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Why Jabari Parker will thrive at Duke

11/8/2013

Jabari Parker had his choice of the creme de la creme of college basketball programs before selecting Duke last winter. And, while I have no doubt ESPN's No. 2 player in the Class of 2013 would have been successful at any of the other schools on his list, he picked the perfect place to show his multitude of basketball skills.

Hall of Famer Mike Krzyzewski is starting his 39th season as a head coach and, despite nearing 1,000 career wins, is still energized enough to continue to improve his own coaching skills. That has been especially evident in the way he has utilized -- and learned from -- the prodigious talent of his NBA stars on the last two Olympic gold medal teams.

It will pay dividends as Parker begins his Blue Devils' career.

The strength of Krzyzewski's offensive philosophy at Duke has been a system strongly influenced by the motion offense of his mentor, Bob Knight. It has, first and foremost, always been about adaptability to his team's personnel. Its freelance nature allows him the flexibility to use his players' strengths most effectively regardless of what position they are supposed to play. Instead of fitting players to the system, it's fitting the system to his players.

In London, Krzyzewski utilized lineups with incredible skill and athleticism to get his best five players on the court, regardless of where they were used. That often meant playing LeBron James or Kevin Durant at the center position. And, while neither is a true back-to-the-basket post player, arguably the two best players in the world created major headaches for opponents.

Now apply this to Jabari Parker.

In the initial four minutes of Duke's first exhibition game versus Bowie State last month, Parker showed off his versatility by hitting a spot up 3-point shot, bringing the ball up as a point guard, then passing, posting up and getting fouled on a drive. He later stole the ball and went coast-to-coast, handling in transition as a playmaker and, finally, running the lane and finishing a dunk in traffic.

At 6-foot-9 and 245 pounds entering his freshman season, Parker can literally succeed at all five positions on the basketball court and, so fittingly, Mike Krzyzewski has no desire to box him in at one spot. In fact, with the loss of three key Blue Devils to graduation -- Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry -- Duke will often play Olympic-style basketball with five versatile starters who can be interchangeable, both offensively and defensively.

"We have really good athletes, we have excellent depth, good quickness, a great spirit and outstanding camaraderie," Krzyzewski told the Duke Chronicle in July. "Working with USA Basketball has helped a great deal because you get used to guys working who can play multiple positions."

Remember, when NBA all-star small forward Carmelo Anthony plays FIBA basketball for Coach K, he often plays as a stretch power forward. Anthony is a skilled perimeter shooter and scorer at 6-9 and, yet, can still dominate in the paint. Parker's skills will be exploited in the same fashion at Duke.

Because of Parker's size, there will be rare nights in the ACC that he will be overwhelmed physically when he defends in the post. In leading Chicago Simeon High School to four straight Illinois state championships, he was often the biggest player on the floor. Defending good players like North Carolina's James Michael McAdoo or NC State's T.J. Warren will be a challenge, but not one that will overwhelm him.

Conversely, when Duke does play small, guarding him all over the court will be a difficult proposition for opposing big men. His ability to shoot from the perimeter will pull bigger defenders away from the basket and open up driving opportunities for teammates. And he has a very efficient Paul Pierce-type post-up game with a nice touch and the guile to operate around the basket.

Parker's ability to handle the basketball, especially in the open court, puts enormous pressure on opponents in their transition defense. Think Magic Johnson here.

It's hard enough for a big defender to match up with Parker when he's running to the rim on the fast break. But when he's coming at you with his dribble in space, he's a nightmare to stay in front of. Off of a defensive rebound or a steal, he will be able play end-to-end and finish plays by scoring or passing.

Parker will be able to utilize an excellent basketball IQ and will fit in as an unselfish star when he needs to. While I am a fan of point guard, Quinn Cook, my sense is that this Duke team's key playmaker will be Parker. As the son of former NBA player Sonny Parker, he has been around basketball his entire life and it shows in his feel for the game.

While Duke will never be accused of playing slow, the 2013-14 version of the Blue Devils, with Parker handling the ball at times, could play at the quickest tempo since the 2008 team that featured Gerald Henderson, DeMarcus Nelson, Jon Scheyer and freshman Nolan Smith. That team averaged 73 possessions a game and their tempo was the 16th fastest in country, according to kenpom.com.

Parker won't be the only multi-skilled Blue Devil. Mississippi State transfer, 6-8 Rodney Hood who sat out last season, is a jack-of-all-trades and, if he was not so gifted, he'd be described as a "glue guy." His value to the team has been manifest already in his being selected as a captain before ever playing a regular season game for Duke.

Sophomore Amile Jefferson, at 6-8, is not as offensively skilled as either Parker or Hood, but defensively will create easy switching opportunities with both teammates to take away opponents' scoring chances. It gives Krzyzewski the same type of flexibility on defense that he'll have with his motion offense.

Across the nation, this freshman class is filled with future NBA stars like Parker, Julius Randle, Andrew Wiggins and Aaron Gordon. All of them will make an immediate impact on this college basketball season in their own way. For Mike Krzyzewski, his star is a perfect fit for a system that has been time-tested since the 1980's. It's why Parker chose the Blue Devils, after all.