Bulls

The Jabari Parker effect: Bulls’ defense is about to go from bad to worse

Jabari Parker’s homecoming is a great story, and who doesn’t love a great story?

The Bulls’ marketing department sure does because the possibilities for Parker, who signed a two-year, $40 million deal Saturday, are many.

Standout Simeon graduate makes good and returns to his hometown team after two major knee injuries to revitalize his career. It’s almost a Hollywood script.

This homecoming, however, also comes with some consequences. So while general manager Gar Forman was saying all the right things in his statement Saturday, he needs to address some hard truths that come with Parker’s signing. More specifically, how will this work at both ends of the floor?

The on-court effect

Offensively, Parker’s presence with the core of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn shouldn’t require a major adjustment. He’s a much more accomplished scorer than Justin Holiday and will slide right into the starting lineup at small forward, allowing the Bulls to use Holiday off the bench or to trade him.

What Parker’s presence doesn’t change, however, is the Bulls’ ability to stretch the floor. Neither Parker nor Holiday scares opposing defenses from three-point range. Parker has shot 35.2 percent from three-point range in his career and Holiday 35 percent. But Parker did shoot a career-high 38 percent from long range in 31 games last season.

Parker will add some rebounding and scoring in the paint and is better at shot selection than Holiday has been, so expect the offense to be more efficient with a healthy Parker on the court.

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But just when you thought the Bulls’ defense couldn’t get any worse, buckle up. Putting LaVine and Parker on the court at the same time might be an invitation for opponents to get in a layup line and have at it.

LaVine’s 114.8 defensive rating last season ranked 511th in the league, and his defensive win-share ranked 514th. Yes, he was coming off surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament, but his defensive numbers always have been subpar.

Parker’s 109.5 defensive rating last season ranked 433rd in the league, and his defensive win-share ranked 353rd.

That isn’t good news for a Bulls team that ranked 26th in points allowed and 27th in opposing field-goal percentage allowed last season.

Coach Fred Hoiberg told the Sun-Times last week that the staff was looking for a better defensive concept heading into training camp. The addition of Parker will make that search a tougher one.

The off-court effect

From a salary-cap standpoint, the addition of Parker is simply a one-year, $20 million gamble. Because the Bulls have an option on him in 2019-20, they can opt out and look to go free-agent shopping in a deeper class next summer.

But what if Parker is great for the core? What if he finally lives up to being the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 draft?

The Bulls only have him for two seasons, which means they would face the choice of paying a high price to keep him or set their rebuild back by allowing a key piece to depart.

It’s a good story either way, and the Bulls’ marketing department will make sure to exploit every corner of that.