Jabari Parker is in the midst of a breakout campaign, growing into the offensive juggernaut many foresaw him as being. Though his game is by no means a finished product, the future is looking brighter by the day in Buck Country.
The two were taken in consecutive drafts. Antetokounmpo in the 2013 draft at 15th overall and Parker second overall in the 2014 draft. Currently, both are experiencing major breakout seasons, though Antetokounmpo is garnering much more attention.
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Spreading his full 7’3″ wingspan this season, “The Greek Freak” is posting career highs across the board, putting the league on notice that he’ll be a mainstay among the game’s elite for years to come.
And yet, for all of the discussion regarding Antetokounmpo’s youth and inexperience, Parker lost 57 games to injury his rookie year after tearing his ACL in December 2014.
Parker averaged 18.9 points per game on 49 percent shooting while playing more than 36 minutes per game during that stretch, according to NBAstats.com.
It’s clear that Parker didn’t stand pat over the summer, as he’s improved upon that run this season. Parker is averaging 20.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game with 1.1 steals and 0.3 blocks in 34.1 minutes a night, according to NBAstats.com.
The most obvious change in Parker’s game is his massive improvement in 3-point shooting. Parker’s shooting better than 41 percent from deep, up more than 15 percent from last season, and more than 8 percent from that 2016 post All-Star stretch.
His ability to keep the defense and honest and give Milwaukee some badly needed spacing has been instrumental in opening up driving lanes for both him and Antetokounmpo.
Parker is getting more and more comfortable stepping into rhythm and though his release isn’t the quickest, he’s shown that he’s comfortable knocking down shots over halfhearted contests.
It helps that Parker plays the 4 and has the size to bang with most power forwards while abusing small-ball 4s, allowing Giannis to play the 3 and roam free around the floor to affect the game at maximum impact.
Parker’s polish on his offensive game was his most attractive feature coming out of college, his questionable outside shooting notwithstanding. He’s always possessed an array of moves and finishes in the post, around the basket and in the open court to leave the defense grasping for air.
One positive of the injury is that it gave him a full year in an NBA weight room and on a diet program to shed the extra weight he had, and it’s made him much more explosive than most thought that he would be.
He’s morphed into an absolute terror in transition, ranking in the 90th percentile in points per possession in that setting, according to Synergy Sports.
There’s a touch of Philly Charles Barkley there, no?
Now, about that polish offensively. He’s already provided a plethora of buttery moves this year in one-on-one situations to make Bucks fans’ knees weak.
And yet, with how smooth he is and despite shooting better than 56 percent of his shots within 10 feet of the rim, he only shoots 4.1 free throws per game.
Often, he seems to drive in the lane and doesn’t establish great balance before going up, leading to him fading away off one foot and making the shot much tougher.
As evidenced by a great video by BBallBreakdown on Parker and his stagnation in the current Bucks offense, the Chicago native is often stuck in the corner on the opposite side as a decoy during Giannis pick and rolls.
It certainly helps floor balance, as the team’s two best players are on opposite sides, but I’d love to see more Giannis-Parker pick and pops to pressure the defense, particularly with Jabari’s improved range.
Parker has the potential to be a tremendous ballhandler in the pick and roll and could be even deadlier if given more touches in areas ripe for quick attacks (elbows, wings).
An isolation-heavy offense doesn’t work in this current iteration of the association, but Parker is too good of a 1-on-1 player to not capitalize on a mismatch if he has one, which will be most nights.
Though Parker does many things well, there are holes in his game that are alarming. The Bucks are an even 0.0 in net rating with him on the court, but an astonishing plus-9.5 with him off the court, according to NBAstats.com.
So, what could be the reasoning for that number? To start, Parker is a severely below-average rebounder for his athleticism, ability and position, averaging less than six rebounds per game.
The advanced numbers don’t help his case either, as according to NBAstats.com, his rebound rate is remarkably low at 9.5 percent and his team rebounds the ball more than 4 percentage points better when he’s off the court.
Peering into the film, nearly all of Parker’s rebounds are uncontested and though his lack of offensive rebounding is somewhat understandable as he’s often on the 3-point arc, his lack of defensive rebounding is mostly due to lack of awareness.
Defensively, at times he appears engaged and more than serviceable, both on the perimeter and in the post. However, far too often he gets caught in the air or lazily swiping at the ball in an attempt to bail out his poor mechanics.
His 0.3 blocks per game are another red flag, considering how many shots he lets pass by and chooses to not contest near the rim.
Hopefully, with time he’ll grow more disciplined in staying down on shot fakes and contesting using verticality and timing, two things Antetokounmpo has used to dramtically increase his rim presence.
Though Giannis Antetokounmpo has commanded much of the NBA spotlight, and rightly so, but his running mate is no one to overlook. Despite the obvious gaps in Parker’s game right now, there’s no question he’s developing at a similar blistering pace as his Greek teammate.
All of the deficiencies in Parker’s game can be improved and aren’t problematic for lack of ability. Hopefully, more game experience and familiarity with Jason Kidd’s scheme will smooth over the rough edges in Parker’s overall game.
The guy is basically a second-year player and on the verge of his first All-Star appearance. There’s now two players in Bucks uniforms who can make a play worth the price of admission in one motion and could be the next great duo to lead an NBA franchise into contention. Don’t blink.