Calm and collected as ever, Atlanta Hawks forward Jabari Parker has traveled a long and strenuous path in the professional ranks.
Shaking off countless injuries and various role changes across three franchises, Parker has finally landed in a comfortable spot where he can pursue the level of success that was projected for him when he was selected second overall in 2014.
From the moment he landed with the Milwaukee Bucks as a 19-year-old rookie, the even-keeled forward brought a spirited energy to the hardwood each time he checked into the game. Problem was, he wasn’t able to stay on the court for long, suffering a torn ACL in his left knee just 25 games into his career. Parker stayed the course and eventually returned to the game he loves, though the injuries continued to rack up.
Things didn’t work out in Milwaukee as the Bucks rightfully pivoted their focus toward reigning-MVP Giannis Antentekumpo, but Parker gained a handful of beneficial new experiences during the 2018-19 season. He was traded from his hometown Chicago Bulls to the Washington Wizards after just 39 games.
Taking advantage of a fresh start alongside a rising star in point guard Trae Young, Parker has reconfigured his definition of normality and is thriving in the process.
The former No. 2 pick is suddenly back, averaging 17.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and a career-high 1.3 steals through 13 games in Atlanta while making 52 percent of his shots—a career-best mark. He’s been light on his feet, reacting to his defensive assignments and working within the flow of head coach Lloyd Pierce’s strategy to get easy buckets.
The Hawks have been a frisky team through the start of the season, but haven’t been able to fully translate Parker and Young’s effectiveness into wins. They’re currently 4-9, tied for the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference. Although it’s not ideal, this is to be expected of a team comprised of 11 players aged 25 and younger.
A major contributing factor to the Hawks’ 2-6 record in their last eight games has been the ineligibility of marquee power forward John Collins. It was reported by ESPN that Collins, 22, tested positive for Growth Hormone Releasing Peptide-2, a substance deemed illegal by the league.
Although the team has reeled from his absence, the suspension propelled Parker into the starting lineup instead of the sixth man role he held for the first five games of the season.
Since entering the starting lineup, Parker is averaging 19.4 ppg and 8 rpg on 50.8 percent shooting while asserting himself on defense—an area where he struggled through the start of his career. Although he’s had a lot of personal success, Parker prioritizes his team and is looking forward to Collins’ return, even if that means he’s bumped back to the second unit.
“I don’t base my successes off of other people’s mistakes,” Parker said before the Hawks’ loss in Phoenix. “You know it just so happens that he can’t play. We still need him and we can’t wait for him to return.”
Parker was a menace in the Valley of the Sun, posting 24 points, seven boards and three steals in just under 32 minutes of play. He attacked the paint in every which way, posting up (2:11), rolling off of well-timed screens (7:10) and lurking down low for putback opportunities (8:03):
The career 33.1 percent 3-point shooter even showed off his expanded range with a buzzer-beating triple to end the first quarter (2:29).
Confident as ever, Parker has an underrated handle that he uses to position himself in the paint, where he has the capability to finish with explosiveness or a soft touch. His floater is consistent and his short jumpers are mostly accurate, as legitimized by his 66.7 percent field goal percentage within less than 10 feet from the basket.
Starting in place of Collins, Parker’s best all-around start came during an 11-point loss in Portland, where he posted 27 points on 13-of-23 shooting. Parker also displayed his single-best defensive effort in a game by racking up two steals and a career-high four blocks.
Even during this transitionary period, Parker and Young remain an incredibly effective offensive duo. They linked up numerous times, resulting in hook shots (2:38), fastbreak layups (5:03) and even a thunderous dunk (1:20), which Parker noted as one of the best parts of playing with a point guard like Young.
“The more dunks I get, the more engaged that I am,” Parker said. “I’m a guy that likes finishing at the rim, and he really helps me with that.”
The Hawks have an offensive rating of 112.5 with the tandem on the floor, in addition to the fourth-highest defensive rating of any Hawks duo logging 60 or more minutes together this season. Young averages more assists and passes to Parker than any other teammate.
Adding Parker to the rotation has been pivotal to the growth of both these players. He’s helping Young to propel his game by providing a steady scoring presence for the sophomore to depend on, bheir relationship extends beyond the hardwood, as they’ve begun to develop a friendship away from the game.
“We’re super close off the court and on the court,” Young said. “It’s great having him as one of my teammates.”
Young is just one cog of a greater machine that’s been established in Atlanta, providing players with an opportunity to grow and learn the game they love. Setting aside his status as a player, this culture aligns greatly with Parker’s needs as an individual.
Years of rebuilding his body and blocking out the outside noise took a toll on Parker, but the former Duke star is in great shape after dedicating the 2019 offseason to preparing himself both mentally and physically for the grind of another year. Parker has only played in 40.7 percent of the regular games he’s been eligible to partake in through the first five years of his career.
Now Parker looking to take advantage of his opportunity in Atlanta with the support of coach Lloyd Pierce and his teammates. Though the brunt of the workload belongs to Jabari, Pierce recognizes his part in reestablishing his starting forward’s career.
“Mentally, it feels good when you’re around people that you trust and around people that you enjoy being around,” he said. “So as long as we create that atmosphere and he feels respected and empowered, I think that helps.”
However, Pierce isn’t the only one to laud the supportive environment of the 2019-20 Hawks. 10-year veteran forward Evan Turner has also paid attention to Jabari’s process through the early portion of this season and commends him for his hard work.
“Especially with the level he’s playing at and when teams are throwing crazy defenses at him on top of the fact of how much we’re leaning on him to do things, you really have to take care of the parts away from the court,” Turner said.
There’s no telling how long Parker will remain in Atlanta, considering he’s on a two-year, $13 million contract with a player option for next year. With the way he’s played as of late, Parker could earn another hefty payday with the Hawks or elsewhere.
But no matter what comes next, Parker is going to focus on the task at hand: “Play hard, stay healthy, stay happy and enjoy the experience here. Those are my goals.”
*All stats courtesy of NBA.com