The Hurdle For Jabari Parker’s NBA Career

Here’s the stat line per 40 minutes for a Blue Devil this season. Let’s call him Duke Player A:

9.2 for 19.4 FG (.476) 1.1 for 3.3 on 3-pointers, 6.5 for 8.9 on FT, 12.2 rebounds, 5 offensive, 3.6 fouls, 1.3 assists, 3.3 turnovers, 1.3 blocks. 1.5 steals, 26 points

Here’s the per 40 minute stats for Duke Player B:

4.4 for 15.5 (.286), 0.6 for 1.1 on three’s, 5.5 for 7.2 on FT, 10.5 rebounds, 3.9 offensive, 2.2 fouls, 1.1 assists, 3.9 turnovers, 2.2 blocks. 0.6 steals, 15 points.

Player A is Jabari Parker, in his first five minutes after entering a game.

Player B is Jabari Parker, in his next five minutes.

It’s tough for any freshman to adjust to college. Games and seasons are longer, faster, and more physical. Parker, who missed much of his senior season in high school with injury, struggled with conditioning from the outset, and he never seemed to catch up.

In his postseason press conference, coach Mike Krzyzewski didn’t mention Parker’s conditioning specifically, but it was clear that a lack of wind at key moments was  a contributing factor to most of Duke’s problems this season.

Addressing the Blue Devils’ defensive shortcomings, Krzyzewski said, “Talking on defense is huge. It’s the lifeblood of defense. And when we didn’t play well on defense, we didn’t talk well. When we hit a period where we were tired–that’s a young team. They can’t be tired. When you’re tired, you stop talking. If you go for a jog and someone wants to jog and talk. They’ll ask you, ‘You aren’t saying much.’ (Pant pant) ‘Shut up. I want to breathe.’  That happens in games too.”

“When we’re subbing a lot, it’s to compensate for that,” Krzyzewski continued. “The best thing is to have your best players out there all the time, talking and functioning as one.”

Managing Parker’s minutes to keep him fresh deprived the Blue Devils of having their best group on the floor. In the last 10 games of the season, Parker spent the equivalent of nearly two of them — 73 minutes– on the bench.

The strategy worked. Parker was able to contribute as much at the end of the game as at the start. He averaged 20 pts/40 in his first 10 minutes of playing time during games, and 20  pts/40 in his last 10.

The problem was when he was on the floor for prolonged stretches. He got four breaks per game, averaging two minutes each. He played 10 continuous minutes of game action just nine times in the final 10 games, which is less than two per game. Many star players have one stretch that long each half.

Normally, those prolonged stretches came at the end of games, as Duke looked to preserve leads or mount comebacks. There were several high-profile losses, including Clemson, Wake, and Mercer where Duke blew late leads and saw opponents go on game-clinching runs.

“Virginia, (in the ACC Tournament) I thought we got real tired,” Krzyzewski said. “When we think of end of games, we had leads in the second half and couldn’t find that extra push. That extra push. And the other guys did.”

Now Parker is considering taking another jump, to a league where games are eight minutes longer and seasons have twice as many games. Teams play more often, and games are even faster and more physical.

Jabari Parker has the body and skill set of an NBA star. He has huge upside potential. But at this point, he has a long way to go before he even has ACC stamina.