Jabari Parker didn’t get off to a great start against No. 1 Syracuse on Saturday night.
Midway through the first half, No. 5 Duke’s star freshman had four turnovers, a handful of missed shots and a 17-8 deficit to overcome.
But the end of the night, Parker would have 19 points on 6-for-9 shooting, 10 boards and a 66-60 referee-aided win while putting on arguably the best performance of his young career.
Here’s the thing about Parker: He’s as polished, as talented and as well-rounded of a scorer as you will find out of a freshman. He bullies people in the post, he hits threes, he crosses up bigger defender, he dunks on people.
Most importantly, he’s 6-foot-8 and 235 pounds.
But he doesn’t always play like it.
Parker can have a tendency to settle for perimeter jumpers. Instead of overpowering smaller guards or out-quicking bigger forwards, he’ll settle for what the defense is giving him: threes. Parker can hit that shot, there’s no question about it, but he’s not Andre Dawkins or Trevor Cooney. He’s not a guy whose offense is tied to his ability to shoot the ball. He’s a guy that’s just that much more dangerous because he can make that shot.
There’s a difference.
Against Syracuse, what you saw out of Parker was the full array of what he’s capable of doing, and it was the difference in the game. He hit all three of the threes that he took. He got the and-one in transition. His tip-dunk over what seemed like 17 outstretched arms put Duke up six. His driving, left-handed lay-up with 1:31 left might have been the biggest shot of the game, as it put Duke up 59-56. Rakeem Christmas would score on the ensuing possession to cut the lead to one, but the Orange never got closer than that.
Because Parker corralled a defensive rebound in-between four Syracuse players after Trevor Cooney missed a driving layup attempt with less than a minute remaining.
Duke didn’t win this game because of one play or one player. The struggles of Tyler Ennis and a couple of close calls going Duke’s way might have been more important than Parker’s play.
But what we saw on Saturday was everything that Parker is capable of doing.
When he’s more than just a jump-shooter, Duke is a much more dangerous team.