Jabari Parker is growing up quickly and is the young Milwaukee Bucks' leading scoring since the All-Star break. Progress for the No. 2 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft has been slow, but it's starting to bear fruit.
"He's let everybody know that he could still be ‘the guy,' a franchise player in this league," Jason Kidd told reporters in Boston. "You can see his confidence is at an all-time high too."
Still, something is missing from Parker's game. He's only scratching the surface of his potential, and one easy fix can get him closer to that ceiling.
While receiving a high volume of shots, Parker is averaging more than 22 points in nearly 40 minutes per game since the All-Star break. In particular, Parker is scoring at-will inside, converting on over 70 percent of his shots within eight feet.
The Bucks might just be 3-4 in those games, but they've fared very well when Parker is paired with their other two core players, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. With that trio on the floor, they outscore opponents by more than five and a half points per 100 possessions. The present has been dreary in Milwaukee, but with Parker's emergence, the future looks brighter than ever.
Parker is flashing his superstar potential in particularly unique way. Not many 6'8, 250-pound humans can move like he does.
That's a Carmelo Anthony or Paul Pierce-esque stepback jumper. Parker might be switched onto a big man in that example, but that type of move works against anybody.
Here's an elusive, yet equally deadly attack by Parker. Watch how smoothly he swoops through two defenders into a lefty layup. Subtle plays like this are why Parker was my No. 1 ranked prospect in 2014, ahead of actual No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins. He's athletic, but relies on more than just athleticism. He can also lean on fluidity, feel, ambidexterity and rock solid fundamentals.
Parker has flashed his otherworldly potential for the Bucks, but oddly, he's rarely used a weapon so many of the league's superstars must have: the three-pointer.
Parker's shot chart is mostly bloody red away from the rim. He didn't even hit his first three of the season until last Monday against the Rockets. Including preseason and summer league, he's missed 42-of-50 three-point attempts since being drafted by the Bucks, despite perimeter shooting success as a Duke freshman.
This isn't a knock on Parker, though. It's actually a compliment. Consider that he's already this good only 15 months removed from a torn ACL. Imagine how lethal he'll be once his shot does start falling.
The threes haven't gone down for Parker in the NBA, but the potential is there. Most of his jumpers miss short, which suggests he might not be generating enough power from his legs to shoot it from long distance. That could be due to the fact he's still not in peak conditioning. It also could indicate that he simply doesn't get enough in-game reps to develop the experience of shooting from deep.
Usually, he doesn't even look to shoot from the perimeter.
When he's spotting up on the perimeter, he tends to drive against a closing-out defender while catching the ball, like a running back rumbling through the line into the end zone. If he doesn't get all the way to the rim, he often spots up from right inside the NBA three-point line.
What's odd is Parker's had a lot of success shooting spot-up jumpers from this area all year. He's hit seven of his 17 spot-up two-pointers from 20+ feet. That's a tiny sample, but it's consistent with his production from the college three-point line at Duke, where he shot 36 percent on mostly catch-and-shoot attempts.
The obvious question is why Parker is so reluctant to fire away from the perimeter.
"That's what they want me to do," Parker said when asked before a recent game against the Celtics. "That's my role: to drive and not look for the three-point shot."
He later added, "If I have to do anything my coach wants me to do, then I'll do it. That's what I want to do."
Parker is obviously willing to follow orders, but those orders may be delaying his development by not giving him in-game practice as a shooter. Maybe the results will be poor, like they have been so far. Parker scores a healthy 1.23 points per possession on cuts and 1.16 on putbacks, per Synergy Sports Technology, but scores just over 30 percent on shots outside the paint. Given those numbers, one can understand why Kidd wants Parker relentlessly crashing the paint, where he's a supermassive force of nature that can't be stopped.
This is in part a team-wide mandate. The Bucks attempt the second-fewest threes in the NBA, so it's not like anyone besides Middleton shoots them often. But Michael Carter-Williams (25.5 percent in his career) and Antetokounmpo (27.5 percent) have been given the freedom to launch when they're open. Why not Parker, as well?
"I think I'm able to do it, I just don't get enough attempts," Parker said. "If you don't shoot them, you can't make them."
Instructing Parker to shoot jumpers would accelerate his long-term development, even if there are short-term growing pains. If the defense has to respect Parker as a threat to shoot, it would create more space and give him even more room to drive against closeouts. And if he's hitting those threes, it'll lead to an uptick in both his own and the team's efficiency.
The Bucks are loaded with blossoming young prospects, but Jabari Parker is their transcendent talent. He's responded well to a heavier workload. Now it's time to feed him more.