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NBA Free Agency 2018: Jabari Parker is a gamble the Mavericks probably shouldn’t take

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Parker represents one of the biggest risks in this free agent class.

Milwaukee Bucks v Boston Celtics - Game Two Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Dallas Mavericks are locked and loaded this summer as one of the few teams with ample cap space to chase free agents. Mark Cuban has expressed the desire to use that space, whether that’s signing players, trading for players, or absorbing contracts, so they’re going to do something, that much is sure. Meanwhile, things have become a little tense in Milwaukee with the Bucks and 23-year-old Jabari Parker. Could the Mavs swoop in and pick up the second overall pick in the 2014 draft?

Basics

A few years ago it seemed futile to think about Jabari Parker’s free agency. After one season at Duke where he averaged 19 points and nine rebounds, the Milwaukee Bucks selected him second overall to pair with budding star Giannis Antetokounmpo. The foundation pieces had been set, so it seemed, but a cruel and twisted fate had other plans.

Parker was limited to 25 games in his rookie season because of a left anterior cruciate ligament tear. After rehabilitation he was able to play 76 games in his second season, and really began to blossom in his third year. He saw his scoring average increase from 12 points, to 14, and then 20 in his third NBA season. He increased his range, took advantage of his size to bully smaller defenders and used his quickness to beat bigger defenders.

But fate reared its ugly head again when Parker tore his left ACL for the second time in three seasons 50 games into the 2016-17 campaign. Just like that, after averaging 20 points, six rebounds and shooting 37 percent from deep, Parker faced another grueling rehabilitation process to regain the form that made him a highly coveted draft pick. He was able to return for 31 games this season and played 24 minutes, scored nearly 13 points per night, grabbed five rebounds and even bumped his three-point mark to 38 percent. The Bucks are at a crossroads with Parker, and his future appears to be murky.

Strengths

Coming into the NBA, Parker was billed as an NBA-ready scorer. Even with the injuries, he is still a skilled scorer, and he even increased his true shooting percentage each year with the exception of this past season. He’s deceptively quick and athletic, making him a headache in the open floor. In his 2016 season, he scored 1.32 points per possession (88th percentile), and last season he scored 1.18 points per possession.

Parker is also instinctive without the ball. Before his second ACL tear, he was scoring 1.35 points per possession off cuts. With Antetokounmpo thriving as an initiator, Parker was growing as a perfect complementary piece. In a short season, trying to shake off the rust, Parker still scored a point per possession as a slasher.

Parker poses mismatch problems on the offensive end. His 6-foot 8-inch, 250-pound frame allows him to operate out of the post when smaller wings check him. Last season he was in the 83rd percentile scoring from the post. And his agility and explosion allow him to beat bigger defenders and finish with strength around the rim.

Weaknesses

Parker’s biggest weaknesses are playmaking, defense and health. In his pre-injury, breakout season, he averaged around three assists and owned a 14.3 assist percentage. His assist percentage was one of the lowest for players who had a 26 percent usage rate or higher (though, it’s not Harry B low).

Parker’s defense has always been a question mark. While he’s a matchup problem on the offensive end, he’s a bit of a tweener on the defensive end. He has trouble keeping smaller wings in front of him, and he’s not physical or big enough to bang around with big men in the paint.

Finally, Parker’s biggest weakness is his health, maybe to no fault of his own. Some players are just unlucky with injuries, and that could be the case with Parker. Suffering two ACL tears is rare and having a productive NBA career after is even more rare. Parker does have age on his side, but at this point, it’s fair to wonder if Parker can hold up for an entire season, and if he’ll ever be the player he was coming out of Duke.

Fit with the Mavericks

Parker’s fit in Dallas is unclear. It would certainly be worth the talent-starved Mavericks‘ time to take on a reclamation project of sorts like Parker, but the problem is the Mavericks have a much more reliable Parker-like player of their own in Harrison Barnes. While Parker might have a bit more juice and bounce (if he can return to form) than Barnes, the two players have similar styles. Solid scorer. Average three-point shooter. Limited play maker. And while Barnes has proven to be a good player, the Mavericks also have two years of evidence that he is not the first option on a good team, maybe not even a second option. Why have two of those? Parker is best suited for the four, and Barnes has expressed a desire to play more of the three, so he could technically fit with the Mavericks on paper. But on the court, it could be a complete disaster.

Maybe if the Mavericks could get Parker on a low-risk contract would the gamble be worth it. But he reportedly turned down an $18 million per year contract extension with the Bucks, so it wouldn’t be shocking to see him turn down any small “prove it” deals. Parker is also a restricted free agent, so the Mavericks would probably have to overpay to ensure the Bucks don’t match, but that doesn’t seem likely. Rather, he might wait until he receives a contract that he feels he’s worth or play out the remaining year on a qualifying offer, which would be tremendously risky.

Ultimately, the Mavericks are in an advantageous position this summer, and there are many more free agents that pose less of a risk that Dallas should take a chance on.