Predictably, the Jabari Parker experience has been an abject failure.
Do we need more than 17 regular-season games to make such a declaration? A rational voice would say it’s far too early for such claims. In most circumstances, it would be true. Oddly, however, in this case, that same voice would’ve never advised signing Parker to begin with.
Swinging for the fences on a 23-year-old former No. 2 pick who has suffered two significant knee injuries carried some level of risk, as did forcing him into a position he has rarely played in the NBA. Still, given the nature of his contract, with only one year of the deal guaranteed, the signing was said to be a low-risk, high-reward proposition.
Ignoring the opportunity cost of inking a flawed player to an inflated deal, from a salary cap perspective, a one-year deal will not burden the Bulls’ cap sheet beyond this season. So in that sense, this move holds little risk.
But luring the Chicago product back to his hometown team was never just about finances.
The hope was Parker could fill the gaping hole that currently exists on the wing. Through injuries to the frontcourt, we’ve yet to see the Bulls truly explore the idea of Parker at small forward. But based on how he has played at his natural position at power forward, there’s no reason to believe Parker will find success guarding more athletic perimeter players.
Yet to show any indication of being a worthy piece to keep as part of the core, the signing of Parker isn’t a fail because of his personal statistics, even if they lack substance. The inflated contract that sees him paid more than any Bull this season is hardly the issue, either; the Bulls have had key free-agent signings who failed to meet expectations, and will so again in the future. For Parker, however, this experiment has fallen flat simply because of the general malaise that permeates his existence on the floor.
Those who watched Parker closely during his tenure with the Milwaukee Bucks saw this coming. We were warned this would happen. Hell, Parker himself made that clear right after he signed with the Bulls, letting us know well in advance that he cared little for defense. Not that anyone expected him to be a stalwart on the defensive side of the ball. All that was hoped for was some level of effort; at minimum a Boozer-like propensity to pretend sliding over to help on a rotation was something that may happen. We haven’t even seen that from Parker. Nevermore has that been true than in his regular-season return to Milwaukee.
In a perimeter-oriented league hellbent on the power of the 3-point shot, defenses have moved heavily toward switching principles to limit the damage from distance. Against a Bucks offense that ranks second in 3-point attempts, switching and taking away the 3 is a good option.
On this routine 1-4 pick-and-pop play, Zach LaVine and Parker switch defensive assignments. And yet, Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe is still able to walk into an uncontested 3:
How is this even possible? Parker showed no sign of moving toward the ball-handler. With his hands remaining below his waist, there was no chance of contesting the shot. Never did he feign to enter a defensive stance. There was zero resistance at all. Not that this is the first time we’ve seen this level of disinterest from Parker. Still, plays like this are jarring. But at least in this case he was somewhere near the ball, unlike this earlier possession.
Boxed out by Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon, Parker fails to control the glass, giving up a second-chance opportunity to a thirsty Bucks offense. Off the miss, the ball is sent out to the perimeter where Parker’s man, Khris Middleton, is as open as one can be at the top of the 3-point line. What happens next is truly pathetic:
Can we even count those few light paces toward the shooter as an attempted closeout?
Still, that wasn’t even Parker’s most visible lack of effort. That came at the start of the fourth quarter, and it epitomized why signing Parker was a mistake to begin with.
Trying to create against a long, ranging Bucks defense, turnovers are expected. That happened to Parker when he forced the pass on along the baseline. Not that his wayward pass was the issue. The problem here, as it routinely has been in transition, is Parker’s lack of interest in sprinting back on defense:
Occasions when a player turns over the ball are those you would expect to see a heightened effort to hustle back down the floor. Not for Parker, though, who isn’t seen entering the frame until after former Bull Tony Snell has already drilled the 3.
There’s a notable trend here. Possessions where he is the direct cause of a defensive breakdown is when Parker is least interested in trying to correct the error. It’s also important to note these isolated possessions aren’t defensive mistakes. We’re not highlighting a fumbled rebound, being beaten off the bounce, or overplaying the passing lane. No, these are all significantly worse. They’re egregious lapses where no care or desire is shown to help a teammate defend the basket. That is unforgivable, and it needs to end.
But it won’t. Not so long as Parker remains on the team. In Year 5 of his career, there’s no reason to believe Parker will turn the corner now.
So why bother with any of this?
The Bulls are already set at power forward. Lauri Markkanen is the future. Behind him, Bobby Portis can remain a fixture as a reserve big. The Bulls didn’t need Parker before the season, and when both return from extended breaks on the sidelines, there will be no need for him then.
Not that the Bulls will cut bait. Parker can’t be traded before Dec. 15, and it’s unlikely teams will be queueing for an inefficient 4-man with little interest in defense. Buying out a marquee signing so soon in the season would be admitting defeat, something this management group rarely does. For this season, the Bulls are stuck with Parker. Thankfully, that’s all it will be.
Unless the Bulls give up on the forward entirely, choosing to sit their highest-paid player, there will be more games like this. How that affects the on-court product and the development of players alongside him remains to be seen, but that in itself is why Parker’s deal carried with it more exposure than just its cap hit.
This entire experiment has been a waste of time, which is something the Bulls should’ve seen coming.