Parker gone, but Duke will be a title contender without him
DURHAM, N.C. — Duke’s Jabari Parker, ACC Freshman of the Year and consensus First Team All-American, declared for the NBA Draft on Wednesday, a decision on its own that wasn’t at all surprising.
He may not go No. 1., but in what is perceived as a deep draft, Parker is still expected to go in the top five picks and potentially higher. It was a tough spot for Parker, as he is a different breed and, as he wrote in this Sports Illustrated piece, genuinely loves college.
But life without Parker shouldn’t be too much of a struggle for Duke, as good as Parker was last year for the Blue Devils.
Minus Parker, and with sophomore transfer Rodney Hood yet to make a decision about his NBA future, Duke is still loaded next season with one of the best classes in the country coming in.
Center Jahlil Okafor is Scout.com’s No. 1 overall recruit in Class of 2014, while incoming freshman point guard Tyus Jones (the top-rated point guard and fourth overall) could solve some of Duke’s perimeter issues from a season ago.
Okafor, at 6-foot-10, should slide right in to Duke’s lineup and along with rising junior Amile Jefferson (6-9) — not to mention the still-developing 7-footer Marshall Plumlee — Duke should be plenty stocked in the frontcourt.
Last season, Parker was often forced to play out of position at the five-spot and at 6-8, he managed to score using his quickness and surprising size but often struggled to guard opposing big men.
Okafor will come in with the billing of being as skilled a big man as Duke has had in quite some time and should excel at his natural position.
Could Parker and Okafor have played together and made Duke that much more dangerous? Naturally, but as the old saying goes, there is only one basketball. And with another talented crop of recruits coming in who will want to have it in their hands, there might not be enough to go around.
Parker’s exit to the NBA now marks the third time in the last four seasons that Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski has recruited a so-called "one-and-done" player, with the previous two being Kyrie Irving (in 2011) and Austin Rivers (in 2012).
It marked a departure from the narrative surrounding Krzyzewski, who had just two players declare after just one year in school prior to 2011. The thought was that Krzyzewski discouraged his players from leaving early.
As careful as Krzyzewski was handling Irving’s toe injury that kept him out of much of his freshman season at Duke, and as at ease as he was with the decisions of both Irving and Rivers (and now Parker), it’s clear that narrative needs to be officially put to bed, if it hasn’t been already.
"Jabari could not have been better. He is the epitome of what you would want a basketball player to be — outstanding every day on the practice court and in the classroom and a very humble young man," Krzyzewski said in a statement released by Duke.
"He had a fantastic freshman year and is so deserving of the opportunity to play in the NBA and follow his dream. It was an honor for us to have him in our program and he will always be a part of our family here at Duke. We will be on the Jabari Parker team the rest of our lives and we know Jabari and his family will be on the Duke team for the rest of their lives."
It’s been great for Duke’s recruiting not only for Krzyzewski to coach the U.S. Olympic Team, but also for Duke’s incoming young stars to flourish in their one year in the spotlight before heading off to the NBA, if they so choose.
It’s a big reason Duke’s recruiting has stepped up significantly in recent seasons, and it’s a big reason that Duke is bringing in arguably the best class in the country.
It’s not quite John Calipari’s system at Kentucky of bringing in a crop of talented freshmen and nearly all of them going to the NBA, only for the next crop to come in and join them. But it’s clear that if you want to be an elite player and go to Duke, you can still do that and follow your NBA dreams afterward.
If Okafor is everything most hoops analysts think he’ll be, then Duke moving forward only needs some of its perimeter guys to step up. Quinn Cook will be a senior point guard, and he’ll be challenged by Jones early and often for playing time. Shooting guard Rasheed Sulaimon, a junior-to-be, has been erratic and will need to step up from what we’ve seen over his first two seasons.
If those issues are solved, though, Duke will be just fine. More than fine, in fact.
Had Parker come back, Duke would have been an early favorite for the national title. As it stands, though, the Blue Devils still have as good a chance as anyone to reach the Final Four and will probably still be a top-five team (if not higher) in the preseason.
As long as next year’s team can find a bit better chemistry than last year’s group did on the defensive end, the sky is the limit for the intriguing mix of experienced role players and superstar freshmen.