McKinney Talks Parker

by Alex Boeder
Bucks.com Writer

McKinney on Parker
Just in case your employer did not encourage you to forgo work and then send you to Las Vegas and buy tickets for you to watch the sold-out, standing-room-only Summer League game between the Bucks and Cavaliers last Friday. (Or in case you were one of the hundreds of people waiting in line who were turned away because the gymnasium was at capacity.)

In case you have missed the first Summer League game on television. Or any of the Summer League games.

In case you missed any of Parker’s Duke games last year. Or in case you didn’t get the invite to the Kevin Durant Skills Academy Camp or the McDonald’s All-American Game the year before. Or to the draft combine in Chicago this season. Or the pre-draft workout in Milwaukee. In case you have not watched all of Parker’s games on film. Once or twice, at least.

In these cases or not, Billy McKinney has a story to tell. McKinney is the Director of Scouting for the Bucks.

As the July tradition goes, McKinney recently chatted with me about the newest Bucks rookies. (Last year, the first thing McKinney told me when I asked about Giannis Antetokounmpo’s strengths: “Being able to play multiple positions. He is a player, with his size, who could play point guard, shooting guard possibly, and small forward.” Update: Jason Kidd is going to give Giannis minutes at the point this season.)

This time it was a telephone call to McKinney, 10 minutes after the Bucks/Cavaliers Summer League showdown. Hard to comprehend that “showdown” is the word that was chosen for this paragraph, but here we are. And there McKinney was, trying to find a place so generously to take my call at the drumming COX Pavilion on a Friday night in Vegas. Thanks, Billy.

Parker will be in Milwaukee soon. If you are like me, you probably won’t want to miss him anymore.  

Interview

What are Jabari’s strengths right now? How can he contribute as a rookie?

He is a polished player, in that right now he has not played an NBA game, but his skill set, the things he can do in terms of scoring the basketball, making shots from the perimeter, passing the ball. Those skills will allow him to be on the floor. And then he can get to the basket and create free throw attempts, he draws fouls. He rebounds the ball well. He has some things he needs to work on. But he has a very good basketball instinct.

A lot of people have called Jabari NBA-ready, but many of those same people also have said he does not have as high of a ceiling as Andrew Wiggins. How good do you think Jabari can be in, say, five years?

I disagree with that (Wiggins having a higher ceiling than Parker), because he (Parker) has such a great baseline to start with. And he is the kind of player, and the kind of person, who is going to work to improve every facet of his game. So when I hear that, and I have heard people say that in five years Wiggins is going to be a better player and that he has a bigger upside, I disagree with it to the point that Jabari still has a lot of growth in his game. A tremendous amount.

In what areas does Jabari need to improve?

I think he is going to become a better shooter, a better perimeter shooter. He is going to become a better free throw shooter. He has made tremendous improvement in his shooting technique since the end of the season. And those are things that will make him very difficult to defend. Because he can play inside, he can play outside.

Defensively, he put up solid block (1.6 per 40 minutes) and steal (1.4 per 40 minutes) numbers at Duke, but he does not have a great reputation as a big-time defender. Does he need to improve his man-to-man defense or team/help defense more? Perimeter or post defense?

When people talk about his defense, one thing they have to remember is that he played center for Duke. They were an undersized club, so he was forced to defend bigger players. That is an area where he will get better. I have seen him defend players on the perimeter, which he will get better at, and he will get better at his post defense. But most of his entire freshman year he was playing out of position defensively.

On draft night, John Hammond said that he thinks Parker can play two positions offensively. Jason Kidd played Paul Pierce (whom many have compared to Parker) at power forward at times last season. What do you project as Parker’s ideal NBA position offensively and defensively?

I don’t know if I would put it as ideally, but at 6-9 and 245, here is a guy who can score around the post. He can cause a lot of issues for defenders. If he is defended by a smaller player, he can take that defender in the post. If he is defended by a player who is bigger, then he can step off the post and face the player and face-up and make that eight-to-ten foot shot. So he has got to extend that area where he is going to be able to do things well offensively. And as we saw in this game (first Summer League game versus Cleveland), he can create his shot going to the basket off the dribble. So he is going to continue to improve greatly in all of those areas as he continues to learn the nuances of the NBA.

I think like most of our players he is a multi-positional player. In some spots he will be able to play the four on offense and defense. So that is one of the great things about looking at his game and the value he adds to our roster. He will be able to play both of those positions (three and four).

Parker led the ACC in rebounding as a freshman. Do you consider defensive rebounding as part of defense when evaluating a player? And do you think Parker will be a strong rebounder in the NBA?

I think he will be a really good rebounder, because he is more athletic than people think. He is fundamentally sound, which enables him to get a lot of defensive rebounds. He is not just blocking out. He is doing the small things that help him get the ball. He can also range rebound, meaning he can rebound outside of his area.

He does not have the raw athleticism of someone like Andrew Wiggins, but Parker dunked the ball almost twice as often as Wiggins as freshmen. How do you project his ability to get to the basket and the free throw line in the NBA?

If you look at his free throw rate in college, he got to the free throw line quite a bit. When you talk about athleticism, I don’t think there are too many people who are in the NBA currently who are as good of athletes as Wiggins. But I would say that Jabari is an above-average athlete, and he is deceptive with his athletic ability.

You mentioned him operating in the post. Parker attempted (and made) a lot of difficult shots in college, including some long twos. Will he need to refine his shot selection?

Most players do. And he made a couple of tough shots tonight. That will be part of the learning process for him, learning the difference between a good shot and a tough shot. When you look at Duke, he was the primary scorer. So he had to take some tough shots. But the thing that he does really well, is that he is learning and willing to pass out of the double team in the low post.

Offensively, would you most often like to see him in the post, the mid-range, or on the perimeter?

He is a versatile scorer. With someone like Jabari, you do not limit him to any one spot, because he can do well in all of those places offensively. And he will get better as time goes on, as he gets more experience.

He was comfortable grabbing rebounds and then taking the ball down court himself in transition at Duke. We saw Giannis Antetokounmpo do the same thing as a rookie at times. Do you think Parker should be encouraged to do that as a rookie?

Jason (Kidd) has talked to him (Parker) about our offensive philosophy a little bit, and yes, that is something Jabari is going to be able to do. And maybe in moderation, but he has that skill set to do it.

The Bucks ranked 24th in pace last season. Does Parker fit better in a fast-paced offense or more methodical offense? Open court or half court?

Jabari is the kind of player who can play well in any system. To be an effective player in the NBA, you have to be able to play both ways, and that is something he will be able to do.

Parker has been listed from 225 to 254 pounds. You said before the draft that he looked fantastic from a physical standpoint. Any thoughts on an ideal weight range for adapting to the NBA?

What he is learning right now, coming off that injury he had in his senior year of high school (foot injury in 2012), is how to get into great shape. When we had him at the draft combine he was like 245. When he was at Duke he was about 245. And when I talked to a few of his coaches at Duke, they felt like maybe his optimal playing weight might be in the 235 to 245 range. He is a big man. Until you stand next to him, you don’t realize how big he is.

Will Parker be working with anyone in particular from the Bucks staff to develop his body and/or game as a rookie?

Of course. He will work with our strength and conditioning coach Robert Hackett. Chris McKenzie (director of physical therapy) will work on his body mechanics. We will have a range of people working with him in terms of getting him into the best playing shape. He (Parker) doesn’t eat red meat. He watches his weight, he watches his diet. And these are all things he will continue to refine.

He just matched up with Wiggins in Milwaukee’s first Summer League game. What are the Do’s and Don’ts of Summer League for Parker?

What we saw tonight is that he played hard. And I think because of the build-up to the game with Parker and Wiggins, that maybe at times he (Parker) tried to do a little too much. But the one thing that I was impressed with our team and Jabari is that they usually played within themselves and they played very hard. This is a learning experience. You want the players to learn from their mistakes. Jabari went to the free throw line 11 times (against Cleveland) and he made 7-of-11. And I know that he wants 9-of-11 or 10-of-11 to take advantage of those free looks.

How would you define a successful first season for Parker?

Staying healthy. We have had a lot of health issues recently. It is not for me to say that we want him to be Rookie of the Year. There are a lot of things that we would like to happen. Getting time on the court and experience is going to help him define his level of success, not only this year but well into the future.

This is one of my standard questions for you. Any player comparisons for Jabari going into this draft? What current or former NBA players do you feel had similar games to Parker?

This time, I can’t say that I had a specific player in mind.

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