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Milwaukee Bucks 14/15 Player Previews: Is Jabari Parker the new face of the franchise?

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In advance of the season, we'll be zooming through the Bucks' roster to build up and break down everything you need to know about the 14/15 Milwaukee Bucks. Today we kick off our series with the new kid on the block: #2 overall pick Jabari Parker.

13/14 Review

Jabari Parker has always been a bit ahead of the curve.

At the age of 16, he was the youngest ever winner of USA Basketball's Player of the Year award. By 17, he was a national high school player of the year. At 18, he was a consensus first team All-American and national freshman of the year. And at 19, he'll be expected to be the new face of the Milwaukee Bucks.

No pressure.

Fortunately, Parker won those awards for a reason, and he's now everyone's favorite for NBA rookie of the year for a reason, too. Entering his freshman season ranked #4 by Chad Ford and #6 by DraftExpress, Parker reminded everyone of his prodigious talents with a 27-point performance against Andrew Wiggins and Kansas in November, and quickly cemented his status as a top-three pick by scoring 20+ points in each of his first seven games. Playing predominantly at power forward and even center, Parker overwhelmed larger players with his perimeter skills and shot-making savvy, while overwhelming wings with his size and strength around the hoop.

Parker's freshman campaign wasn't all sunshine and rainbows of course. Duke's season ended with a first round thud in the NCAA tournament, as Parker struggled on both ends and watched the end of Mercer's upset win from the bench. He also suffered through a rough start to the ACC season, averaging just 10.5 points through the first four games of conference play. But he rebounded from there both literally and figuratively, dropping six consecutive double-doubles to close ACC play, including a 30/11 line against archrivals North Carolina.

Despite the disappointment of Duke's early exit--and his general enjoyment of college life--Parker announced his decision to enter the draft on April 17 in an essay published in 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.

Fans and front offices of lottery-bound teams rejoiced, and Parker's lifelong dream of following in his father's footsteps to the NBA moved one step closer to reality.

- Frank Madden

#ANALYSIS

Jabari's collegiate numbers were impressive, but you already knew that, right?

In case you had forgotten, or just because it's fun to be reminded: Parker ranked second in the ACC and led all major conference freshman in scoring (19.1 ppg) and PER (28.4), led the ACC in rebounding (8.7 rpg), and for good measure added 1.2 blocks per game. Not quite in the league of Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley as far as all-time seasons by college freshmen, but overall it's tough not to be impressed by the numbers:

Parker's microscopic assist rate does raise concerns about his black hole-ish tendencies, though the fact that he could soak up a third of his team's possessions while maintaining an above-average true shooting percentage also speaks to his fundamental ability to get buckets. It wouldn't surprise anyone to see Jabari lead the Bucks in scoring as a rookie, though he'll likely experience some growing pains in the shot selection department.

And how did he go about getting all those buckets? Well, back in June the good folks at DraftExpress compared Parker to the draft's small forward crop:

Parker's post usage in particular is interesting, as his 3.4 possessions per-game on the block ranks 2nd in this group to only Doug McDermott. Acting as the screen setter in the two-man game more frequently than the ball-handler, Parker's skill level allowed him to fill in admirably in a role that had him playing outside of his comfort zone at times.

In terms of efficiency, Parker stands out in a few areas, but appears limited in others. He ranked 2nd in this group scoring an impressive 1.06 points per possession in the post, but ranked 3rd-to-last scoring just .82 points per possession in spot up situations, as he struggled to score after attacking close outs at times last season. Ranking fairly average across all other playtypes, Parker scored 1.17 points per finishing opportunity, the exact same mark posted by Wiggins, and .93 points per-jump shot, just .02 points per-shot above Wiggins. Though he struggled to score attacking close outs in spot-up situations, he was solid shooting the ball right off the catch and coming off of screens, as his 1.18 points per catch and shoot jump shot ranks 4th among this talented group.

For a visual translation, we can turn to Austin Clemens' NCAA and NBA shot charts at Nylon Calculus, which are an endless source of amusement and provide some interesting insight into where guys do their best work. And while it's worth noting that shot charts can vary significantly over time (especially when your starting point is just one year of modest collegiate sample size), Jabari's chart shows a player capable of scoring from a variety of spots--top of the key, the in-between areas pushing out from both the left and right blocks, and with a notable preference for the right corner over the left.

Jabarishotchart

Whether all of that translates into immediate stardom is of course another question. Fortunately, Parker passes more than just the eye test--analytical draft projection models like those from Layne Vashro and Kevin Pelton similarly pegged Jabari as one of the top handful of college players in this year's draft. Now comes the hard part: proving it all on the court.

- Frank Madden

I know what you did last summer...

Jabari's summer in Milwaukee officially began when he was selected by the Bucks with the 2nd overall pick in June's NBA Draft. After spending the better part of the previous season clamoring for a high draft pick, the Bucks faithful got their guy, and boy were they excited. They weren't alone, however. The entire organization was ecstatic with the addition.

Two weeks after being drafted, Jabari was joined by a few of his Bucks' teammates out in Las Vegas for the NBA's Summer League for his first "professional" experience. It was an up-and-down tournament overall for the rookie, but he did put up solid numbers (15.6 ppg and 8.2 rpg including a 20/15 finale) and manage to put a lengthy reel of highlight plays together.

Since Summer League, we haven't heard a ton from Jabari. He's popped up in Chicago at pro-am tournaments and in New York for the NBA Rookie photo shoot, but for the most part he's been staying under the radar. He did manage to take some time out from his off-season prep to do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, though. So that's good.

Even better: he's now among the 10 Bucks who began working out at the Cousins Center in advance of camp opening on September 30.

- Eric Buenning

Upside/Downside Projection

Parker will be one of the offensive focal points from day one of training camp, and many draft experts and scouts have gone on the record saying they wouldn't be surprised if Parker averaged 20 ppg right away. That seems a little bit unreasonable, given that Parker will be a 19-year-old rookie and averaging that many points right away isn't exactly a piece of cake.

A more reasonable projection for Parker could see him averaging 15-18 ppg on a low-50s true shooting percentage with 6 or 7 rebounds a game. This would show that Parker is picking his spots nicely within the offense and converting at a reasonably efficient rate while maintaining an impact in other areas of the game. Anything better than that would obviously be wonderful, but it's important to not expect the world from someone who hasn't even logged a minute in the NBA.

While one can hope that Parker's rookie season gets off to a successful start, there's always the chance that the process of becoming successful taking a little while. At times during Summer League, Parker would get a little winded and his shot selection would diminish a little bit. Combine that with learning a whole new system with all new teammates who are also learning said system, and there could be a long learning period for Parker. The hope is for that process to not last too long, but it wouldn't be a huge shock if things weren't smooth sailing from day one.

- Eric Buenning

How It Feels To Watch Jabari Parker

Surprising.

The major knock on Jabari during the draft, at least in comparison to Andrew Wiggins or Dante Exum or even someone like Zach LaVine, was that he was a known commodity. Jabari was born to get buckets, and get buckets he will, or something like that, but did you SEE ANDREW WIGGINS JUMP JUST NOW? Almost all of us are guilty of this, of prizing potential over all else, to the point that comparisons to Carmelo Anthony for a player who has never played in the NBA make us go, "Oh, man. Just Carmelo???"

Actually watching Jabari play, at least on one side of the ball, though, you forget that, you forget how some viewed him as a consolation prize, as an asset, not a savior. It’s not just the plenty of different ways Jabari can put the ball in the basket, it’s the different ways Jabari can get the ball to the basket. Watching a Jabari Parker highlight video is like watching a Steven Soderbergh movie; you roughly know the quality of the product and of what it will be comprised, but it’s the innumerable intricacies and occasional bursts of bravura that separate it from the other studio pics and highlight vids. It’s the way Jabari twists his way from the elbow to clear space, and the way Jabari carries that lumbering yet graceful frame from one end of the floor to the other.

Jabari Parker is boring because he went to Duke, he had a good year, and he has been able to score really well from the moment he ditched the placenta. But he will also surprise you, if you let him, or probably even if you don’t.

- JJ Bersch

Projected role on the team this season

There are really two questions to answer under this topic. First, exactly what position is Parker going to play? There's a risk of pigeonholing a guy to his and the team's detriment when declaring strict positions and rotations, but it's important to at least figure out what Parker will be expected to do when he's on the court. Second, what considerations are in play to determine just how much he will play? Is he already one of the five best players on the roster? Does his skillset match the rest of the lineup enough to mesh well with the other projected starters?

Let's tackle the first one. We've already gotten some hints to suggest that Jabari will begin his pro career as a nominal power forward, and it might even be fair to label him a a "stretch-4" so long as his shooting doesn't plummet when the real games begin. If nothing else, he probably won't be asked to guard the perimeter too much, and he should be given the all clear to play his own outside-inside game and maximize his own ability. At this point, Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo are so far above every other Bucks player on the priority list that the number one goal should be working out some sort of synergy between the two. In light of that, I'd expect Parker will play a bit more inside while Giannis sticks on the wing, giving the Bucks an young, versatile pair of forwards who can do a good amount of shot-creating all on their own.

The question is, will Parker be working his magic off the bench or as a starter? If he does begin as a PF, he's presumably "fighting" for time primarily with John Henson and Ersan Ilyasova, though the former might see more of his minutes shifted to center. Ilyasova is a massive question mark in himself: if he returns to form, he might be the more "useful" starter because of his floor-stretching, though Parker could make up some ground by demonstrating a good stroke himself. Likewise, any defensive struggles could cause him to cede time to Henson, who showed improvement on defense early last season before falling into an elongated funk of debatable cause. Considering his pedigree, hype, and the issues facing his teammates, Parker could probably be considered a slight favorite for the starting job, but even if he doesn't, he's probably not going to hurt for playing time.

If size up front is a greater concern, we could also see Jabari playing more regularly at the 3, possibly at the cost of shifting Giannis and Khris Middleton into more minutes as oversized shooting guards...or just less minutes overall. Kidd was known to run some interesting, long-limbed lineups in Brooklyn last year, and running Parker and Giannis with two other big men could certainly be an option in that regard, particularly if Kidd's public affinity for Ilyasova is more than just a smokescreen. Any such option placing Giannis at the 2 becomes a lot more viable if his ball-handling and shot-creation skills continue to progress the way we saw in Las Vegas a few months ago.

- Dan Sinclair

Required Reading