As the NBA draft draws closer ever so slowly, I think we’re starting to run out of ways to scout some of these top prospects. We’ve got the combine, we’ve got interviews, we’ve got workouts, we’ve got video breakdowns. And all of it is great. The problem is that it’s hard to add anything else to all of the analysis that already exists. I think we all have a pretty good idea of what we’re looking at with regards to the players the Milwaukee Bucks could select with the #2 pick.
Instead of poring over highlight reels or vertical jumps (as much of a sucker I am for prospects who can jump really high), we’re going to start talking about how those prospects fit in with the Bucks, particularly with the young players comprising the “core” of the team. We’ll start (for no particular reason) with Jabari Parker.
Many scouts and draft analysts have Parker listed as a small forward/power forward. While he was at Duke, Parker played a range of positions, even spending some time as the nominal center on the floor as Mike Krzyzewski tried all sorts of positional shenanigans to keep his star player on the court. However, the commonly held belief is that Parker’s size (6′ 9″, 241 lb) slots him in as a small forward in the NBA. But concerns about his possibly-suboptimal-but-maybe-sufficient-and-probably-fine athleticism and ability to guard small forwards in the NBA have been the primary knock against him throughout the predraft process. In addition, if the Bucks were to draft and play him as a small forward, he and Giannis Antetokounmpo could be struggling against each other for playing time.
So if small forward isn’t his spot, why not run him out at power forward? Guarding bigger (and ostensibly slower) forwards would eliminate the concerns about being exposed defensively while also forcing those players to range out and guard him on the other half of the court. The question here is whether playing him against power forwards places him at a size disadvantage. To solve that, I gathered measurements (again, from the DraftExpress database) to see how he compares physically against a variety of power forwards in the NBA today (these are all pre-draft measurements from each player’s respective draft year):
[table id=37 /]
(Note: we don’t have vertical numbers for either Davis or Parker because either no one has ever measured how high those players can jump or the person that did collect them didn’t have the forethought to share those numbers with the rest of us.
*Reported by ESPN’s Chad Ford from a late May workout. Half my kingdom for a standardized measurement database.)
Now obviously, some of these players don’t really compare skill- or role-wise with Parker. Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge are deadly shooters that do less on the move or in transition than Parker likely will. Paul Millsap and Kenneth Faried are both distinctly undersized power forwards who do the majority of their damage inside. Anthony Davis is otherworldly. Et cetera. But putting these players up and comparing them with Parker gives us a rough idea of how he stacks up against some of the top opposition in the league today.
From a physical standpoint, Parker wouldn’t be giving up too much were he to match up against most of these players. His 7-foot wingspan places him comfortably in the range of players like Blake Griffin, Love, and Faried. Most successful “undersized” forwards seem to make up for it with long arms (hey there Terrence Jones) or a big ol’ vertical leap, like Thad Young (who is probably the best example of a “tweener” on this list). Parker for sure has the wingspan.
Since we don’t have a vertical for him as of yet, however, we’ll have to get a little creative with our estimate. DX provides a handy tool that provides the average athletic tests by position for a given draft year; 2013 is the most recent year for which those numbers are provided, so those are the numbers we’ll use to build this comparison. The average vertical jump for a small forward, according to that chart, is 36.9 inches. Now, even though it’s been his primary criticism, I think it’s fair to say that Parker has at least average athleticism for the position (it’s almost certainly better than that). But still, let’s say he only has a 35 inch hop. That still compares quite favorably to almost every power forward on this list. It’s a quick and dirty comparison, but it would appear that the measurables we do possess point toward Parker’s ability to man the power forward position fairly capably.
One factor that we don’t especially have a clear measure for is strength. There isn’t a great way to measure overall strength in the combine or workout process. The only strength-related metric we have is the bench press, which, when you consider it, is a pretty poor method of measuring any kind of basketball capacity. Weight-wise, Parker is within the range of all of the other players on this list, so there’s hope that he can withstand the physicality of larger opponents. Still, strength and the ability to match up against the inside scorers he will come across is probably the bigger concern when we discuss Parker at the power forward position. Against longer opponents, the possibility of cross-matching on defense with Giannis Antetokounmpo is also a possibility.
On the offensive end, Parker would definitely cause issues for opponents with his shooting ability. At that position, he’s basically the definition of a stretch-4 and brings solid footwork as well as above-average passing for the position – the main question here is whether he would be able to operate in the post against bigger opponents than he faced in college. Mike Schmitz over at DX recently broke down Parker’s performance against NBA-caliber length.
Though it’s a fairly limited sample, drawn primarily from Parker’s two performances against Syracuse this year, that analysis also shows that he had difficulty working inside against an athletic defender in the University of Virginia’s Akil Mitchell. Instead, his success came primarily when working in the high post and when drawing defenders out to cover him around the perimeter. If he does operate primarily at that position, Parker will likely have to improve his post moves and work on finishing around and through the bigger, longer opponents he’ll match up with in the NBA. His immediate impact will likely come via his ability to operate in that high post area and hit jumpers while keeping his defender out of the paint.
Of course, installing Parker at power forward would impact the the players at that position already on the Bucks’ roster. Will they be amiable to paying Ersan Ilyasova $9 million to come off the bench? Whatever will happen to John Henson? Is Giannis Antetokounmpo ready to start, or would he benefit from another year of development coming off of the bench? Is Larry Sanders ever going to grow up and provide a defensive backbone to the team? If Antetokounmpo isn’t ready to start, a defensive pairing of Sanders and Henson could allow Parker to play significant minutes at small forward and help alleviate any defensive growing pains he experiences. If Giannis is ready to play serious minutes, Henson might find himself competing for playing time should Parker also prove ready.
At any rate, picking Parker would give the Bucks a different kind of player than they have selected in recent drafts. The team’s frontcourt has been stocked with length and athleticism in recent drafts, with the likes of Sanders, Henson, and Antetokounmpo being chosen primarily on those attributes. Selecting Parker would be more similar to the selection of Tobias Harris in that the Bucks would be taking skill over raw athleticism.
But the Bucks are heading in a very different direction as a franchise right now, so we likely wouldn’t have to worry about Parker’s playing time. He also comes with the reasonable expectation that he can provide an immediate impact as a rookie, something that other recent first round picks haven’t. If Parker is selected, expect for him to see the court significantly more than other Bucks rookies in the last few years. In addition, his flexibility to play between the two forward spots should help him find playing time once the team’s frontcourt rotations are established.
I honestly don’t think it’s possible to go wrong with the top four players in this draft. Joel Embiid, Parker, Andrew Wiggins, and Dante Exum each look as though they can be amazing players in the NBA. The current state of the Bucks also leaves them in a position to accommodate whichever player they decide to take with the #2 selection. While each player fills a different need and carries with him different strengths and risks, it still appears that the Bucks are in a comfortable position as they continue to prepare for June 26.