Many scouts expect Duke’s Jabari Parker to make the biggest rookie impact in the 2014 class, but until recently it didn’t look like he had much chance of being the first player taken Thursday in the NBA Draft.
That all changed last week when Kansas center Joel Embiid suffered a stress fracture to the navicular bone in his right foot.
The Cavaliers, who own the No. 1 pick for the third time in four years, are now expected to choose between the 6-foot-8, 241-pound Parker and Kansas shooting guard Andrew Wiggins.
“The guy on the board for me is Parker,” ProBasketballDraft.com founder and SheridanHoops.com draft analyst Joe Kotoch said. “Here’s my thought process: The way they got snake-bitten with Embiid, they want to play it safer now. They were all in for Embiid. With Wiggins, there is still some work to be done. Parker is the no-brainer for them.”
The 19-year-old Parker averaged 19.1 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists while shooting .472 from the field, .358 on 3-pointers and .748 at the line in 30.7 minutes a game as a Duke freshman.
However, there were reports he didn’t perform well in a workout for the Cavs on Friday, with some going so far as to say it was intentional because he’d rather play for Milwaukee, which owns the No. 2 pick. Parker grew up in nearby Chicago.
“I think he’ll be a great player and I won’t fault the Cavs for taking him,” Kotoch said. “You’re in a great situation. You can take any of the three top prospects and a year ago any of them would have been the top pick. This is the strongest draft at the top since 2003, when LeBron (James) came into the league.”
Parker, who can handle the ball, shoot, penetrate and pass, will also be able to log minutes at power forward in the NBA, especially as his career progresses and he continues to add strength to his already solid frame.
While some, including Kotoch, question his athleticism and ability to defend elite small forwards, NBA scouting director Ryan Blake prefers to accentuate the positives.
“He plays with authority, within the system and is very coachable,” Blake said. “He’s got a great IQ and basketball instincts. When you add a big man that has that with high character and a high motor, those are huge.
“He’s the closest thing to a sure thing. Does that mean he’s going to be a franchise player? No. None of these guys are coming in as the first option, but he’s going to be very, very good for a number of years.”
To use scout-speak, Parker is NBA ready. While Embiid needs to add strength and develop his offensive game, particularly with his back to the basket, and Wiggins needs to get stronger and improve his jump shot, Parker is a fairly polished product from an offensive standpoint.
“In Chicago (at the NBA pre-draft camp), when you asked scouts and GMs who can be rookie of the year in this class, they all said Jabari Parker,” Kotoch said. “He’s already good and he’s got a lot of room to improve. The reason he doesn’t have as much upside is he’s held back athletically. He’s not the same caliber of athlete as Wiggins and Embiid.”
At the moment, though, Parker is a more polished and complete player, with Kotoch comparing him to 10-time All-Star Paul Pierce. Small forward is also the Cavs’ position of greatest need, though that issue would be resolved if LeBron James returned to Cleveland as a free agent.
“With (point guard) Kyrie (Irving), he’s the best fit from Day One,” Kotoch said of Parker. “He doesn’t need the ball in his hands, which Wiggins does. He can give them shooting right away. He’s a smart kid. He’s quiet and doesn’t have the same entourage some of these other guys do.”