Cavalier NBA Draft Film Room: Jabari Parker

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jabarifilmroomshotIn the first of a trio of film room breakdowns, I begin my analysis of the most likely selections for the Cavaliers’ top pick on June 26.

Leading off, we will dive into some analysis of Duke forward Jabari Parker. Parker is often hailed as the most offensive-ready talent over Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. However, concerns over his defensive ability, shot selection, and lack of a true position on the floor raise some concerns. We’ll take a look at all this and more.

What people are saying:

NBADraft.net:

“Parker is already a good physical specimen for either forward position, and has just about all of the size he’ll need to be an NBA wing at nearly 6’9 240 … Plays strong, and has more than adequate length … Very fluid with good athleticism, showing exceptional body control and pretty good speed and leaping ability … More explosive than he appears at 1st glance … Lived up to his lofty expectations after a highly touted HS career … Already has a great arsenal of moves in his repertoire on offense … Has an NBA ready step back jumper and is tough for most matchups to pressure as a ball-handler … Is a threat to slash in either direction … Is able to shoot or drive effectively from the triple threat … Puts the ball on the floor, can score with his feet set, and shows good confidence as a scorer … Mid-range game is pretty polished … Great 1st step, and when operating facing the basket this is where the Carmelo Anthony comparisons are most evident … ”
” Defense is the area of his game that has drawn the greatest amount of criticism. Does not exhibit the same level of intensity and effort on that end, and how much of that was due to playing center or staying out of foul trouble is open to debate … Given his size, there are some concerns about him being in between the SF and PF positions at the next level … Also, will need to find a weight that will allow him to maximize his athleticism …”

Matt Norlander – CBS Sports:

“Excellent scorer, smart player, very good in transition and able to create/get his own shot no matter what kind of defense he’s facing.”
“Some knock him for his lack of athleticism, but the real question is whether he’s a 3 or a 4. The defense is a question too, but not a huge one right now.”

Gary Parrish – CBS Sports:

“Parker is so polished offensively that he could probably get 20 points in an NBA game tonight. In most drafts, he’d be a worthy No. 1. So the Magic would love to get him here.”

Chris Mannix – SI:

Parker has proved to be a prolific college scorer (19.1 points per game), a strong rebounder (8.7) and a developing three-point shooter (35.8 percent). His defensive problems against Mercer were a high-profile reminder of Parker’s biggest question marks. Teams still aren’t sure which forward position Parker will play in the NBA — or if he can defend either one. Still, a strong-scoring/weak-defending forward can thrive in the NBA. Right, Carmelo?

Stats:

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Without further ado, let’s get to the film. You’ll see that I’ve upgraded this year to video clips over screen grabs. I had two games of Parker’s at my fingertips: an early season matchup against Kansas (more from this game in the coming weeks, to be sure) and the late season battle with Syracuse.

Here are Jabari’s stat lines from those two games:

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A couple of things that I’m going to focus on with Parker pertain to position. Is he more of a 3 or a 4? Does he lean one way offensively and another defensively? How solid is his all-around offensive arsenal? Does he finish well at the rim? Let’s start with that.

Finishing at the rim

Overall, yes, Parker can finish at the rim. It just so happens that two of the games I viewed for Parker came against the most rugged frontlines that Duke faced in Kansas (with Joel Embiid) and Syracuse (with its 2-3 zone and long, athletic shotblockers).

On the season, Parker finished 62.7% of his 185 shots at the rim, and 37% of his shots came from at the rim.1

Let’s start with a clip from the Syracuse game. Parker spent a good 75% of the game hiding in the short corner to stretch the 2-3 zone. Normally, Parker likes to operate around the four corners of the paint as home base, then flare out to the perimeter as needed when three-point shot opportunities arise. Parker played a lot of minutes as the power forward or center in Duke’s lineups due to his size and the Blue Devils relatively lack of it around him.

The ball is at the top of the key, and Parker flashes to the high post. As the balls gets passed to the opposite high post, two defenders pinch on Parker, and he obeys the spacing protocol, moving back into the short corner. Hanging behind the bucket and practically on the baseline forces that opposing big to split the difference and diminishes the ability to help on dribble penetration. Also, because of the awkward nature of the positioning, it makes it a difficult cover when the player has strong finishing skills at the rim.

When Quinn Cook receives the pass on the left wing and starts his drive, notice the massive amount of attention he draws from the zone.

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Playing that back-end of the zone offense is knowing about exactly when to step in and make a move. Parker does just that, stretching out wide outside of the paint and receiving the dump-off from Cook as he glided toward the bucket and reverse slams it on the other side of the hoop.

Another fine example of this is below. It’s the same type of dribble penetration that opens the lane, drawing 6-foot-8-inch Jerami Grant and leaving Parker open. As Parker collapses in and gathers, 6-9, 250-pound Rakeem Christmas goes up for the shot block, and Parker throws it down right over top of him.

And if you’re looking for the athleticism on display, this alley-oop smash is quite a juicy sample.

Parker measured out as 6-9 in shoes with a 6-and-11.75-inch wingspan, and he does seem to have some nice ferocity on the dunks I saw from him. Those measurements, by the way, measure up almost toe-to-toe with power forward prospects Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon. When I look at Parker, I see someone who can exploit mismatches and revolutionize a NBA offense much easier from the stretch four.

There were a couple of cases where length bothered him inside. On this play, he gets tied up on a dunk attempt.

In the Syracuse game, Parker shot just 6-for-16 in 26 minutes as that tall frontcourt gave him fits and Duke failed to look for him as they have in other games. Surprisingly, Parker didn’t find time to take more than one three-point shot against the 2-3 zone.

Scoring in the paint

A big part of why I see Parker as someone with better potential at the power forward position is his skill when it comes to operating in the paint. Normally, your small forwards start their work outside of the paint and work their way in off the dribble. But, what I saw with Parker was a high comfort level of catching the ball at the high post and in the paint, utilize fakes and/or dribbles, and getting a high-percentage look.

On the play below, Parker catches the ball in the mouth of the Cuse zone at the foul line and with his back to the basket.

As he pivots to his left, he gives a ball-fake as 6-10 Baye Moussa Keita closes the gap on him. Then, he uses one dribble to his left to move with his back to the basket again and seal his defender.

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The result of this is Parker creates space to go back right with a power move. The only recourse Keita has in this scenario is to go over the top and foul. C.J. Fair comes over to help and reaches into force a jump ball. Jabari fights through that, takes the contact, fades away, makes the shot, and draws the foul. That whole sequence was NBA-ready offense. Being unpredictable and having multiple options once you start to attack is what it’s all about. Parker has exactly that sort of diverse offensive package.

On this next play, Parker sets up at about the same spot on the floor with his back to the basket, but he doesn’t use a fake when he pivots.

Instead, he starts his drive right immediately, using his left arm to create some space. Rather than fading away on this one, he leans into the body of the defender to draw contact. Again, he scores the bucket and draws the foul. That combination of body control and strength to convert will serve him well at the next level.

Pushing tempo:

We shift gears to Parker’s ability to lead and thrive in the fastbreak. We also change gears to the Kansas game, where Parker spent a good chunk of the game fronting Perry Ellis and/or Joel Embiid in the post by design. It had some less than desirable consequences at times, but on this play, Parker cuts in front at the perfect time and steals the ball.

Parker doesn’t just have a Kevin Love/Chris Bosh sense of getting the ball up the court quickly. No, Parker has the handle and the confidence with the basketball to often lead the fastbreak opportunity. Parker pushes it and has a 3-on-3 situation.

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In the screen grab above, we see Parker do a pro-hop and step in front of the defender’s face. As soon as Jabari gets his left leg past the defender’s left hip, he owns the advantage in the dash to the rim. The second defender goes for the swipe, while the third goes for the contest. Parker just fools all three with an up and under, finishing with a right-handed lay-in.

Parker also functions quite well as a trailer in the fastbreak scenario. When a fastbreak opportunity occurs, not everybody makes it up court at the same pace. Often, a stretch four can make it up court as part of the secondary break and walk right into a three or mid-range jumper.

Here, Parker grabs the board and starts the break himself. He then passes to Rodney Hood on the left side of the court but keeps moving. It allows Parker to stroll right up to the left wing and get a wide open three point look. Parker drains it, which is no surprise as he is a 57.1% effective field goal shooter in transition. Nearly 16% of his made threes came in the first ten seconds of the shot clock.

With the respect he has on the three-point arc (35.8% from three), he can fake the outside shot to set up the drive.

On this play, he freezes Perry Ellis with the shot fake and uses a couple dribbles to his right to score over the top of the shot-blocking Embiid. His body control is truly something to marvel. No matter at what angle he takes a shot, his internal gyroscope comes through more often than not and gives the shot attempt a great chance of falling.

Next, Parker grabs the defensive rebound and immediately outlets it to Cook. Like last time, however, Parker gets the ball back at the top of the key. As the trailer once again, he catches everybody flat-footed and gets into the paint.

Scoring over multiple people is not a problem once again, and Parker shows that he is also comfortable driving and finishing with his left hand.

Then, when you are cognizant of the three point shot and the drive to the basket, Parker changes it up once more and can ding you from mid-range. On this play, he takes Ellis off the dribble again, but you can see Embiid is late showing.

Parker’s mid-range game is fairly developed, but he is prone to some poor shot selection from time to time.

Defense

Now, let’s talk about some of the drawbacks, and look no further than Parker’s defense. Quite simply put, it doesn’t look like anybody has taught Parker many of the basic defensive principles.

On this play, he fails to show properly on the pick and roll. Wayne Selden gets to the other side of the court, and Parker is way out of position, forced to run back to Embiid with his back to the ball, not a good thing in the halfcourt.

Here’s another example of Parker not playing the pick and roll well.

And then, the question of effort comes into the equation on this play where C.J. Fair drives right to the block and into Parker’s face without so much as a hand going up to contest.

Turnovers

Then, there’s the turnovers and poor decision making at times.

Parker throws this one right into the middle of the zone without looking. He also picked his dribble up as two Orange defenders converged to apply pressure. There are certain areas to attack the zone, and trying to dribble right through the middle of it is not one of the best places.

On this next play, as Parker did previously, he gets a steal by coming around to front the post. As he begins to move up the court, he sees an open teammate but completely airmails the pass out of bounds on the baseline. Not only did he overthrow him, but he wasn’t even leading Suliamon to the basket.

Some other observations:

  • Parker fouled out of both of these games. They happened to be the only two that he fouled out of all season, but he had four fouls in six more games, including five conference games and the lone NCAA tournament game. The fouls generally seem to be due to a lack of awareness and over-aggressiveness on pick and rolls.
  • Parker did use 31.8% of the team’s possession while he was in the game, but he seemed to be a fairly willing passer when his activity created an opening for a teammate.
  • While his defense is lackluster, he did average over one steal and one block per contest. I’m hopeful that in the right system, Parker could be taught to be an adequate defender. Again, it seems to me to be a lack of understanding when it comes to defensive staples rather an inability to physically guard.
  • He has excellent rebounding numbers (8.7 per game and 23.1% defensive rebounding percentage (72nd in the nation)), and he does more often than not seem to use his body to box out his man.
  • With an ability to get to the line and make free throws, Parker really is the total offensive package. He drew over six fouls per 40 minutes, and he converted about 75% of his foul shots.

Conclusion:

For me, Parker is most intriguing as a stretch four option that has a vast arsenal on the offensive end. With an ability to get to the line, shoot the three, get to the rack, hit from mid-range, and hit the glass, it’s easy to see why some compare him to Carmelo Anthony. I’m not willing to go that far just yet, but there are similarities in style, defensive ability (or lack thereof), and scoring potential.

It may discourage some folks from taking Parker when the Cavaliers already have Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett, and Anderson Varejao as legitimate options at power forward. We’ve been through this “is he a 3 or 4?” debate with Derrick Williams and Bennett in the past. In Jabari’s case, I really do think he could, unlike Bennett, play small forward without embarrassing himself. Still, if Parker has perennial All-Star potential, you look into moving Thompson and/or Varejao if necessary.

Until next week, the film room is closed!

(Photo: Jason DeCrow/AP)

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Footnotes:

  1. For a frame of reference, Carmelo finished 54.4% of his shots at the rim this season, while Kyrie Irving finished 56.9% of his shots in the restricted area. []
  • mgbode

    good takes and film cut-ups. I agree with most, but have a little more to add.

    negatives:
    conditioning. he’s not a gym rat, gets out of shape quickly (both during injury and after season he’s had reports of being out of shape).

    athleticism. he’s just not in the same class of athlete as Wiggins and Embiid. In most drafts, I’d be touting Parker, but he is clearly 3rd in this grouping.

    additional positives:
    passing from post – while he’s a poor passer from high into the post (as you demonstrate), I do remember he was an adept passer from his post position when the double came over quickly.

    overall scoring instincts. some players just know what to do to put themselves into position for easy scores. he is quite good at this facet of the game (always putting himself into position to receive the pass or get the put-back,etc.).

  • DPatton

    I’m not a big college basketball aficionado, but can you tell me how Parker’s game differs from Derrick Williams’ game in college? If I squint, I can’t tell’em apart!

  • mgbode

    DW was almost exclusively a face-up player. Parker has a ton of moves from the post-position (including a great step back jumper). Jabari also has a bit of a better handle. DW was the better form-shooter from deep.

  • wildrover4

    If the Cavs take three guys No. 1 overall, and none of them can play defense, I might have to tap out as a fan.

  • WFNYKirk

    Williams was a much larger frame (shoulders and thickness) and more deliberate on offense. Parker is so much more fluid on offense and can score from anywhere on the floor. More athletic overall and could cover threes.