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2019-20 Atlanta Hawks Player Preview: Jabari Parker

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NBA: Washington Wizards at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Jabari Parker had a tumultuous 2018-19 season that started in Chicago with the Bulls and ended in the nation’s capital with the lowly Wizards, where the veteran forward eventually seemed to at least resemble the talented young player he was back in Milwaukee after struggling mightily in the Windy City. Injuries and subpar play over the past couple of years may have capped the star potential many once associated with Parker in league circles, as the two-year, $13.0 million contract he signed with the Hawks indicates where his value is in the year 2019, compared to the two-year, $40 million pact he inked with the Bulls just last summer. Things ended abruptly and poorly in Chicago, obviously, as he didn’t even make it through the first year of that two-year deal, but the Hawks may end up being the beneficiary of things going south with the Bulls.

After falling out of favor with the new head coach in Chicago Jim Boylen, who took over after the firing of Fred Hoiberg, Parker was packaged with Bobby Portis and sent to the Washington Wizards in exchange for Otto Porter. Parker seemed to regain form once landing with the Wizards, posting a very respectable 56.8 effective field goal percentage in 25 games with the club, which would have been a career-high mark if sustained for the entire season. Parker was largely effective in a catch-and-shoot role for Washington, as he ranked above the 95th percentile at his position in assisted rate on midrange and three-point makes in those 25 games, per Cleaning the Glass. If he can replicate this type of production in catch-and-shoot situations in Atlanta, he should have no problem finding offense when he plays alongside Trae Young.

Parker was better at the rim for Washington compared to Chicago, shooting 71 percent (91/128), ranking him in the 82nd percentile among power forwards, compared to a 66 percent mark playing in the Bulls’ system. He also ranked in the 92nd percentile among fours in field goal percentage in the short midrange (51 percent), and the 75th percentile among power forwards from the midrange entirely (44 percent) once joining the Wizards. This skill will be important when Parker is tasked with much of the scoring load while playing with a second unit that could lack pure shot-making ability around the sixth-year forward.

The offensive upside is obviously what attracted Atlanta to Parker, as he should slide in as the team’s sixth man and potentially be the third- or fourth-leading scorer on the club. The question mark with Parker has always been the defensive end of the floor, and that’s the area of concern the team will likely have with him given the lack of experience he’s largely surrounded by.

Despite being a veteran presence with playoff experience, Parker has shown little to be desired defensively throughout his career. This likely makes playing him with Young and/or John Collins difficult in long stretches, so it will be important that the offense is at least clicking anytime he is deployed with the starters. His natural role will be a punch of scoring off of the bench, and frankly people should expect him to succeed in that role. He has always been able to score, so asking him to do his thing against opponent’s bench lineups should generally be favorable for the Hawks offensively.

The challenge for Lloyd Pierce to find lineups he feels good about defensively did not get any easier when the Hawks signed Jabari Parker, however, that much is for certain. It will be a struggle for the second-year head coach to find a group he feels confident in on that end for the second straight season as three more rookies come into a locker room that is losing Dewayne Dedmon, Kent Bazemore, and Justin Anderson. Parker could and should be challenged to step up his play on that end of the floor as one of the veterans on the team, and if he’s able to do so he might be able to close some games out if Pierce elects to go small, sliding Collins to the center spot. It remains to be seen if that’s something Atlanta will be able to afford to do for very long defensively, but the idea (from an offensive standpoint) of playing Young, Kevin Huerter, Parker and Collins together gets the team’s best four scorers out there all at once.

While he probably should not be expected to be the player he was in 2016-17 for the Bucks (a borderline All-Star caliber season by Eastern Conference standards and his best by far as a pro), Parker will be counted on heavily to do a job that no one did too well for Atlanta last season, especially following the departure of Jeremy Lin: powering the second unit. The Hawks bench struggled to create much of anything down the stretch last season after Lin was granted his release and signed with the eventual NBA champion Toronto Raptors.

Parker should be one of the better scorers on the roster in 2019-20, and ideally will lead the way for a young Atlanta second unit.