I'm coming to an underdog program. 

If Parker lives up to the hype and his Duke reputation, the Bucks won’t be underdogs forever.


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