Both were lottery picks in the 2014 NBA draft – Parker going second to the Milwaukee Bucks, Randle going seventh to the Los Angeles Lakers. Both were one-and-done college stars from powerhouse programs – Parker from Duke, Randle from Kentucky.
Both were supposed to be among the legitimate contenders for Rookie of the Year. Unfortunately, both suffered serious injuries that ended their rookie seasons shortly after they began and put them on a rehabilitation track for the 2015-16 season.
And now, both Parker and Randle are “rookies” in their second season. And despite some pleasant production, both have been benched by their coaches.
Last season, Parker actually was the Eastern Conference’s Rookie of the Month for November and was the leader in last season’s Rookie Rankings as late as December before he suffered a torn left ACL that ended his campaign after just 25 games. Randle was even less fortunate, breaking his right leg just 14 minutes into his NBA debut.
Parker began the season on the sidelines, not taking the court until Milwaukee’s fifth game. He was given a couple more games of spot rest before becoming a starter for good on Nov. 19 at Cleveland – or so it seemed. Following a home loss to Sacramento six days later, Parker was moved to the bench by coach Jason Kidd and replaced by veteran O.J. Mayo.
The 6-8, 250-pound Parker had been playing alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo, Greg Monroe, Khris Middleton and Michael Carter-Williams in a lineup that was longer than War and Peace. But it was also a lineup that couldn’t space the floor well enough with its collective shooting.
“On paper, you say, ‘Wow, that’s a long lineup,'” Kidd told ESPN.com recently. “But who is gonna shoot? … Jabari will be a really good stretch four in three years. Right now, he’s not that. And that’s OK. He’s basically a rookie.”
Parker is shooting 48 percent overall but under 37 percent from 10-16 feet, a paltry 18 percent from 16-23 feet and 0-of-2 on 3-pointers. For now, he is a foul-line-and-in player. His averages of 10.1 points and 4.2 rebounds in 24.8 minutes all are below his norms from his abbreviated rookie season. His PER of 14.78 is not awful, but the Bucks – who are 13th in the East at 9-14 after last season’s surprise trip to the playoffs – would like a little more from a second overall pick.
Randle’s benching has been less his doing. He probably could have returned late last season and – unlike Parker – was ready on Opening Night, going for 15 and 11 as if to prove the point. He is averaging 12.2 points and 9.4 rebounds with 10 double-doubles, which is tied for 10th overall and would share the lead among rookies – if he still was one.
But the Lakers have been dreadful in Kobe Bryant’s farewell season and need to accelerate the rebuilding process by getting Randle and true rookie D’Angelo Russell more touches. Randle had a stretch of four double-doubles in five games when coach Byron Scott decided before Monday’s loss in Toronto to play Randle and Russell with the second unit, where they do not have to combat Bryant for touches.
In two games off the bench, Randle’s minutes have remained relatively unchanged while posting two more double-doubles. He has eight double-doubles in his last 11 games, including a career-high 19 rebounds in a win at Washington on Dec. 2.
There’s no need to play any violins for Parker and Randle. Yes, they will never win Rookie of the Year. But both appear fully recovered from their injuries and on track to eventually make a significant impact on the league.
If you want to feel sorry for someone, shed a tear for Josh Huestis. He was taken by Oklahoma City in the first round of the same 2014 draft and still hasn’t played in an NBA game.
On to the rankings, where we have a new leader.
1. KRISTAPS PORZINGIS, F-C, NEW YORK: Yeah, he had a stinker Wednesday night in Utah. So did all of his Knicks teammates. In his previous game, he went for 28 points on 13-of-18 shooting against Dallas and Dirk Nowitzki, the player to whom he is so often compared. “He’s way ahead of the curve. When I was 20 I was scared to death out there. He’s almost averaging a double-double out there. He’s better than I was in my 20s, so the comparison is probably unfair to him. He’s a complete package.” Added Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, “Porzingis is a special player.” LAST RANKING: 2
2. KARL-ANTHONY TOWNS, C, MINNESOTA: He still leads all rookies in rebounds (9.3) and blocks (2.19) while ranking second in scoring (15.3) and field-goal percentage (.532). However, he had a recent stretch where he sat the fourth quarter of three straight games in favor of Gorgui Dieng, who is a bit more accomplished on the defensive end. When asked about Towns’ pine time, coach Sam Mitchell bit off the reporter’s head, saying, “Ask me a question about the game. Don’t ask me a question about playing time.” Towns has averaged 23.7 points and 10.3 rebounds in three games since. LAST RANKING: 1
3. JAHLIL OKAFOR, C, PHILADELPHIA: He still leads all rookies at 16.9 points per game and strafed Towns for 25 and 12 on Nov. 23. But since then, Okafor was in a fight with a fan in Boston, which led to news that he was driving 108 mph in a 40 zone, which led to news of an earlier altercation, which led to a two-game team suspension. So here’s some questions that need to be asked: Were the Sixers clueless about Okafor’s juvenile behavior? Were they working to keep it hush-hush? Or did someone in the organization leak it to undermine Sam Hinkie and “the process”? LAST RANKING: 3
4. D’ANGELO RUSSELL, G, LA LAKERS: The increase in minutes while moving to the bench appears to be having the desired effect, as Russell is averaging 13.4 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 30.5 minutes in 11 games since we implored Byron Scott to play the kid more three weeks ago. Going against reserves will help, but there is still loads of room for improvement, especially in the areas of playmaking, shooting (.406 overall, .313 threes), aggression (1.2 FTAs per game) and defense (110 rating, net of minus-17). LAST RANKING: NR
5. EMMANUEL MUDIAY, G, DENVER: He went for a season-high 26 with five assists on the day we last published rookie rankings, followed with 17 and eight vs. Golden State and has been dreadful since – and so have the Nuggets. In eight games, Mudiay has averaged 7.9 points, 5.2 assists and 3.6 turnovers while shooting just 27.5 percent (24-of-87), including 4-of-20 from distance. Denver is just 2-6 in that stretch, with one of the wins coming against Philly without Okafor. If Mudiay doesn’t get untracked, someone else will be here in our next rankings. LAST RANKING: 4
DROPOUTS: Nemanja Bjelica, F, Minnesota (5).
FIVE TO WATCH: Devin Booker, G, Phoenix; Stanley Johnson, F, Detroit; Nikola Jokic, C, Denver; Frank Kaminsky, F-C, Charlotte; T.J. McConnell, G, Philadelphia.
Chris Bernucca is the managing editor of SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Mondays, and his Rookie Rankings ever other Friday. Follow him on Twitter.