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Ben Anderson: Could the Jazz target Jabari Parker?



Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz suffered a major setback in July when Gordon Hayward opted to sign with the Boston Celtics as a free agent.

Hayward leaves the Jazz without a 20-point per game scorer on the roster from last season, and without an All-Star. While Rudy Gobert’s All-NBA selection likely hints at a future All-Star appearance, his selection will be based on his defensive prowess, rather than eye-popping scoring numbers.

While Gobert’s offensive efficiency can’t be ignored, upper echelon NBA teams require a scorer with the ability to regularly handle a large scoring workload. Of the NBA’s 16 playoff teams in 2017, only the Atlanta Hawks lacked a player that averaged more than 20 points per game.

The Jazz will look to Rodney Hood and Gobert to make up some of the scoring load, but it may be too much to ask for Hood to increase his scoring load by 7.3 points to cross the 20-point threshold. Gobert would need to add 6 points to his average.

Newcomer Donovan Mitchell may have the ability to be a prolific scorer at the NBA level, but asking a rookie to carry that big of a scoring burden may ultimately hurt his natural development.

Only 33 players averaged more than 20 points per game last year. Going into the 2017-18 season, the Jazz are one of just eight teams (Hawks, Pistons, Magic, Nets, Nuggets, Mavericks and Kings) without a scorer in those parameters. Of those teams, the Jazz and Nuggets are the only teams projected to compete for a playoff spot, according to ESPN.

Simply put, the Jazz will need to find prolific scoring options in a league with limited options.

Enter Jabari Parker.

Parker (20.1) was one of the 33 players in the NBA last season to average more than 20 points, despite playing in just his third season in the league with Milwaukee.

Fans in Utah have long followed Parker, an LDS athlete from Chicago, dating back to his days in high school when he considered playing for Dave Rose at BYU before ultimately joining Duke. Many fans, again, hoped to find Parker in a Jazz uniform, but a bit of bad luck saw the Jazz slip to the fifth overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft, three spots behind where Parker was selected.

Traditionally, a player of Parker’s caliber, entering restricted free agency in the summer of 2018, would be negotiating a max contract with his current team this summer, as is the case with Andrew Wiggins, the first overall pick in the 2014 draft.

However, multiple ACL tears in his left knee have left Parker and the Bucks in a unique position. The Bucks already have a franchise talent in Giannis Antetokounmpo, with another above-average wing, coming off an injury in Khris Middleton, to whom they owe $26 million over the next two seasons.

Going into the 2018 season, the Bucks already have $80 million in guaranteed contracts, with only 11 players under contract. Inking Parker to a max extension, averaging roughly $25 million per season, would hamstring the Bucks' ability to customize their roster around Antetokounmpo with better-than-average NBA players.

While the Bucks would prefer to sign Parker to a long-term deal at a discounted rate this summer, it’s unlikely Parker, at just 22 years old, is looking to give up the money he could likely collect should he hit the free-agency market next summer.

Facing a 12-month rehabilitation plan, having torn his ACL this past February, Parker will have roughly two months, or 30 NBA games, to prove his value. The deadline for the Bucks to extend Parker before he becomes a restricted free agent next summer is October 31, long before he reappears on the floor.

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The Jazz have long been rumored to be interested in Parker, dating back to 2014, when the Jazz appeared to have attempted to trade up to acquire a top pick on draft night.

Parker, should he become available, could fill an important need for the Jazz positionally, as well as from a scoring standpoint. According to basketball-reference.com, Parker has played more than 80 percent of his career minutes at the power forward position. With both Derrick Favors and Joe Johnson in the final years of their contracts with the Jazz, a starting caliber forward will be a priority for the Jazz in 2018.

Parker also saw his 3-point shooting climb to a respectable 36 percent last season, something the Jazz will look to find alongside Gobert in the frontcourt.

In addition to Parker’s LDS background, the Jazz may have an in with Parker having recently rehired former Bucks assistant general manager Justin Zanik. Familiarity within the organization can play a major role when adding free agents.

Realistically, should Parker become a restricted free agent next summer, he’ll have a long list of suitors. In order to pry him away from the Bucks, a team would have to drastically overpay Parker to scare away Milwaukee, placing his new team at serious risk should his health remain an issue throughout his career.

There are examples of injury-prone players finding better health as their career progressed, most notably two-time MVP Steph Curry, who signed a four year, $44 million deal in 2012, enabling the Golden State Warriors' championship run after a series of early career ankle injuries.

However, for every Curry there is an Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway who signed a seven year, $86 million contract with Phoenix in 1999, one year removed from a torn ACL, only to average 42 games over four seasons in a Suns uniform.

Whichever team signs Parker over the next 12 months is taking a risk, whether it’s Milwaukee resigning him before this season’s Halloween deadline, or another team landing him as a restricted free agent in the summer of 2018. For the Jazz, who struggle to attract top-tier talent on the free agency market, betting on a cultural and positional fit like Parker, may be worth the gamble.

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Ben Anderson

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