Sitting on a Parker Bench

Sitting on a Parker Bench by See Red Fred @cbefred

The Fred Hoiberg decision to bench Jabari Parker for Bobby Portis was declared a victory after one preseason game. The Bulls dominated Indiana, primarily due to Holiday actually showing a pulse, although WCJ’s start brought a massive upgrade to the Center position, and Portis played well. The Denver game was not dissected to the same degree, probably because it countered the Bulls Twitter narrative of Fred’s brilliant decision. Denver dominated our starters (only WCJ posted a positive +-), Portis was consistently exposed by Milsap, and Bobby produced a team low plus minus of -19 in 18 minutes.

I’ve noticed a strange tendency for Bulls fans to overanalyze and overemphasize the preseason since Thibs won several preseason titles. I’ve never been a fan of Niko Mirotic, but I felt obliged to defend him a few years ago after he was savagely criticized for an atrocious preseason. Using cutting edge techniques in common sense, I adroitly defended Niko by pointing out it was preseason. Coaches experiment with lineups & roles that take time to learn. That process is exceptionally difficult for new players to a team (Parker) and rookies (Hutchison). And so it has been with Parker. Bulls Twitter has been exceptionally harsh on Jabari considering he played well in 2 of the 5 preseason games. (He led the team in +- in the first and last preseason games and he put up some fine all-around numbers in Game 1) https://www.cbssports.com/fantasy/basketball/news/bulls-jabari-parker-plays-well-in-preseason-opener/ )

It’s human nature to desire affirmation of one’s opinions, and Jabari‘s poor play in 3 preseason games provided a fascinating display of human nature, with multiple assertions that the signing of a proven 23-year old scorer with uber-offensive skills was uber-foolish. Critics found red meat to justify their original objections to the signing. I’m less guilty of that sin but nonetheless guilty (I have occasionally overestimated the ceiling for Valentine, although the jury is still out). So let us analyze the situation with some facts:

1. Jabari was benched after three unusually bad shooting games. (5-14 vs NOP, 1-12 vs MIL & 3-11 vs CHA) In 4 seasons, Parker has posted FG percentages of 49, 49.3, 49, 48.2. He has been remarkably consistent with his shot. I believe his poor shooting was the primary impetus for sending him to the bench, although the strong play of Portis clearly was a factor. Regardless, Hoiberg employed the same tactic with Niko in the 2016-17 season and Zipsuck last year, but both had a much larger sample size. It was a move of panic and desperation due to the discouraging nature of the losses (the Bulls were thoroughly dominated by MIL and CHA), when I felt the wretched play of Holiday and Lopez was the far greater problem. Regardless, Parker’s solid performance vs Denver (game high 19 points in 31 min and a team high +13) is being used as proof that Fred’s decision was correct when in fact, it was just Jabari’s progression to the mean.
2. Although neither player will ever achieve greatness on the defensive end, Parker is the superior defender at the 4 to Portis. Despite the 2 ACL injuries, Jabari maintains a considerable advantage in athletic ability. I love Portis on the offensive end, but he’s always been an awful defender. I saw more solid defense in one playoff series (2018 Mil-Celtics) from Parker than I did from Portis in his entire career. Even my nemesis and rabid Parker Hater @mkhoops was forced to acknowledge solid Parker defense at the PF position: https://twitter.com/mkhoops/status/1050689803262484480?s=21 Lost in the joy of Fred’s decision was the awful defense from Portis in the Denver game, reflected in his team low +- of -19. I actually feel Parker is slightly above average defensively at the 4, & most of his defensive problems occur against specific small forward matchups. I’ll address this in a future article.
3. Parker is the superior 3 point shooter. In 3 seasons, Portis has never hit the 36.5% and 38.3% percentages Parker posted in his last 2 seasons. This skill is imperative for the Bulls to succeed. Portis has looked best in the post this preseason. It’s a great skill for the second unit, but for LaVine and Dunn to be at their best (attacking the hoop), we need the opponent’s 4 pulled away from the rim. Jabari’s presence will accomplish this, but Portis won’t. As an aside, Bobby shot a disappointing 5-19 from 3 in the preseason (26%).
4. Parker is a far better passer than Portis. In 5 preseason games, Portis delivered 4 assists. Jabari had 4 assists in the Denver game alone, 13 overall in the preseason. Passing is the most underrated part of Parker’s game. In a starting lineup w/ LaVine as the primary scorer and Holiday as the primary chucker, why would you prefer to add a “shoot first” player like Portis with no ability to facilitate?
5. Portis has already embraced the role of 6th Man. https://www.dailyherald.com/sports/20180925/portis-happy-to-concede-starting-role-focus-on-being-sixth-man “I like the (sixth-man) role,” Portis said. “I get to come off the bench and score a lot. Who doesn’t like to score the ball? That’s a fun gig. Coach has trust in me to shoot the shots I want to shoot. It’s a fun gig to have.” From the Mike McGraw article referenced above. Parker clearly prefers to start. Fred has created a controversy this team didn’t need. I was 100% in favor of starting WCJ over Lopez. Lopez was a trainwreck all preseason, providing little benefit on either end of the court, despite being intimately familiar with the offense and most of his teammates. Expecting Parker to be comfortable w/ a new set of teammates and a new offense is absurd.

I met John Paxson before Friday’s Denver game, and asked him “What it your decision to bench Jabari or Fred’s decision?” He said without hesitation, that it was Fred’s, and that he supported it. He did feel Parker was trying to do too much, and that he would play better. I agree with his latter points, but I disagree with the benching. For the optimal performance of this team, Portis is suited as the scoring force with the 2nd unit. I know Parker is talented enough to succeed in any role. For the good of team, I hope Fred rectifies this decision soon, but I have no faith that he will.

Follow See Red Fred Pfeiffer on twitter: @cbefred
Email SRF: Chicagobullseye@gmail.com