Jabari Parker is Chicago’s latest basketball prodigy, the pride of the South Side and another product of Simeon Career Academy, the city’s hoops factory.
But at Simeon, Parker started on the famed varsity squad as a freshman; not even former NBA MVP Derrick Rose did that.
It marked the beginning of an illustrious prep career for Parker, who helped lead Simeon to four straight state titles, earning National High School Player of the Year honors from both Gatorade and McDonald’s.
The forward also became the sixth high school player to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, with a headline touting him as “the best high school basketball player since LeBron James.”
Parker headed to Duke to play for Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski, though it was clear that he wouldn’t be there for long. He has been NBA-ready since Simeon.
And after a freshman season at Duke in which Parker averaged 19.1 points and 8.7 rebounds while earning consensus first-team All-America honors, the bullish 6-foot-8-inch, 235-pound forward declared for the June 26 draft. He is expected to be a top-three pick.
According to NBA scouts and executives, Parker, the son of former NBA player Sonny Parker, is also the safest pick in the draft.
“In terms of a basketball player and a human being, I think it’s all first class,” said an Eastern Conference scout. “I think he gets on the court next year and averages between 14-17 points per game, 2-4 assists, 6-8 rebounds. I see this Carmelo Anthony/Grant Hill hybrid.
“I don’t think you go wrong with him. I think there’s very little risk, for sure.”
The comparisons between Parker and Anthony, the New York Knicks star forward, have been there for years.
“The first time I saw him, the name Carmelo just starts screaming at you,” said an Eastern Conference executive.
Such a comparison exists because of Parker’s size and scoring versatility.
“He seems to have a knack for scoring, just a type of guy that if you give it to him in the post, the mid-post, the free throw line facing [the basket], the 3-point line facing — if you put him in any situation, he can get you a bucket,” the executive said. “That’s a pretty rare ability.”
A Western Conference scout called Parker “the most skilled player in the draft, most complete player in the draft.”
The scout added, “He’s going to be a guy that’s going to play in the league 12-15 years. He can come in right away and produce for you. He does a lot of things very, very well.”
A Western Conference executive described Parker as a natural scorer.
“He works along the baseline better than any young player that I’ve seen in a long time,” the executive said. “He has a great feel along the baseline. He’s a natural scorer. He’s got a terrific in-between game with pull-up jumpers. He has extended his range. He’s a really good fundamental jumper.
“Probably among all the players, and depending on what team he goes to, of course, and his playing time, but he will have the biggest impact. He’s going to be able to come in and score right away.”
That’s not to say that there aren’t concerns about Parker. There are questions about his weight and conditioning. Simply put, scouts and executives say that he could be in much better shape, and he reportedly has worked toward that end since the college season ended.
“The thing everybody talks about is his body, and that I worry less about just because he’s going to be, for the first time in his life, focusing on that exclusively — just basketball, just doing that, from now on,” said one Eastern Conference executive.
There have been weight and conditioning concerns about Anthony, too.
“Everyone jokes that Melo has never been in great shape,” said another Eastern Conference executive. “He always has that doughy look to him. I think Parker might have a similar body to that. That’s OK. The way those guys score, and they’re sneaky athletic.
“Jabari, he’s the type where he can kind of gather on two feet and then do something that you’d never expect him to do, and it’s pretty amazing.”
Parker has also been compared with another forward with good size who is sneaky athletic and can score in a variety of ways: Celtics icon Paul Pierce.
“I think he has much quicker feet than Paul Pierce, which is where the Carmelo Anthony name comes in,” the Eastern Conference executive said. “But he is a very crafty set-shooter. I think he’ll have a little bit better perimeter game than Melo, closer to Paul Pierce. Maybe a hybrid between those two guys.”
Said a Western Conference scout: “His first step off the dribble is Paul Pierce-like in Paul Pierce’s prime with athletic explosiveness so far beyond what Pierce ever had.”
Pierce and Anthony are stronger and more athletic than they appear, and Parker appears to be the same way, which should bode well for him.
“You’re talking about two guys that are small forwards their whole career, and as their athleticism slows down, they’re becoming power forwards, and not many players can do that — and I think Jabari is the same way,” said one Eastern Conference executive. “For an undersized Duke team, he was playing everything from [small forward through center]. I think that he’ll be in that same kind of mold.”
As talented as Parker is, he also possesses what one Eastern Conference scout described as a “killer instinct.”
“What I like about him is when they lost to Arizona in December in New York, he was playing hard, and Brandon Ashley was covering him, and then when Aaron Gordon got on him, he was chasing the ball, demanding the ball,” the scout said.
“[Parker] wanted to go at him because he knew he was the marquee matchup. I like that about him, that he wants to compete. Because usually those star guys are ‘Just let me get my 20 and go home,’ but he kind of wants to get his 20 and put his foot on your throat, which is good.”
But for as good as Parker’s offense is, his defense is just as bad.
“If Coach K couldn’t get him to defend, I don’t know who will,” the scout said.
An Eastern Conference executive said, “Defensively, he’s about as bad as there is” on the top of most draft boards.
“He really does not put an emphasis on it at this point,” the executive added. “He’s such a good player. He has such a high basketball IQ that I could see it coming and he seems like a very team-orientated player.
“And usually, just in my personal opinion, bad defensive players are sometimes selfish players because they don’t think about how their lack of defense is actually hurting the rest of their team, and Jabari doesn’t seem like that selfish of a guy.
“I could see where if he realizes and learns the value of defense, I could see where he’ll put more emphasis on it. I think if he would’ve stayed one more year at Duke, I think Coach K would’ve instilled that in him a little bit more.
“That’s going to be the big concern: Who can he guard? But at the same time, everyone says that about Melo, that he doesn’t defend anybody, and the guy is a perennial all-NBA threat.
Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.