The 2014 NBA Draft produced an intriguing crop of talent, with most of the players just starting to come into their own now.
Jabari Parker and Julius Randle were the second and seventh picks respectively in 2014, and both players are on very different paths to their potential third NBA contract.
Wednesday's matchup between the Bulls and Pelicans provided a decent look at how the year is going for both players in what is a huge contract year for both. Parker was drafted second overall in 2014 because of his immense offensive potential and despite a large amount of difficulties along the way, he still has a similar reputation as a player who can be a consistent scorer in the league. Randle has almost the same reputation but has actually improved his defensive game whereas Parker's defense has a very long way to go.
In the Pelicans 107-98 win in New Orleans Randle finished with 12 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in 24 minutes and was a +4 on the floor. Parker ended the game with 20-point, 12-rebound double-double on 50 percent shooting but finished with a -11 plus/minus rating in his 36 minutes of playing time.
Parker has proven that he can still get buckets but his ability to score efficiently is not present in 2018-19, obviously only time will tell but the early returns are not great.
He went 0-3 from the 3-point line against the Pelicans and has so far seemed to regress as an outside shooter, his 28 percent from 3-point range through 10 games being one of the worst marks of his career. But it is not for a lack of trying. This season represents the second-highest 3PA per game of his career but his poor percentages have obviously killed any excitement about his willingness to shoot the 3-point shot. And curiously enough, Parker is taking less corner 3-pointers than any point in his career—and I mean a dramatic decline in attempt rate—which is weird considering that he has an elite percentage from that specific area (career 40 percent on corner 3-pointers).
The defense of Parker has seemed to decline, to the point where we actually saw Fred Hoiberg confront him about his effort during the game:
Fred gets in Jabari's face after not hustling back on defense pic.twitter.com/noJbOFDdUj— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) November 8, 2018
When Lauri Markkanen, Bobby Portis and Kris Dunn return, the Bulls will have a ton of score-first players at their disposal, meaning playmaking is the skill that is most likely to lift Parker's value—outside of efficient scoring—but even that has took a downturn this season. He is averaging a career-high in turnovers per game (2.6) and has made some truly head-scratching passes:
Wow, Jabari just threw a terrible oop to Wendell and then blamed it on him... pic.twitter.com/NR7qzpiSdV— Will Gottlieb (@wontgottlieb) November 8, 2018
Overall, the fact that Parker is on a team-option helps the Bulls end of year decision become easier. Through 12 games he is not giving a ton to be excited about, but this is a player working his way back from injury. I have little doubt that Parker will play better as the season wears on but his fit with Chicago will continue to be in question until we get a good enough sample size of Parker-Markkanen-LaVine lineups.
The question is, how much better? If he does enough to seem like he could fit with the fully healthy version of the Bulls, it is easy to see the Bulls working out a long-term contract or simply giving the Parker-experiment one more year.
The test for Randle in 2018-19 would be seeing if he could play well while fitting in with a team that won 48 games last season, a much different task from fellow '14 draftee Parker. With his year being more about team play than personal numbers, Randle has passed with flying colors so far.
New Orleans has gotten off to a sluggish start due to a mixture of unfamiliarity and injury woes, but sit 1.5 games back of the eight seed in Western conference. And his he has played extremely well this season with averages of 18 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2 assists per game. He is shooting 56 percent from the field—improving on last season's career-high of 55.8 percent—and has started to experiment with stretching his shooting range, hitting 35 percent from 3-point line this season.
The big difference between Parker and Randle heading into 2019 is that while Parker's team option was a franchise taking a chance on him, Randle's player-option in his Pelicans contract allows him to control his future. Both players still have a chance to be success stories in the NBA, especially if they can both overcome their defensive woes.
Things look much brighter for Randle as of now, if only because of his ability to play center. But both players stand to show how quickly the game can change around you, as the "positionless basketball" that—theoretically—was supposed to help develop both has put their long-term roles in the league in jeopardy.