The ascendence of Giannis Antetokounmpo has Bucks fans as excited as they’ve been in years. For decades, we have latched on to any player who had a chance of giving Milwaukee a shot at NBA relevance: Michael Redd, Andrew Bogut, and Brandon Jennings are the most notable examples of our fallen saviors. Giannis, it seems, is primed to vault past them and lead the Bucks to live up to their “Own the Future” slogan.
Overlooked by the fawning over the Greek Freak is Jabari Parker, the second overall pick from the 2014 NBA draft, who seeks to make a claim to greatness in his own right. After losing three-quarters of his rookie season to injury, Parker used 2015 to bounce back, and 2016 should be a continuation of his development into more than just a prospect.
Based on early results, it appears that Jabari is well on his way. Per-36 minutes, his scoring, rebounding, assists, and free throw rates are all significantly improved. He is far more productive on offense (PER of 18.8 vs. 14.8 last year), he’s shown flashes of being able to shoot from distance (38.5% after seven games), and his defensive contributions have at least remained steady (despite making a mistake here and there...).
It’s easy for Parker to get overshadowed by Giannis’ meteoric rise to NBA stardom, but Jabari is on-track for stardom as well, at least by the standards he could be considered a star. What does he have to do to get there?
Per-36 minutes, Jabari is scoring 20.1 points, with shooting splits of .492/.385/.889. With a usage rate of only 24.4%, it’s reasonable to assume that this is a reasonable baseline for Parker’s bucket-getting. 20 points is a good night by NBA standards, and Parker is getting there without straying too far from his preferred game. 20 points also seems to be the cut-off for the Top 25 scorers in the league, a list that is saturated with star names.
Jabari does most of his damage in transition and on cuts (shoutout to Baseline ‘Bari), but earning free throws is a challenge for him, and that is where Parker has a major opportunity to improve. With a free throw rate of .278, you would think the Jabari could get to the line pretty regularly. And even with over half (50) of his total shot attempts (97 FGA) coming inside the restricted area, you would be baffled to hear that Jabari shoots fewer than 4 FTs per game!
This is Parkers biggest opportunity, and the one he is best-suited for: create contact, finish your shot attempts with strength, and the whistles will follow more often than not. Once the foul calls start coming, that PPG average will further inflate.
Here’s a December 2015 quote from Jason Kidd during a conversation with ESPN.com’s Zach Lowe that briefly illustrates where Jabari is on his development curve:
"Jabari will be a really good stretch four in three years," Kidd says. "Right now, he's not that. And that's OK. He's basically a rookie."
Many have decried the red light put upon both Giannis and Jabari last season, discouraging them from taking open jump shots. In March 2016, SBNation’s Kevin O’Connor remarked on how well Jabari had fared with a tight leash, but declared that he could only become a star if he was allowed to shoot. Parker appeared to carry over some of that hesitation early on (as evidenced by his .134 3PAr), but lately has looked comfortable taking jumpers from all over the court. The 2016-17 season is still in its infancy, but we’re starting to see Jabari’s Jumper peek out of its shell, and that can only mean good things.
Currently tied for 14th in the league in dunks, Jabari’s explosiveness is what sets him apart from the average NBA player. Few guys his size (6’8”, 250 lbs) have his ability to elevate, and while he has a penchant for avoiding contact, his attacks on the rim will force the issue and earn him more trips to the free throw line...and more posters.
Just for fun, here’s what we’ve already seen from Parker last season:
And here’s a quick call-back to preseason:
I know, I know, dunks don’t equate to stardom (unless you’re Nate Robinson). But they get fans excited, and more importantly, they get teammates excited, and that’s never a bad thing.
Keep...your head up
Jabari is not a good defender. This is not a surprise. In order to become an NBA star, you don’t necessarily need to be a good defender (see Harden, James & Lillard, Damian), but it sure helps if you’re passable. Parker may not even achieve that in the short-term, but by staying awake on defense and putting in consistent effort to be in good position, he can at least avoid creating the gaps in the armor that create so many problems for the Bucks.
Giannis has become a star because of his all-around impact; Jabari’s path to stardom is much more defined. Once he becomes a dynamite scorer night-in and night-out, we’ll start seeing more people start anointing him alongside Antetokounmpo, rather than wait for him to catch up.