The deadline to declare for the 2014 NBA draft is almost at our doorstep, but Duke’s Jabari Parker seems perfectly content with using all of the time allotted to him before April 27 to make his decision.
While other early entrants barely even finished playing their final game before announcing their intentions of going pro, it has been more than three weeks since Duke lost to Mercer. Yet, we still have no clue whether Parker will be back in Durham for the 2014-15 season.
More power to him for viewing the declaration deadline the same way Bo Ryan has viewed the shot clock for the past decade. There’s no sense in rushing into a life-altering decision if you have several weeks to make it.
However, Parker absolutely needs to do the right thing and declare for the NBA draft.
And I say that as a lifelong Duke fan.
As fans of college basketball, we would love nothing more than to see Parker come back for another season. (Fans of ACC teams not named “Duke,” notwithstanding.) Players as good as Parker don’t come along every year, and the ones who stay in college for more than one season are rarer still.
But exactly what good could come from spending another season in college when you’re already a unanimous top-five draft pick?
For a lot of the players who have made “Should I or shouldn’t I?” decisions about the draft in recent days and weeks, another year in college would do wonders for the rest of their career.
Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell likely would have been a late first-round draft pick, but his decision to stay for another year will almost certainly result in him becoming a lottery pick in 2015. Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky could return similar dividends.
But for a player like Parker whose NBA stock has nowhere to go but down, what’s the point in staying?
In early April 2011, North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes and Baylor’s Perry Jones III were projected to be drafted in the top five before both freshmen decided to come back for a sophomore year.
Barnes didn’t lose much ground, getting drafted No. 7 overall in 2012 and thus far having a relatively successful career in two years with Golden State. But the longer Jones stayed in college, the more his stock plummeted. He was taken with the 28th overall pick in 2012 and is barely even seeing the court for Oklahoma City.
In addition to the lack of playing time, Jones is earning about 30 percent of what he could have. The actual No. 5 pick in the 2011 draft (Jonas Valanciunas) is making over $7 million between this season and the next, while Jones is making roughly $2.2 million during that same stretch—and let’s not forget Jones made $0 during the 2011-12 season.
Fresher in our memories was Marcus Smart's decision to forgo the NBA last summer for an additional year at Oklahoma State.
Without a doubt, Smart would have been a top-five pick in the 2013 draft. As fans of college basketball, we were thrilled to have him back for another year.
Aside from a reputation as a hothead, though, what did Smart gain from his extra season in school? He’ll still be a lottery pick in June, but by dropping from perhaps No. 2 in 2013 to No. 7 in 2014, he left $1.472 million in first-year salary on the table—not to mention the several million dollars lost by now having one less year of healthy bones, joints and ligaments.
By comparing the two, we’re certainly not suggesting Parker is doomed to an altercation with a superfan and a three-game suspension. Rather, we’re trying to show the potential risk is nowhere near worth the reward.
The best-case scenario for Parker if he stays is that he leads Duke to a national championship and improves from the No. 3 pick in the 2014 draft ($3.69 million in first-year salary) to the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft ($4.753 million in first-year salary). And that’s assuming he isn’t already locked in as the projected No. 1 or No. 2 pick in this year’s draft.
In the “on the court” portion of that best-case scenario, Parker could really hone his craft as a small forward at Duke for the 2014-15 season.
Aside from Amile Jefferson, Parker was Duke’s only reliable post presence last season. Parker led the team in both blocks and rebounds by no small margin, but that’s not the role he will be expected to play in the NBA; nor would it be the role he would play at Duke with No. 1 overall recruit Jahlil Okafor coming to Durham.
With Jefferson, Okafor and occasionally Marshall Plumlee handling the load in the paint, Parker would be afforded the luxury Andrew Wiggins had at Kansas of not having to bang bodies with big men on the defensive end of the court. Instead, he would get to conserve that energy to potentially have a more consistent jump shot.
Through Duke’s first 11 games, Parker was 19-of-40 (47.5 percent) from three-point range. Over the rest of the season, he shot just 19-of-66 (28.8 percent).
Give him the opportunity to defend less physical players, and perhaps his jump shot survives the season. He’ll certainly need a more reliable mid- and long-range jumper in the NBA, because it won’t be anywhere near as easy to get to the rim in the NBA as it is in college.
However, the potential worst-case scenarios if he stays are endless. Most obvious among them are poor play, serious injuries or a Rasheed Sulaimon situation in which an excellent freshman suddenly has trouble finding playing time in his sophomore season.
Evidently, he doesn’t see the worst-case scenarios. Parker told ESPNLA 710 on Friday:
I think there's no risk. I think the community at Duke has really done a good job of taking care of my safety and they make sure that everything is done by the playbook.
My parents, they come from different backgrounds. They don't even value money. My situation isn't the best, but they're not complaining and I've been going on this long so why can't I wait another year? That's the mindset in my head that keeps me moving.
More often than not, I’m in favor of players coming back for another season. But if you’re at the top of every NBA team's draft board, just go get paid before you lose the chance. If you get injured or fall flat on your face in the NBA, you can always go back to school to get a degree thanks to that extra several million dollars in your bank account.
If he does stay, though, it’ll only be a matter of time before Duke fans are the ones printing 40-0 shirts.
We’ve already mentioned Okafor, Jefferson and Plumlee as depth in the paint, but Duke has an absolute embarrassment of riches on the perimeter—with or without Parker.
Sulaimon will be back for another year, alongside point guard Quinn Cook. Matt Jones and Semi Ojeleye had trouble finding playing time last year, but each returning sophomore was a well-regarded three-point threat when he first committed to Duke. Then you’ve got the incoming McDonald’s All-American freshmen in Tyus Jones, Grayson Allen and Justise Winslow.
Also, who even knows yet if Rodney Hood will stay or go? Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv reported in late March that Hood would declare for the draft. However, Zagoria was simultaneously reporting Montrezl Harrell and Juwan Staten were leaving for the NBA, and both of those guys are coming back for another year.
I have no idea what Duke’s starting five would look like if Parker comes back for another season, but I do know the first five Blue Devils off the bench could be starters at just about any other school in the country.
But that supporting cast could actually be a curse in disguise. If Parker comes back and is unable to carry what essentially amounts to an all-star team to a national championship, what does that say about his (in)ability to lead an NBA team to victory?
We would all selfishly love to see Parker stay for another year, but not a single person would fault him for playing it safe and pursuing the several million reasons to depart for the NBA.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.