The immediate questions one may have are:
- Does Parker make sense for the Jazz, and
- At what cost?
No, Jabari Parker hasn’t quite lived up to the hype surrounding him coming out of Duke.
You remember that draft class. The one in which Parker was pitted against Andrew Wiggins for the future of the NBA. The one that has produced just one All-Star appearance so far (Joel Embiid in 2018). The one second-rounder Nikola Jokic leads in Wins Over Replacement Player by a staggering amount (his 37.5 blows Kyle Anderson’s second-place 13.8).
No, Parker isn’t the franchise player he was billed as that year. At least, he isn’t that yet. But there are reasons to believe we’ve seen far from his best. And the Jazz may buy those reasons.
“Besides Sacramento and Philadelphia,” Gery Woelfel of The Racine Journal Times wrote. “Some other teams that have surfaced as potential landing spots for Parker [are] Chicago, Utah, Indiana, Atlanta, Phoenix and Brooklyn.”
That’s a lot of competition for Parker’s services. And of course, his current team, the Milwaukee Bucks, have the ultimate power here. Since Parker’s a restricted free agent, the Bucks can match any offer he signs with another team and keep him in Milwaukee.
Do they really want to, though?
It’s possible that the front office would like to see how much different Parker might look under the tutelage of new coach Mike Budenholzer. But there’s also a chance he might not fit the mold of a typical Coach Bud forward. Think DeMarre Carroll or Paul Millsap. Those guys were both great defenders with the Atlanta Hawks.
Additionally, the combination of Parker and Antetokounmpo hasn’t quite come together. In 2017-18, Milwaukee was outscored by 6.3 points per 100 possessions when those two shared the floor. The Bucks outscored opponents by 4.9 points per 100 possessions when Antetokounmpo was on the floor without Parker. That’s an 11.2-point swing. And the results were similar last season. In 2016-17, Giannis’ Net Rating was 5.7 points better without Parker.
A long-term commitment to a player who simply might not fit with your franchise player might not be in the cards for Milwaukee.
Does Jabari Fit in Utah?
So, if he hasn’t figured out how to play alongside Antetokounmpo, why would the Jazz want him?
For starters, Utah was 15th in the NBA in points per possession last season. And to be a real contender, you almost certainly need to be better than average on offense.
And Parker, despite a minus-0.1 career Offensive Box Plus-Minus, appears to have the kind of talent Quin Snyder could unleash.
Before tearing his ACL in 2016-17, Parker was averaging 20.1 points, while shooting 49 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from three. This season, coming off that injury, his points per minute barely dipped and his Effective Field Goal Percentage held steady, almost two points above league average.
Parker can score. And Utah’s need for straight-up scoring from someone besides Donovan Mitchell became painfully obvious during the playoffs.
Parker could alleviate some of the pressure on Mitchell, and there are hints he can fit into Utah’s ball-movement-heavy offense too.
In January of 2017, the Bucks experimented a bit with Parker, giving him more responsibility as a playmaker. That month, he averaged 3.7 assists.
And in that same season, his efficiency as a spot-up shooter was significantly better (relative to league average) than his efficiency as an iso scorer.
There’s evidence he’s willing to both move the ball and be a catch-and-shoot threat when it’s moved to him.
If he’s in a system that emphasizes those things to a greater degree, the advanced numbers should start to better reflect his natural talent.
In terms of defense, Parker has spent his entire career in one of the most nonsensical schemes in the NBA.
Jason Kidd’s hair-on-fire approach worked the first season he tried it. Then, teams adjusted and Kidd didn’t. Games against the Bucks almost became corner three practice for teams all over the league, as Milwaukee defenders sold out on the wings and the top of the key to allow wide-open looks along the baseline.
Parker may never be a clear plus defender, but in Utah, he’d at least be taught principles with a proven track record. If he could simply learn to close out on a shooter, filter drivers into Gobert and know when and where he’s supposed to rotate, the stellar defenders around him could make up for his natural deficiencies.
How Would the Jazz Sign Parker?
This is probably the biggest sticking point. It’s really not that difficult to see how Snyder could utilize Parker’s talent. There just may be a lot of hoops to jump through to get him on the Jazz.
First off, a lot would depend on what kind of salary the market will yield him. If he’s around $15 million annually, it’s a lot easier to see this working. And with so little cap space available this summer, that number isn’t out of the question. If he winds up costing around $20 million a year, that might be too steep for the Jazz.
Just to get to that amount of cap space, Utah would have to renounce the rights to Dante Exum and Derrick Favors, while waiving the non-guaranteed contracts of Thabo Sefolosha, Jonas Jerebko and Ekpe Udoh. Parker, and the risks associated with him, probably isn’t worth that.
Another option is a double sign-and-trade, an idea that’s been floating around the internet for weeks. Would the Bucks be interested in swapping Parker for Favors? The move would hard cap both teams (the result of any sign-and-trade under this collective bargaining agreement), but neither would likely need to land a bunch of free agents after the deal anyway.
Favors makes some sense for the Bucks. He’d almost certainly start at center. He’s a year younger than John Henson and comparable to him as a rim protector. Plus, he’s more versatile as a perimeter defender and offensive player. Antetokoumpo/Favors pick-and-rolls would be incredibly difficult to stop.
And while one could argue that Favors is better than Parker, in a vacuum, the latter might just fit better.
The playmaking-4 lineup of Ricky Rubio, Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Jae Crowder and Gobert outscored opponents by a whopping 27.4 points per 100 possessions last season. Playing position-less around Gobert works. And Parker, at least theoretically, fits that mold better than Favors.
Again, there are a bunch of hurdles to clear before this report becomes anything approaching reality, but it’s not difficult to see why the Jazz would be interested.
What About the Injuries?
The other elephant in the room regarding Parker is his history of injuries. He’s already been through two ACL recoveries. And while that particular injury is nowhere near the death knell it once was (thanks to advances in medicine), two is still a bit of a worry.
At the very least, it would probably require an added layer of due diligence from the Jazz to make sure there are no lingering issues.
Fit, cost and injuries are all legitimate concerns, but it’s not crazy to think the Jazz could talk themselves past all three.