Jabari Parker-Justin Holiday frontcourt pairing could be a boon to the Bulls


Fred Hoiberg is reported to be going with a Justin Holiday-Jabari Parker pairing at the small forward and power forward positions in Saturday's preseason opener. The duo could make for a successful tandem moving forward.

Justin Holiday was one of the more consistent players on last year's Bulls squad. You alway knew you could expect quality defense, 3-point shooting and a general veteran presence when he was on the floor.

And while he may not be the long-term option at small forward in the eyes of Bulls' management, he serves as a capable stop gap. Holiday starting next to Jabari Parker at small forward could be a successful enough pairing to buoy the Bulls to some surprising early season wins.

Last year Holiday had a -4.7 net rating per NBA.com. His negative net rating is to be taken with a grain of salt, as the Bulls were one of the worst defensive units in the league last season. Holiday's defensive rating of 107.5 was a full 1.6 points per possession better than the Bulls' overall team defensive rating. He had a 7-foot wingspan, and uses that length to bother opposing wings. It allows Holiday to do an close-as-possible to average job on the small forwards he matches up with, many who outweigh by a decent margin.

The hope is that the Bulls' new emphasis on switching on defense with certain lineups will help mitigate any defensive struggles a player like Holiday would face by sliding up or down a position in the lineup.

However, Holiday's offense left much to be desired. He shot 35.9 percent from the 3-point line, a decent mark for a Hoiberg offense that always wants to emphasize the 3-point shot. But one of the other facets of Hoiberg's system is getting to the rim and finishing at a high-rate, all the better if it comes from transition play. But Holiday struggled in these specific areas. He took a career-low 13 percent of his shots at the rim last season, and on top of that he scored 0.92 points per possession in transition, one of the worst marks in the league, ranking just below the 18th percentile compared to the rest of the league.

But that is where Jabari Parker comes in, a player who basically does all of the things that Holiday can not do at a high level.

When you look at the Bulls best two-man lineups featuring Holiday from last season—those with the most minutes played—the one that stands out immediately is the Bobby Portis-Holiday tandem that posted a 2.2 net rating, one of the few positive ones.

There are many reasons, but the biggest one is quite simple: Holiday's presence on the floor meshes well with high-usage players.

Portis had a 26 percent usage rate for Chicago in 2017-18, higher than Kris Dunn or Lauri Markkanen. But as the lone, (somewhat) proven scorer off the bench, it made sense. He also shot 35.9 percent from the 3-point line, and combined that with an amazing 10 percent offensive rebound rate. The fact that he could grab so many offensive boards, while still providing great floor-spacing was huge for the Bulls' offense. This specific combination of skills made Portis a positive offense despite lackluster finishing at the rim.

If Parker can reasonably mimic what Portis did last season for Chicago, they could become one of the more well-balanced offensive in the league. And there is reason for hope.

Last season, it was well-publicized that Parker shot the best 3-point percentage of his career at 38.3 percent. And though his 81 total 3-point attempts pale in comparison to Portis's 223 attempts from deep, their 3-point attempt rates were similar (27.5 percent for Portis compared to 24.4 percent for Parker).

Parker needs to aggressively hunt the 3-point shot in Hoiberg's system, especially in the preseason, because this is the time he can shake off the offseason rust and get acclimated with his new teammates at real NBA game-speed. He is lacking the ability to get to the free throw line—a common issue on the Bulls—but unlike Portis or Holiday, his finishing at the rim and scoring in transition are excellent. He shot 62.1 percent on shots at the rim last year via Basketball-Reference. And Parker scored 1.16 points per possessions in transition, placing him in the 60th percentile among his peers. Parker's offensive rebounding last season was nowhere near Portis's level, but it is identical to that of Giannis Antetokounmpo, a good thing considering that Parker is supposed to be sliding down to the SF position long-term for Chicago. 

This data shows that Parker will be a great fastbreak scorer to pair with Holiday. Which in turn means Holiday who will have a great chance to increase his steal rate —which, last season dropped below 1.9 percent for the first time since his rookie year—in a system where he will be allowed to attack aggressively on defensive switches, while Hoiberg likely looks to hide Parker on the weakest opposing offensive player on the floor.

Sunday's preseason opener against Chicago-native Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans will be the first chance to see how Hoiberg's rotations will play out in their Markkanen-less stretch, and if the numbers are any indication, Parker and Holiday should be mainstays.

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