Free Agency

How Jabari Parker can revitalize his career with the Chicago Bulls

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Jabari Parker (Getty Images)

This season could be the beginning of a long, exciting era in Chicago for Jabari Parker. After four seasons in Milwaukee, the Chicago native is returning home in the hopes of recalibrating a star trajectory thrown off course by injuries.

The second overall in the 2014 draft, Parker's career got off to a strong start. He instantly became an offensive leader for a team coming off a franchise-worst 15-67 season in which they were led by Brandon Knight's 17.8 points per game, but that momentum quickly stalled. Just nine weeks into his rookie season, Parker tore his ACL.

After having surgery to repair the ligament, Parker missed the remaining 57 games of the 2014-15 season and the start of 2015-16. Even after returning to action, it took him a few months to return to his pre-injury form.

Over the next year and a half, Parker showed rapid improvement and glimpses of becoming a bonafide offensive star. At 20-years-old, Parker averaged 20.1 points per game and started to click with burgeoning superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. Right as things were looking up for Parker and Milwaukee, a second ACL tear in February 2017 ended his season.

The second injury was devastating. It derailed all the momentum he built over the previous season. Nearly a full calendar year passed before Parker was able to return to the court and even then it was clear, despite some positive playoff moments, he never reached 100 percent.

In spite of all that, Chicago took a chance on Parker. They saw a young, uber-talented player from the same local high school as Derrick Rose who had been beset by injuries and craved an opportunity. There was understandable concern with giving $40 million to a player with Parker's injury history, but a team option on the second year significantly minimized the long-term risk.

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Sure Not Now

If Parker doesn't work out for the Bulls, they simply don't pick up his option next summer and move on with no additional cost. If he does work out, then the Bulls may have found an offensive cornerstone. Even with the concerns, it was a gamble worth taking.

Now, Parker joins a team brimming with young talent. Kris Dunn and the newly minted 78-million-dollar-man Zach LaVine lead the backcourt. Parker projects to start at the three alongside First Team All-Rookie Lauri Markkanen and, at least initially, Robin Lopez. Throw in seventh-overall pick Wendell Carter Jr. and 22nd pick Chandler Hutchinson and you have one of the deeper youth stockpiles in the league.

On offense, the main question will be how Parker fits alongside Markkanen. Markkanen began to emerge as one of the league's best young shooters at any position last season, becoming the fastest player in league history to make 100 3s. With Markkanen stretching out to the perimeter, Parker has room to operate in the midrange - an area of the floor he's comfortable in but was often clogged in Milwaukee. If Parker can increase his efficiency around the rim, he and Markkanen should complement each other very well and develop a promising inside/out scoring tandem.

While the offensive fit should work in theory, there are a few areas of improvement for Parker to ensure it works perfectly. He has become a better shooter over his career - up to 38.8 percent from long range last season - but Parker's next step to offensive stardom is becoming a player defenses have no choice but to respect out on the perimeter.

Season 3P% Catch-and-Shoot 3P% Pull-Up 3P%
2014-15 25.0% 25.0% N/A
2015-16 25.7% 25.0% 0.0%
2016-17 36.5% 37.2% 25.0%
2017-18 38.8% 42.6% 29.4%

Given the players around him, Parker should have the ball in his hands a ton this season. He's proven to be capable of generating his own offense, but passing and distribution are areas of needed improvement. Markkanen and LaVine are very capable off-ball scorers and Carter Jr. was able to produce while playing alongside two high-usage players in Marvin Bagley and Grayson Allen at Duke last season. The opportunities will be there, Parker just has to show he can consistently make the right play.

Also, while playing small forward slightly lowers the desperation, Parker needs to become a more tenacious rebounder. He averaged a career-high 7.3 rebounds per 36 minutes and posted an 11.2 percent rebound rate last season, but both numbers are still somewhat disappointing for a player with his size and strength.

Despite the marginal issues, Parker's offensive fit should be pretty smooth. Defensively, the Bulls will run into some problems. Parker has consistently struggled to guard smaller, faster players at the NBA level and two ACL injuries haven't helped his agility. The Bucks tried to side-step this problem by matching him up with opposing power forwards, but the Bulls starting him at small forward will force him to play more perimeter defense this season. For a team that finished 28th in defense last season, Chicago could fall even further down the rankings.

Chicago is going to struggle defensively and Parker's fit isn't perfect, but for now, it's not a terrible problem to have. The Bulls aren't pushing for a title; they are probably still a year or two away from even reaching the playoffs. Right now they are stockpiling young players to give themselves as many proverbial darts to throw at the board as possible. If even just three or four of the nine Bulls younger than 25-years-old end up working out, the rebuild will be a success.

Taking a risk that Parker will become one of those guys makes sense. The last time he was 17 months removed from ACL surgery, Parker was routinely scoring 20 points a night. If everything goes smoothly for Parker and the Bulls, Chicago might have a chance to turn it around sooner than we thought.

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