Jabari Parker‘s season came to an abrupt end when Duke lost to Mercer in their opening matchup of the NCAA tournament. Despite the Blue Devils’ crushing early exit, executives around the league still see the explosive forward as a near lock to go in the top three of June’s exceptionally deep draft. DraftExpress has Parker going third in its mock draft, and he’s listed second on Chad Ford of ESPN.com’s Big Board. Certainly there’s been speculation that Parker’s might be the first named called come draft day, but the Kansas duo of Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins are generally seen as more likely candidates for the top overall selection.
While the consensus might be that he doesn’t look to have as high a ceiling as the freakishly athletic Wiggins, scouts who spoke to Ford are intrigued by Parker’s tantalizing offensive skill set and readiness to compete at the next level. He was the second-ranked recruit coming out of high school, and he didn’t disappoint in his freshman season at Duke. Parker led the Blue Devils in scoring and rebounding, averaging 19.1 points and 8.7 boards per contest while shooting an impressive 47.3% from the floor in the process. His ability to score stems from his high basketball IQ and desire to put up big numbers, but he’s not a selfish player by any means. He’s just capable of getting to the basket and finds a way to the hoop often. His size and speed allow him to get around less capable defenders, and his willingness to attack the basket resulted in an average of six free throws attempted per night.
Parker isn’t going to shoot the lights out, but he’s got good mechanics and can drain jumpers from all over the floor. He was prone to hot and cold shooting streaks during his freshman season, but scouts were impressed at his ability to switch up his game and attack the paint while his shot was struggling. Still, he’s been known to put up questionable mid-range heaves and will need to be more selective if he wants his game to translate to the next level. His excellent passing skills and impressive ball handling abilities are rare in a wing of his size and definitely contribute to his knack for getting out and making an impact in transition plays. ESPN.com lists his wingspan at 7’0″ (Insider piece).
Scouts were initially a bit alarmed when Parker’s numbers took a hit during the start of conference play, and his performance in the tournament has pundits questioning his ability to carry a team. At just 19 years old, Parker certainly has some growing up do, and he will need to get used to playing with elite competition since he struggled at times against longer, athletic opponents. Guys who can get around Parker were able to expose his less-than-stellar defensive abilities that caused Coach K to actually bench Parker in the late minutes of Duke’s loss to Mercer. It’s true that there are more athletic players in the draft class, but Parker can hold his own because of his high motor and thirst to score.
There’s been speculation throughout the season that Parker might return to school for his sophomore season, and earlier this month Parker still said he was undecided about whether or not he’d be declaring for the draft. Parker’s desire to play with Blue Devil recruit and former AAU teammate Jahlil Okafor might impact his decision, but it would be hard to pass up such a sure shot at going as a top three selection. While Parker hasn’t declared anything yet, an executive recently told Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv that he fully expects Parker to enter his name as an early entrant.
Parker has lived up to the hype at Duke and been able to prove he belongs in the elite prospect category. Neither Embiid nor Wiggins is as NBA-ready as Parker, and although those two figure to have greater potential, Parker is definitely more of a “sure thing.” This isn’t to say Parker doesn’t have a high ceiling himself, however, and certainly any team would consider itself lucky to land him in June’s draft. In fact, Parker would be a lock to go first overall most seasons. He can score in bunches and in a variety of ways, and while his defense is far from elite at this stage of his career, he has character and he’ll work to improve at the next level. NBADraft.net lists his pro comparison as Carmelo Anthony, which isn’t a bad level of talent to be associated with. In a class that might go down as one of the deepest groups in the history of the NBA, Parker has found a spot sitting comfortably near the top.