Analysis Bulls

Bulls: Jabari Parker A Low-Risk, High-Reward, Puzzling but Worthwhile Roster Fit

What should Chicago Bulls fans make of the Jabari Parker signing?

Jabari Parker is a local hero and he’s coming home to play for his childhood team. The signing was outlined by our David Wildman this past weekend. Parker attended Simeon Career Academy in the Chatham neighborhood on Chicago’s Southside before attending Duke University and playing for the Milwaukee Bucks. The forward’s two-year $40 million contract includes a team option for the 2019-2020 campaign. The 23-year-old Parker is a versatile scorer at 6’8 250 pounds.

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer endorsed the signing and made his case for the addition as a low-risk move.

On the surface and in a vacuum, the Jabari Parker signing appears to be a low-risk and high-reward proposition for the Bulls front office. After beginning a rebuild in earnest, John Paxson has clearly stated the organizational mantra of adding as many high-upside young players as possible. This is something that Paxson reiterated to 670 The Score’s Morning Show on Tuesday.

The Bulls current nucleus includes three former top 7 picks (Jabari Parker, Lauri Markkanen, and Kris Dunn), two mid-first round picks (Zach LaVine and Denzel Valentine) and two late-first-round picks (Bobby Portis and Chandler Hutchison).

There are many positives that go along with this deal for the Bulls but roster fit is not one of them. Paxson doesn’t seem to be too worried about that fit during this stage of their process though.

The Good

The former Simeon product displays quickness and athleticism and shows a prolific scoring prowess on the offensive side of the ball. Parker has shot close to 39% from long distance over the past two seasons and averaged a 56.3% true shooting percentage prior to his 2nd ACL tear. He is capable of posting up, running pick and roll and setting screens as well. Jabari fits well as a small ball four man that can eat at the offensive end. He has also made his way back from two ACL tears and will be ready to go for training camp.

Parker is a hard-working high character kid that does lots of work in the local community. He has a good amount of upside remaining and he really wants to be in Chicago with the Bulls. That is a big deal for a franchise that has struggled to land big name free agents. Jabari has a cap friendly deal that could benefit the Bulls in the short-term and some of his perceived defensive deficiencies could also benefit other players on the roster.

The Bad

Parker is a questionable fit on the Bulls’ roster due to the abundance of bigs already present in a league shifting away from that style of play. He’s best used as a “small ball 4 man” and could do a lot of damage on the offensive end in that role. The issue is that he joins a roster already stuffed with the likes of Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., Bobby Portis and Robin Lopez. Chicago General Manager Gar Forman has stated publicly that the organization will use Parker as a small forward next season. While the league has shifted to positionless basketball, there aren’t many wing players in the league that have the same physical stature that Parker possesses.

Defensive metrics and analytics have been none too kind to the former Blue Devil as well. The newest Bull has never shown an inclination for defensive aptitude and he just hasn’t been a willing help defender to this point in his career. In his NBA time to date, Parker has displayed poor lateral quickness, lost focus and has generally been out of position defensively.

Pairing him next to Zach LaVine as the primary wing defender on the roster could be a big problem on a nightly basis from a defensive standpoint. The ability to switch on the perimeter as an overall component of team defense is a huge part of the modern NBA game and it looks to be an area of weakness on this current roster. One positive aspect of Parker’s poor defense could help another former Dukie in rookie Wendell Carter Jr.

Carter will have ample opportunity to prove himself as a help-side defender and rim protector in this system as players dribble past Parker and LaVine on the perimeter.

The presence of Parker on the roster could also make it hard for Fred Hoiberg and his staff to maximize the impact of the other offensive threats on the team. Parker isn’t a great fit at the small forward spot and extended minutes in the frontcourt could mean less than ideal growth for Markkanen and a reduced role for Carter Jr. Markkanen is the best player on the team and it’s imperative that the Bulls put him in a situation to succeed going forward. Parker and LaVine have a reputation as “me-first” scorers that aren’t afraid to get theirs on a given night. This can’t become a trend in Chicago.

While Parker’s contract isn’t the detriment that was initially expected, it does limit the flexibility that the organization had for this upcoming season. Upon signing Jabari, the Bulls renounced all of their free agents and subsequently lost all of their trade exceptions. They only have the $4.4 million MLE to use for player acquisition at this point. John Paxson has talked about the need to remain flexible in order to take on bad salary in a trade with the benefit of acquiring draft assets for their trouble. This is no longer possible. One could argue that using their remaining cap space to acquire Carmelo Anthony‘s contract from Oklahoma City would have been a better use of resources but the front office obviously chose a different path.

It’s refreshing that John Paxson understands and has stated the shortcomings of this iteration of the Bulls publicly. The front office has been criticized for over-loving their own in the past and this could be much of the same again but Paxson knows it’s a star driven league and this is just the beginning of the road for the re-shaping of the proud franchise.

Jabari Parker coming home to play for his hometown team reeks of the marketing department meddling into basketball decisions again. Even if the fit doesn’t make a ton of basketball sense, the franchise will remain #1 in attendance, sell a plethora of #2 jerseys and regain some national relevance. These are things that have been more important than basketball to the ownership group in recent years and they will continue to pay dividends.

Paxson seemingly knows that Parker isn’t a great basketball fit but also that he’s loaded with upside. The 23-year-old has star potential that the organization will attempt to unlock and they are at a stage in the process where talent trumps basketball fit. Paxson has mentioned that they set out to add as many young talents as possible regardless of position and they’ve done a decent job of it.

This isn’t a likely playoff team but they have created a culture of competition with young assets looking to grow together. Even if the moves benefit the marketing department more than the basketball one at this stage, it appears to be a worthwhile gamble that all parties will live with.

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