The Jabari Parker experience has gone bad extremely early, causing Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg to move the fifth-year player to a bench role for the last two games of the preseason.
After struggling his first game off the bench against the Pacers (11 points on 4-for-12 from the field), Parker responded with his best game of the preseason in the Bulls finale against the Denver Nuggets. He poured in 19 points on 7-for-11 from the field, grabbing six rebounds, and recording a team high plus-minus of +13 when he was on the floor.
As the focal point of the offense, Parker finally turned in the offensive performance that the Bulls expected when they inked him to a two-year, $40 million contract this summer. It’s one game and it’s the preseason but finally something went right for Parker.
The following video comes from the game against Indiana when he struggled, but this play shows elements of why he may be better suited for the second unit. First, he gets to bring the ball up and be the ball-dominant player, both of which will keep him happy offensively. A contested mid-range jumper at the end of the shot clock with no ball movement prior to the shot is much less egregious when the alternative is giving Robin Lopez, Cameron Payne, and Antonio Blakeney a shot as opposed to doing it on the first unit and robbing Zach LaVine and eventually Lauri Markkanen of shot attempts.
Jabari Parker beats the buzzer pic.twitter.com/1bB292tuHq— Ⓜ️arcusD ᴿᴵᴾ ᴹᵃʳᶜᵘˢᴰ² (@_MarcusD3_) October 11, 2018
Therefore, is a point forward, microwave scorer role off the bench his calling on this Chicago Bulls team?
Over at The Athletic, Stephen Noh thinks so.
Although the traditional assist numbers don’t indicate it (he’s never averaged more than 2.8 assists per game), Parker has potential as a playmaker.
Hoiberg clearly trusts the ball in Parker’s hands too, and it’s not like he has many better options anyway. Parker’s preseason assist-to-turnover ratio (13:5) was actually better than those of LaVine (7:17), Kris Dunn (17:18) and Cameron Payne (16:7), which shows how weak the ballhandling has been for this team.
Where Parker has shined in his playmaking role is in transition. In the open court, Parker’s reads are decisive and he sees the floor very well. He will move the ball quickly to set up his teammates with the right pass.
Perhaps the most interesting point that Noh makes in his article is how playing point forward on the second unit could actually help improve Parker’s often-criticized defense.
When they have used him off-ball in a more conventional role stationed in the corners, he has shown he can hit that 3-point shot. But it has also put him in a position in which he has had to hustle back hard on defense because he is already starting his sprint from the furthest spot on the court.
Parker plays at his best when he is engaged. When he goes through droughts of not touching the ball, his attention wanes and his worst tendencies (falling asleep on defense and forcing up tough jumpers) start to come out. It is not a coincidence that he has had his best scoring games off the bench, when he was forced to stay focused as a large part of the offense.
On second units that will likely include Payne, an also poor-looking Lopez, Denzel Valentine, and Bobby Portis (when Markkanen returns), the Bulls really need Parker to at least be average defensively otherwise these bench units are going to be unplayable on that end of the floor.
As Noh notes, Parker running an offense in half-court sets isn’t going to be particularly pretty all the time. However, the alternative of keeping him at small forward on the first unit may be even uglier.
Making him the focal point of the second unit will keep him happy because he’s getting his shots up, will possibly improve his defense, and help him maximize his already elite transition skills. Will Hoiberg turn this from an experimental role to a long-term fix? That remains to be seen.