When the Orlando Magic failed to secure one of the top three picks in the NBA Draft lottery last month, they might well have seen their chances of landing Duke freshman Jabari Parker slip away.
There haven’t been many sure bets to come along since LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony were taken with two of the first three selections in 2003. And not to disparage Victor Oladipo, but if the NBA still allowed players to enter the draft directly from high school, Parker could easily have gone to the Magic at No. 2 overall last year — provided, of course, that the Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t pick him ahead of them.
Other than Kevin Durant, there hasn’t been a forward in the last decade to come out of college with the ability to lead a one-man fast break as well as score from a number of different spots on the floor quite like the 6-foot-9 Parker. While most mock drafts have either Andrew Wiggins or Joel Embiid going first, Parker is generally regarded as being the closest of the three to being a finished product.
The way in which Parker’s career at Duke finished made him the subject of criticism, largely from casual observers. He shot 4 of 14 from the floor in the Blue Devils’ upset loss to 14th-seeded Mercer, but it’s foolish to define his (short) tenure at Duke by one game.
In the school’s long and storied history, no freshman had led the team in scoring and rebounding until Parker came along. Whoever drafts him will get someone who should be able to immediately contribute in a starting capacity. But barring a trade, that should be the Cavaliers, the Milwaukee Bucks or the Philadelphia 76ers.
The most glowing reports on him rave about Parker’s knack for creating and getting his own shot. His mid-range game has been described as polished, and he shot 35.8 percent (38 of 106) from 3-point range. There is always some getting used to the NBA 3-point arc, but the transition by him shouldn’t be a struggle. He shot better than 50 percent from inside 3-point range and almost 75 percent from the free-throw line.
While he has shown flashes of athleticism comparable to James, he’s probably more similar to Anthony in that power forward is his most likely position. He averaged 8.7 rebounds to lead the Atlantic Coast Conference in that category.
Some concerns remain about his shot selection and defensive ability. Will he settle for too many 3-pointers at this level? A bigger worry might be whether he can apply himself on defense with the same intensity he has shown on offense, especially over an 82-game season. Parker also got into foul trouble against some of Duke’s better opponents, fouling out in losses to Kansas and Syracuse.
As much as he’s thought of as a power forward, there are questions about whether he’s better suited to play small forward.
Other than Tobias Harris, the Magic didn’t have a forward on their roster at the end of the season who averaged double figures in scoring. They have many needs, but someone Parker’s size who can score in the low post and from long range — remember that Harris’ 3-point production dropped off noticeably last season — might be at the top of that list. If Parker falls to the No. 4 spot, there should be no hesitation on the part of general manager Rob Hennigan to take him.
WHY THE MAGIC SHOULD AVOID HIM
It’s not so much a question of the Magic avoiding him but whether they might risk overspending in an attempt to move up in the first round to get him. Hennigan and coach Jacque Vaughn have championed a patient, almost methodical approach to rebuilding the past two years. Would trading for the rights to Parker be seen as a repudiation of that?
Parker finished his high school career in Chicago at the same school which produced Derrick Rose, the top pick in the 2008 draft and the NBA’s MVP in 2011.