Potential Landing Spots for Jabari Parker
Photo Courtesy: SI
Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker’s first foray into the free agent market does not come under ideal circumstances, as the 23-year-old missed the majority of the previous season with his second major knee injury. While his time on the court last season showcased an improved outside shot and flashes of the same effortless scoring ability that had made him the second overall pick in 2014, Parker also displayed a reduction in his athleticism due to the injuries, as well as a continued inability to contribute much beyond his scoring. With Parker becoming a restricted free agent this offseason, teams around the league will have to evaluate whether his offensive strengths and vast potential will outweigh the injury and defensive concerns. Considering the relative dearth of teams with the financial capability to try and snag a high level restricted free agent and the way Parker’s game fits into the modern NBA, here are four teams that could be the top contenders for Parker.
Chicago Bulls: One of the teams most regularly linked to Parker in discussion surrounding his free agency is his hometown team in Chicago. The Bulls are a young team with lots of cap space and the need for further pieces at this early stage of their rebuild and adding a young forward who has averaged 15.3 points a game through some grueling injuries would increase the ceiling of this squad. But, the Bulls also have their frontcourt of the future set with Lauri Markkanen and recent draftee Wendell Carter, meaning they would have to trust Parker to man the small forward position almost full time. Furthermore, adding Parker to a core with fellow ACL tear victim Zach Lavine creates a core with concerningly high injury risks.
Utah Jazz: LDS church member Parker heading to the Mormon heartland of Salt Lake City gives Donovan Mitchell a teammate who can create his own shot, while Rudy Gobert and the talented defensive wings in Utah give him a significantly better chance of surviving on that end of the floor. The question for Utah is whether Parker can help the often-cramped floor spacing in Utah, but if his 38 % shooting percentage from downtown last season holds up, the defensive scheme in Utah and offensive opportunities that would be available to him make the Jazz an intriguing opportunity for Parker to reach his maximum potential. Whether the Mormon factor actually holds any allure for either party is questionable since the neither party has prioritized it in the past, with Parker choosing Duke instead of BYU and the Jazz not attempting to sign high-profile LDS members like Jimmer Fredette. But the basketball fit is clean enough that the religious factor is nothing but a possible sweetener in any union between Utah and Parker.
Phoenix Suns: Like the Bulls, Phoenix is another young team with lots of cap space and the need for more building blocks early in their rebuild. Although he’s a risky investment, at this point Parker still provides a more stable presence at the four than incumbent youngsters Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, who managed to combine for just 14.2 PPG last season, compared to Parker’s career average of just over 15. With athletic wings Josh Jackson and Mikal Bridges manning the wings and the allure of #1 pick Deandre Ayton’s defense being able to match his offensive skills, Parker would give the Suns another potent scoring threat alongside star Devin Booker. He would be placed in a situation with heavy competition amongst young players for minutes and probably spend time coming off the bench, but Parker would also be on a burgeoning young squad with a reputation for having one of the finest training staff’s in the association.
Milwaukee Bucks: Parker’s incumbent team can retain the young forward if they so choose due to his status as a restricted free agent. Even though Parker and the Bucks haven’t been able to maximize their potential the past few seasons, the allure of his fit between Giannis Antetokounmpo and Thon Maker remains worthy of a significant investment from the Bucks. The continuing development of Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon provides a roster with the defensive ability to cover for many of the deficiencies Parker has on that end and a nucleus that could consistently reside in the top half of the Eastern Conference, although that core’s ability to grow into a championship contender is unlikely.
Prediction: A variety of possible suitors for Parker offer an intriguing combination of fit and financial freedom, but the lack of other building blocks around Giannis Antetokounmpo means there is no way Milwaukee can allow a player with the ceiling of Parker to leave for nothing. There should be a market for Parker as a versatile forward, but his injuries have pushed him even deeper into the dreaded “tweener” role, sapping him of the lateral quickness needed to contain wings while also stunting his vertical explosiveness needed for finishing on the interior, thus stunting his market. Even if a team is comfortable allocating a large yearly salary to Parker, it is also unlikely that team will do so for numerous years. For a team like Milwaukee that doesn’t draw free agents or even the cap space to do so, nor the assets to make a major trade, letting a young player with the potential and possible fit of Parker seems unlikely and certainly unwise. So unless a team becomes unexpectedly enamored with Parker, look for him to be back in Milwaukee again next season.
All stats via basketball reference.com.