We're already well past the idea of Jabari Parker having a "breakout" game -- those came against the Pistons and Nets a few weeks ago -- so let's just say we're in the "Jabari Parker is going to be fantastic and he's showing it more and more consistently" phase. It's a fun phase, especially considering that Giannis Antetokounmpo is going through the same thing.
Following up his 19p/9r/5a night against the Rockets on Saturday, Parker was even more electric in Cleveland on Tuesday night, burying 11/15 shots from the field en route to 22 points, eight rebounds and three assists against the only team that passed on him in the June draft. Not that the Cavs feel too depressed about it for now -- after all, by dealing Andrew Wiggins to Minnesota for Kevin Love, the Cavs ended up with a guy better positioned to help them contend for a title right now. So they can win now, the Bucks can win later...everybody's happy, right?
As for Parker, it's tough to overstate just how much more comfortable he looks now than just a few weeks ago, and not just because shots are starting to fall. Though his scoring numbers are only slowly starting to come around (12.4 ppg, 51.7% true shooting), Parker is settling into a rhythm in large part because he's not settling for shots. In early November you could still see a player struggling a bit to understand his role and fit within the offense; he would go long stretches without a touch, and then too often look to force up a contested jumper when he did finally get the ball.
It's not an uncommon problem for a young player used to being the center of attention but now working to find his footing with established NBA players. And the tough part is that bad decision-making can create a vicious circle: You force shots because you don't get enough touches, and then you get less touches because teammates think you're going to force shots. Brandon Knight in particular seemed wary of looking for Parker on the perimeter early on, and in many ways you couldn't blame him.
Thankfully Jabari's been a quick study, as evidenced by both his field goal percentage and assist rates rising demonstrably over the past couple weeks. Both Jabari and Giannis seem to be operating under express orders not to jack threes, turning down plenty of open looks to instead put it on the floor and use their quickness and ball-handling to generate shots in the paint or pass to open teammates. And while Parker's scoring numbers aren't off the charts, he looks even more dangerous than expected off the dribble and has shown a degree of unselfishness that few expected.
Jabari's last 5 gms: 14.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.6 spg, 55.8% FGs, 88.9% FTs, 61.7% true shooting. Likes the paint. pic.twitter.com/Yp31EN3KNL— Frank Madden (@brewhoop) December 3, 2014
We're seeing less hesitation and more trust that shots will come, and for now both Jabari and Giannis have been productive despite the complete lack of floor spacing offered by the current frontline. Defenses are already playing both Giannis and Jabari to drive, so it will be interesting to see how they adapt as teams develop more of a book on their games. For now no one has been able to prevent them from getting to the rim, as Jabari ranks fourth in the league in dunks (33) and Giannis isn't far behind (23 dunks, ninth). Long-term someone will need to be able to hit an open three -- only Knight has been able to do it of late -- but for now they're using movement, unselfishness and pure talent to help compensate.
Best of all? They seem to be having fun. The ball isn't getting stuck in one guy's hands quite so much (ahem, Knight), something we've seen for quite some time with the second unit. So while the team's defense has started to more regularly take its lumps, the offense is helping compensate more and more, reflecting the motion-oriented ideals that Jason Kidd wants to see. So if the short-term isn't always pretty that's OK -- the big picture still looks plenty rosy.