Jabari is one of the more controversial players in the NBA currently and has created a divide amongst Bucks fans similar to Brandon Knight. Despite being rated very highly as a prospect and deemed pro-ready, his upside is immense. The numbers Jabari puts up on a nightly basis are impressive, but unfortunately, the impact he has on a basketball game is less impressive. Simply put, his offensive numbers are particularly hollow and his defense is bad. Despite this, in 2017 he was starting to grow. I believe Jabari had turned some of his detractors around before he went down with another ACL tear. Jabari, without the injuries, is a divisive player that has a value that is tough to place a finger on. With the injuries trying to assess his value is an almost futile exercise in which every argument contains too many ifs.
Unfortunately most scenarios for the Bucks going forward leave Parker out or traded. Parker is so far from a perfect player, but my problem with leaving him out of the future is that he is so talented on offense. He was a very key part of the Bucks offense for the first part of last season. We are talking about a guy who averaged 20 points a game, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists all on 56% true shooting. Counting stats can be a bit hollow, but that efficiency on that volume is tough to dispute. Recent rankings of top players under 23/24/25 years old all have Jabari rated fairly highly, but not top 10, usually shortly thereafter. Bucks fans seem to believe he is more of a hindrance to winning than the common public does though, I think both sides have merit. Bucks fans are bigger critics of their own players than anyone, but they also see their players more than anyone.
Which brings me to the part of his game that garners most of his criticism: defense. Jabari is a very bad defender there is really no way around it, instinctually he is just awful. He gets baited out of positioning quite frequently and while his first step on offense is one of the best in the NBA, his first step on defense appears to be stuck in mud. The silver lining is if he could take a few small steps on that end and become a below league average defender instead of a bottom of the league one, his offense will more than make up for it. He is too young to entirely write off on that end either, he isn’t a poor tools guy that has no path to becoming a better defender. He has great physical tools and good size for both forward spots to compete defensively, just needs to work on a lot of between the ears part of defense.
The thing that separated him from most volume scorers last season was that he was creating for others in addition to himself. He will always be compared to Andrew Wiggins due to their draft status, Wiggins true shooting percentage was 53.4, nearly 3% lower than Jabari’s. His offensive game was so dynamic getting buckets and in general just making the offense flow better, helping out a Bucks squad lacking in creators on the offensive end. He also dramatically improved from distance in his third NBA season going from .1 threes made a game to 1.3 threes made a game as well as increasing his accurary from 25.7% to 36.5% from three. The increase in volume and percentage helped to alleviate some questions about whether he could co-exist with Giannis in a half court setting.
All Bucks fans know the best part of Giannis and Jabari is them running in transition, and as fun as that is we will need more from them than transition dunks to win a playoff series. Jabari will need to develop his defense a lot and his offense a fair amount still, to fit as a second star next to Giannis ideally. To a lesser extent he needs to develop in any sense to fit as a winning player on any team. Jabari might never be a perfect fit with Giannis, but I’d argue there a few perfect fits in the NBA. KD and Curry take away from each other, Lebron and Wade were not perfect fits either, it is possible for stars to play off each other without being great fits. Besides it is not just Jabari and Giannis in Milwaukee, Thon, Brogdon, Middleton, and Snell are terrific fits for Giannis.
Jabari’s injuries are fine reasons for pessimism, but in some ways they are a bit of a reason for optimism. Since Jabari has seen so little court time, he still has a bit of room to grow because of his lack of on court experience. I’ve been kicking around the idea for a few months that there is a chance he has been studying film and could come back an improved defender. Since so much of his room for improvement lies between the ears on the defensive end, he could learn a lot in the film room with a good coach. I don’t know what Jabari has been spending his rehab down time doing, but I have at least a hope that his defense comes back stronger than ever.
I am not saying any Bucks fans should believe Jabari to be a guaranteed future all star, all I am asking is that he be given a few more chances. He is one of the most promising prospects to come out of college in the last decade and even entering his fourth season the upside is still there. The dynamic forward from Simeon Academy could still play a large role in the Bucks lifting the Larry O’Brien trophy.