ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — The Milwaukee Bucks have added the biggest piece to their rebuilding project to date, selecting Duke forward Jabari Parker with the No. 2 overall pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft.
Milwaukee’s decision to take Parker became easier when the Cleveland Cavaliers made Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins the top pick in the draft, as the Bucks decided against trading back and took the highly coveted Parker.
"I think the best way to sum it up into one sentence is: Tonight, we got better," Bucks general manager John Hammond said. "It is a great feeling to be sitting here knowing that we have a player and a person like Jabari Parker that is coming into this organization.
"He’s a really, really special person, as well as a special player. I think he’s someone this community and fan base is going to enjoy so much."
While the Bucks got the player they wanted, Parker is off to the place he not only said he wanted to go to, but also predicted as his landing spot. Parker said the Bucks told him they were all in on him and that was exactly what he wanted to hear.
"I feel like I can contribute right off the bat," Parker said. "I feel like I’m going to be able to grow with that organization, and I’m trying to be a throwback player, only stick with one team.
"This might bite me in the butt years from now, but right now I just want to stick with whoever’s rolling with me."
Parker averaged 19.1 points and 8.7 rebounds per game in his lone season for Duke, earning ACC Freshman of the Year honors and finishing second in the voting for ACC Player of the Year. The 6-foot-8 forward was named a first-team All-American by numerous outlets and was the USBWA National Freshman of the Year.
The Chicago native’s offensive skillset should allow him to step in and contribute on that end of the floor from the beginning at both the small forward and power forward positions.
"He’s one of those players that is a matchup problem," Hammond said. "I think he can play two positions offensively. He can play the small forward position because he can put the ball on the floor and can create a shot for himself.
"On the defensive end of the floor, I always look at this, if a guy knows how to play, he knows how to play on the defensive end too. He’ll figure it out. It won’t take him very long. He was guarding people around the basket. I think he has an ability to do that because of his size. He’s a big guy, but he’s got great feet, very fast feet, very quick feet for a guy that size. Defensively, he’s going to guard both (small forward and power forward)."
Milwaukee hosted Parker at their training facility last week, as Cleveland was the only other team with whom he went through a workout. The fact Parker was so vocal about wanting to come to Milwaukee and play for the Bucks left an impression within the organization.
"We’re really excited about the fact that he wants to be here," Hammond said. "He’s thanking us for the opportunity. That’s something that you really appreciate. I think it has a chance to be a great long-term fit for us. We hope we as an organization can grow with him and some of the other young pieces on our roster.
"Now it is our job, I think as we move forward here, to put him in a position to where he continues to feel good about this city and about this organization."
Now the head coach at Marquette, Steve Wojciechowski watched Parker firsthand last season as an assistant coach at Duke. Aside from joking about having a babysitter in town for his kids, Wojciechowski gave a glowing review of Parker.
"I think with Jabari, you look at his skill set," Wojciechowski said. "He’s got a feel and a skill set that fairly refined for a person his age. The things he can do right now on the basketball court I think translate at the NBA level, especially in terms of his ability to score the ball. I think when you compare that to maybe some of the other draft prospects, you’re drafting more on what people would consider potential. But, that’s where I don’t think with Jabari, it’s not stressed enough with him. I think he can make an impact right away in the NBA and I think he will. I think he’s got skills and ability that translate.
"The thing I don’t think that’s talked about enough is I think he’s going to get a lot better. And so he also has potential. He is, and I think he has big potential."
Although comparisons to current NBA players are often crapshoots, Hammond acknowledged it is part of the evaluation process. While watching television coverage of Carmelo Anthony opting out of his contract with the New York Knicks, Hammond saw a lot of Parker in the video clip of Anthony.
"The way he moved with the ball, the kind of things he was doing, the way he was scoring — I’ve got to say there were some real similarities there as how he looked on the floor," Hammond said. "I think it’s a pretty good comp, but those are big shoes to fill because Melo is one of the best players in this game.
"I’m not sure what his ceiling is. I think that whatever it is, he’s going to achieve it. I think it is pretty high."
By going 15-67 and holding the league’s worst record during the 2013-14 season, Milwaukee had the highest odds of securing the top selection but did not win the draft lottery. The Bucks instead picked second for the first time in franchise history.
While Parker will have the expectations of being a franchise player right off the bat, he feels he’s ready to deal with the pressure of coming into the league as the No. 2 overall pick.
"Mostly I’m prepared because I think my pride won’t get in the way of what the team wants to do," Parker said. "I want to fulfill my role and do whatever it takes to win. So, I don’t think I will be the face of the program. I want to be somebody that plays along with good guys and that’s willing to win."
In addition to holding the No. 2 pick, the Bucks have three second-round picks Thursday, including the first selection of the second round at No. 31 overall. Barring any trades, Milwaukee will also pick at No. 36 and No. 48.