Being ranked No. 430 isn’t bad when it’s a list of the brightest people in the country or the most popular cheeses in Wisconsin. But when it’s the NBA list of real plus/minus, it’s not so good. Because there are a lot of people in the country and a lot of cheese in Wisconsin. But only 430 rated players in the NBA, and going into the week the Bulls’ Jabari Parker was rated No. 430.
Worst player in the NBA?
No, not really. After all, that real plus/minus is one of those suspect all encompassing ratings of impact on the game. It’s from ESPN and only compiled once there are enough games as the NBA heads to the one quarter mark. It does take numbers from the reliably statistical basketball-reference. Though you do know it’s said there are three types of lies: Common lies, damn lies and statistics. Like the baseball manager once said his statistics people will explain to him that if you have one foot in an oven and one in an ice bucket you should be fine. Analytics, of course, has become the manual of sports. And the talk at the upcoming baseball meetings is to speed the game they plan just to have MBAs read from spreadsheets on the field, thus also reducing admission costs.
So we’ll accept that Parker is not the worst player in the NBA as the Bulls Friday prepare to host the Miami Heat. And off his 20 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists in Wednesday’s Bulls win over the Phoenix Suns, you figure he has to at least have gone up to No. 420.
But could Jabari Parker really be a keeper? Could Parker become that steal every team seeks? This riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma who is a diamond in the rough? That’s perhaps more cliches than he uses.
While much of the Bulls recent personnel calculation is about the return of Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis to team with Zach LaVine, et al, Parker could be entering the conversation. He is now averaging 15.2 points, second to LaVine, along with 6.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists.
But it’s been more what he just did than what he had done.
With Parker, an excellent rebounder, often taking the ball off the backboard and pushing the ball or throwing ahead, the Bulls offense Wednesday was better than it has been in weeks. The Bulls had 19 fast break points against the Suns, a season best 124 points on 56.8 percent shooting and Parker efficient with just 10 field goal attempts and eight of 10 free throws.
“We can get better,” said the generally terse Parker. “That’s what I’m looking forward to. Things went well for us; most importantly we got the win.”
Parker’s play has often been disappointing and despite just 18 games, the thought was becoming that Parker’s stay would be short since he had just a one-year guarantee. Of course, there’s the question of where he plays with the eventual return from injury of power forwards Markkanen and Portis, the latter a restricted free agent. Parker isn’t a top defender, or probably not even average. But few are in this wide open NBA, and there are not going to be many available free agents who can average close to 20 points like Parker. At 6-8 and 250 pounds, he is an excellent shooter adept at handling the ball in the open court, which is vital and widely pursued in this so called positionless era.
“He causes a mismatch because he’s quick and he can shoot the ball,” noted LaVine after the Suns game. “So whenever I’m in a ball screen with him, he gets a smaller guard on him in the switch and he can take him in the post or face up a bigger dude and beat him off the dribble. He causes mismatches out there. They are going to have to double eventually and that’s what they started doing and he started making plays for us in transition.
“He got the old man game,” LaVine said with a laugh. “But he’s athletic, big hands, explosive and strong when he gets to the basket. He was extremely explosive and he’s starting to get that back again. We were in the same draft. He was the No.1 player in the country, him and Andrew Wiggins going back and forth. I was top 50, I think, but we all went to same camps. He was a man among boys (with that) same size going down the lane and rising above people.”
Parker’s begun to do that with regularity, more out of the post in those mismatches, but also like against the Suns with a full court fast break drive for a slam dunk. After all, Parker is playing for less than a year since his return from a second ACL knee surgery. Plus, he was targeted to play small forward for the Bulls until both Markkanen and Portis were hurt and then began starting at power forward after moving from starting small forward to backup power forward.
It was a lot of change in a short amount of time.
“It’s a whole new team, a whole new system, new players, new coaching staff; it takes time,” reminded LaVine. “Everything is not going to be perfect right away. You are going to go through some ups and downs. We all know how good Jabari is. He’s always been one of the top young players in the league. He had the injury just like I did during his best year when he was averaging 20. It’s tough to get back to that position; it’s a lot of hard work. So I know mentally, just coming from that injury his mental state is above most out there to get back to the player he is. He’s getting his rhythm and we’re starting to understand him and he’s understanding us.”
How about a 6-8 wing and post player who has three-point range and ball handling and playmaking abilities, a 23-year-old five-year veteran who was a former top two draft pick? Could the Bulls use a player like that?