At a high school basketball tournament in Wheeling, West Virginia, the lights were shining on the teams of Simeon Academy (Ill.) and Montverde (Fla.) with ESPN broadcasting live. However, the question brought forth by the tournament came between Simeon’s star Jabari Parker, ESPN’s second ranked prospect in the 2013 class, and a player whom played the previous night without any cameras on.
In that game, Huntington St. Joseph’s Prep (W. Va.) played against Dallas Prime Prep. The main attraction, ESPN’s first ranked prospect in 2013, Andrew Wiggins.
With Kentucky head coach John Calipari sitting next to me, I attempted to focus on the general aspects of each players game for an analysis into who is the better player. Andrew Wiggins, listed as 6’8” and 200 lbs, was immediately ranked first overall when he reclassified from the class of 2014 to the class of 2013, bumping Jabari Parker down a spot. Parker, a 6’8” and 210 pound swingman, had been ranked no. 1 in his class and gained much notoriety with an SI cover that billed him as “the best high school basketball player since Lebron James.”
The argument between these two without seeing them face off with each other creates a dilemma for college and professional coaches and scouts. Wiggins is lean, very thin and lanky, but a very athletic player. Parker is muscular and has already filled out his frame well, he looks like a man on the court playing against boys, using his size and his intelligence to beat the competition. As difficult to compare as any, these two have given coaches and fans at all levels plenty to contemplate.
This evaluation of the two best high school basketball players will be split into categories, I will attempt to do what appears impossible try and and grasp the true abilities of these high school stars. The key to this is to also remember they are high school players, still raw and learning the game more each day. With their constant improvements, this evaluation could be outdated by the end of the season. However, the categories of athleticism, skill, and overall impact should provide a strong view into what the future holds for these two stars.
One of the first things you notice watching Andrew Wiggins is his incredible athleticism, athleticism he used to his advantage to take only efficient shots. He was able to connect on 7-of-12 shots, all of his made baskets coming inside the paint of lay-ups and dunks. His ability to control his body, in the air, while making contact with a defender and finish the play eventually brought Kentucky head coach John Calipari to simply say “wow.” The amazement of a top college coach gave the seal of approval.
With his height, many would expect him to be able to go low and battle it out on the inside. He was used as a stretch-4, similar to what LeBron James has been in Miami. This doesn’t suit him, as he doesn’t have the size and muscle to compete in the post. His offense was started outside, despite missing all four of his three pointers, he was able to drive and score.
On defense he became a casualty, when matched against bigger players. Huntington Prep tried to avoid this by playing a 2-3 zone defense, but on transition the ball would go into the post with only Wiggins to defend it. This led Prime Prep star Jordan Mickey to shoot 5-6 in the second half after going 1-4 in the first. He defends the perimeter well, and uses his length to his advantage to cut off passing lanes. He also used this length to his advantage on the glass for nine rebounds, five of them defensive rebounds.
Jabari Parker also has great athleticism, but with a more muscular figure than Wiggins. Playing in the post is no problem for Parker. He doesn’t have the speed or agility of Wiggins, but is still working back from a foot injury suffered over the summer. He has lost 20 pounds in recent weeks, and hopes to lose 10 more soon to be back to his normal weight. The athleticism he showed was his use of size to back opponents down or work with the ball outside. This was also seen on defense, and where his size was used inside primarily and he pulled down 13 rebounds.
Parker’s offense is unquestionably good, and when he finally gets back to 100 percent, he should be able to use his first step quickness to drive by opponents at the wing and into the paint. His size and post skills give him an edge inside where he has the strength to battle it out, however he doesn’t use it that often. The big focus of athleticism comes from Parker on his dunks, with one prime example being with 3:26 left in the game. A shot from beyond the arc began to rim out when Parker ran full-speed down the lane and launched himself over four players for the putback dunk.
Skill can be defined in many ways, and with Andrew Wiggins it’s his ability to drive to the basket. Eight of his shots came within four feet of the basket, and he was able to give a boost to his team’s offense with his quickness and ball handling. His skills were on full display with his shooting, and his defense was strong with short moments of difficulty.
His primary asset is the ability to begin at the top of the key, jab step, cross-over, and drive to the basket. Opposing defenders were left trailing on the drive because of a solid fake-out, and with that he was able to draw fouls, a typically underrated skill. He shot 4-6 from the line, and finished the game with 18 points. This wasn’t enough to power his team to victory, but did show his skills as a shot-creator for himself, often creating shots away from the ball.
Defense was strong and showed his ability to compete with top talents. Prime Prep was able to take advantage of him in the post, however. One moment of note was late in the first half, when on transition Wiggins matched up with sophomore power forward Elijah Thomas. Thomas went to the post, received the ball, and made Wiggins jump left while Thomas went right for the easy lay-in. Coach Calipari was amazed by the move, and soon asked the name of Thomas because of this.
Parker is very skilled, using his intelligence to his advantage in this category. He opened the game with a shot from the elbow, then hitting two three-point shots. His range was beyond the college three point line, and drew defenders beyond their comfort area. Once he drew defenders out, he used his ball handling skills to crossover, and drive the lane for easy baskets. He used this to finish with 17 points.
He used these skills on both offense and defense, and able to defend inside and outside. He held opponents to the perimeter often, but occasionally struggled to close out on a good long range shooter. This could be due to his foot injury, but was an area of concern. He was timid to put a hand in the face of a shooter, and the team found themselves behind because of this.
Parker’s offense is incredible, with post moves to draw in an occasional double-team. His main positions
to receive a pass were either high-post or outside, but when necessary he would go to the low-block and back into a defender for the easy basket. He was able to read plays and know where his teammates would be, giving him the ability to make difficult passes seem relatively easy. He committed four turnovers, but made up for them with incredible plays to get teammates open.
Neither player’s team won their game, which could be a sign of the teams having problems as a whole. The players appeared to have solid games, the question becomes which player provides a better impact for their team. Andrew Wiggins was an off-ball creator, who could take it and drive, but didn’t seem to pass as often. Clearly he is skilled offensively, but he had difficulties on defense when drawn down low. Parker had the ability to get his teammates open shots and defend well all-around; however, he had stints where he appeared to become invisible. You could often find Parker just standing around baseline and rarely finding open space to work with.
Wiggins has the ability to find the open space, while Jabari Parker is a creator with the ball. Emotion can become a heavy burden for both players, as is common for high school athletes. The overall impact of both players is to try and take over when the game is on the line, and when it came to the final quarter of play, you could see in their face that they wanted the ball. By that time, it was too late for either to win, but they put on quite a show. With Wiggins being more active throughout the final frame and Parker disappearing at times without Kendrick Nunn to draw the ire of defenders, the impact of each player becomes much more clear.
Both players will have incredible college and professional careers. Parker is attending Duke University, and should fit into the system well, while Wiggins is still undecided. They should find themselves as the stars of NBA teams, and will be compared for years to come à la LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.
Overall, the better player appears to be Andrew Wiggins, with a slight nod to the injured foot of Jabari Parker possibly hindering his abilities. Parker was more sporadic with his shot, and Wiggins was better with capitalizing. In the end, it will truly be an incredible argument for years to come.
This is part two of a three part series on the Cancer Research Classic by Joshua Yost. For part one, click here.