It’s the beginning of the season and the sample sizes are small and the takes are hot. With so little information to use to formulate arguments for and against players and teams, the best course of action is to wait and see how various trends develop. Does that mean anybody is actually going to do that? Of course not!
With that in mind, Jabari Parker has been a more impactful player through his first 111 minutes in a Hawks uniform than he has ever been in his previous five years in the NBA. After years of being maligned as an inefficient midrange shooter, Parker has, to this point, left that life behind in favor of the Hawks’ modern philosophy. Last year, 13.9 percent of his shots came from between 16 feet at the three-point line, which at the time was the lowest frequency of his career. This year, he’s taken just 2.0 percent of his shots from the dreaded long midrange. It’s still very, very early in his time with the Hawks and he may revert back to his former self before the season is out, but the early returns on his shot selection are quite positive.
There are two primary contributing factors to his modern shot selection with the Hawks this season: he’s catching and shooting quickly, and he looks healthier and more explosive getting to the basket.
In half-court setting, Parker has taken 17 jumpers this season, per Synergy’s tracking data. Of those, 15 have been of the catch-and-shoot variety, which are generally much more efficiency than off-the-dribble attempts. Last year, between two stops in Chicago and Washington, he took 149 catch-and-shoot jumpers and 136 pull-ups. In the preceding four years in Milwaukee, just 55.7 percent of his jumpers were catch-and-shoots. Parker has constantly looked for his own shot throughout his career, usually a midrange jumper, and unless he was going to be one of the 25 best scorers to ever grace a basketball court, those shots just aren’t efficient enough to take on a consistent basis.
It’s just five games in Atlanta, but Parker’s shown some good decision making with his shot selection, even when his defender is right there:
Part of Parker’s ability to shoot over the top of defenders, both in the midrange and off the catch behind the three-point line, is his quick vertical burst. Coming out of preseason, I covered Alex Len’s weaknesses with his vertical athleticism – Parker has none of those issues. He’s very quick to get to the high point of his vertical leap, which leaves defenders ground bound while he’s shooting over the top of them.
His burst is on full display around the rim, where he’s been a very strong finisher so far this season:
When he needs to sky for a rebound or really get up for a dunk against a set rim protector, he can do that too, but Parker’s best attribute around the rim is how quickly he gets from the ground to the rim. He wastes very little movement loading up and seems to spring to the rim before his defender expects him to be there.
Parker’s role may change in the wake of Trae Young’s injury, though Young could be back as soon as their next game, but he’s been used mostly as a play finisher this season, both with and without Young on the floor. The ball handling duties have been spread throughout the roster in non-Young minutes, but Parker hasn’t necessarily been in that group at the outset; it’s been a lot of DeAndre’ Bembry, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, and Cam Reddish creating for the Hawks on the perimeter, with Parker used as a more traditional stretch big man.
The sample sizes are still tiny this early in the season, but Parker’s play on the offensive end has been encouraging for those of us who expected very little in the way of positive contributions this season from the former standout prospect. His previous playstyle lent itself very poorly to the sort of team the Hawks want to be – he was an inefficient shot creator with a lacking outside game and very few defensive credentials to rely upon when his shot wasn’t falling.
This may still be who he is by the end of the season, but there are at least positive signs that he’s turned the corner with his decision making and shot selection on the offensive end. The defense is still where it’s (almost) always been, but if he can at least be a positive contributor offensively, that could make 2019-20 a career year for Jabari Parker.