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The case for starting Jabari Parker

Washington Wizards v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Otto Porter trade marked the breakup of the Wall-Beal-Porter triumvirate and symbolized a distinct change in direction for a team that lost its way ever since they fell short in the 2017 playoffs.

Most pundits pointed to Bobby Portis as the “prize” of the deal, a 23-year-old big man who many thought would be a good fit for Washington when the Wizards had a chance to draft him in 2015. His restricted free agency would give Washington the right to match any offer sheet he signs this summer and thus make it easier to preserve some long-term value from the Porter trade. He has held his own in Washington, averaging 15.3 points and 8.9 rebounds in nine games with Washington with a .559 true shooting percentage.

Jabari Parker was the throw-in, the expiring contract Washington needed to get out of their precarious cap situation. Although he hasn’t blown the roof off Capital One Arena by any stretch of the imagination, he has done positive things in his short stint with the team. He is averaging 12 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game in 25.9 minutes per game as a reserve.

His on/off court number also tell an interesting story. The Wizards have a +4.4 net rating with Parker on the floor, and a -6.6 net rating with him off the floor since he has arrived. Surprising, right? And interestingly enough, the player who said “They don’t pay players to play defense”, has the second best defensive rating of the players on this team over that stretch.

There are caveats with all of this. We’re looking at nine games in a reserve role against lesser talent. It is fair to question if Paker would have the same impact in a starting role, but with 19 games left in the season and a team option on the horizon, shouldn’t the Wizards take a look?

The Wizards do not have a forward under contract for next season. Their current starters at the small and power forward, Trevor Ariza and Jeff Green, will enter their age 34 and 33 seasons respectively and will be unrestricted free agents this July. While perhaps a decision should not be made based on age alone, there could be a merit-based argument to play Parker in a more prominent role as the season winds down.

Production per 36 minutes with the Wizards

Jabari Parker 16.7 9.6 4.8 55.4 4 1.1 1.5 3.1
Trevor Ariza 14.8 5.6 4.2 53.6 1.7 0.2 1.4 2.1
Jeff Green 16.2 5.7 2.6 61 1.7 0.7 0.6 2.8

Parker’s production has been in-line with what the team has gotten from the Ariza/Green combo. There are glaring areas of concern (primarily turnovers), but he brings more playmaking and is more impactful on the glass, which has been a problem area for this team throughout the season. When Parker has been good (which is, admittedly, a 50/50 proposition), he can put defenses on their heels and overwhelm defenders with his ability to attack the paint.

The Wizards recently changed the starting lineup, removing Thomas Bryant who had been playing effectively, so they can take a closer look at Bobby Portis. Why not follow the same precedent with Jabari Parker? They know what they have in Ariza and Green. Nothing they do over the last 19 games will come as a surprise. The book hasn’t been fully written yet on Parker, the Wizards’ third-youngest player. He has only played 231 career games because of injuries and his falling out in Chicago.

Let’s examine some areas where he has shown promise and where he has room to grow.

On this play, Parker gets the rebound and immediately pushes the ball up the floor. Since he’s come to Washington, he’s consistently been playing with his eyes up, looking for better shot opportunities.

Here is another instance where Bryant quickly feeds the ball to Parker to push the tempo and go downhill. Rather than force a contested shot over Jarrett Allen, Parker kicks it out, but keeps moving to give Satoransky another passing option.

The next play is a case of the good and the bad you get with Parker. He gets the rebound and quickly passes it ahead to Satoransky. He gets the ball back and makes a great play to get past the initial defender but instead of using his finishing ability and power to attack the basket; he tries a high-risk pass to Thomas Bryant which is deflected. After grabbing the deflected pass, he tries a floater instead of going up strong.

Shortly after that play, Parker left no doubt on this finish.

Here is another example of an unforced error from Parker, and the type of play that wastes a possession, and negates a lot of his best attributes. He’s averaging 4.0 turnovers per 36 minutes on plays that aren’t bred out of selfish play, but a refusal at times to make the simple play instead of the hard one.

Finally, here’s another example of how his ability to push the ball off a rebound can be a dangerous weapon, especially if he can refine his passing in those situations.

Parker may or may not be in the Wizards’ long-term plans. The Wizards are almost certain to opt out of his $20 million team option and both parties will have to decide if they want to continue the relationship. As I wrote last week however, the Wizards are in a difficult position where they need to be lucky and good to navigate their current cap situation while putting a competitive team around Bradley Beal. To do that, they need to take low-risk, high-reward gambles. Parker might be a perfect test case.

I’m not here to convince anyone that Jabari Parker will fulfill the potential that made him the second overall pick in the 2014 draft. He may not clean up the turnovers which are hindering his current play or get past the injuries which derailed the early part of his career. What I am here to say is that in his short time with the Wizards, the team has been better with him on the court than off. His unique skills are a welcome sight for a team that hasn’t always had an urgency to play downhill, pass-first basketball and has lacked a forward with his playmaking abilities.