We’ve come a long way since draft night 2014.
-No longer the league worst in win totals.
-Not in the midst of a decade long all star drought.
-Next year we leave the “unfit for an NBA team” Bradley Center.
-For the first time since Ray left we have a superstar who is a league darling.
As Jabari Parker walked across that stage in the Barclays Center, the thought was he would be the reason these issues went away. The fanbase rejoiced that a blue chip talent, that Sports Illustrated had dubbed “The Best High School Player Since Lebron James” was on his way to Milwaukee. He wanted to be here, he stressed that over and over again, this was close to his hometown and he loved the midwest culture.
Fast forward to 2018, he just played in his first two playoff games. Only a few problems, he was not a starter, he played horribly, most Bucks fans want him benched, and he hits restricted free agency this summer. How did we get here?
Well despite being “dominant” in college, he did have a defense issue there which led to him being off the court at key moments in the classic 2-15 upset game against Mercer. Projection models were actually quite a bit lower on him than the pre-draft consensus. Models are flawed, the analysts said this is nothing that Jabari Parker the hard working blue collar kid cannot overcome.
His rookie year was promising, but cut short due to an untimely ACL tear, BUT rookies often suck on defense and his numbers were not even bad for a rookie. The team defended at an okay level with him on the court, but were still largely a negative product when he played. That ACL tear in Phoenix was devastating for a fanbase who viewed Parker as their savior. He was the future, and now he would be out for the rest of the season. I don’t think I will ever be able to watch another game in Phoenix and not think about his knee buckling.
Over the rest of that season and into the next, it became clear that Giannis was the super star Milwaukee had been waiting for. As Jabari worked his way back Khris Middleton became the primary running mate for Giannis and an advanced stats darling. At the end of the 2015-16 season we saw all three of them average a touch over 20 a game after the all star break, but Giannis was doing point-Giannis things and there was no doubt who the Alpha on this team had become. A torn hamstring for Middleton gave Jabari a chance to become that second banana that the Bucks needed. To his credit Jabari was doing things on offense averaging 20 points a game and doing some secondary creation. The team was still a negative when he played though, with his defense showing little signs of improvement.
In some ways the defense was always going to be an issue, but the fact that there was so little improvement is what has caused the Milwaukee fanbase to turn on him. Defense is parts effort, mental, and athleticism. No one criticizes the player for not being athletic enough, they knock the coach for asking him to defend a guy he isn’t physically capable of defending. Right now Jabari Parker is not capable of defending anyone (and for the most part it has little to do with physical tools);he is a mentally abysmal defender and effort is just not there. Parker does have a skill set where if he was just a slight negative on that end, he would represent a solid contributor. At this point there are very few players worse than him on defense and he is a massive negative.
Unfortunately Parker on offense is also at an all time low value wise. He is clogging the paint and seems to be consistently out of position. Jabari Parker still plays like a first option on offense and does seemingly not understand the difference in where to stand as his injuries (and growth of his teammates) have forced him down the pecking order. The Bucks need him to be a floor spacer and be near the corner three zone on offense, but instead he is consistently parked near the block. I love blaming coaching as much as the next guy, but I am pretty confident this is not the game plan. We have seen players yell at Jabari to move out of that zone a handful of times at this point.
I cannot put my finger on where it all went wrong for Jabari, he used to have a decent understanding of where to be on offense, was a solid cutter and last year had his three point attempts at a decent rate. I am not writing off Jabari’s NBA future, I think a better coach could probably get a lot more out of him. In many ways his mental game deteriorated more than anything else in his time off with injury.
So here we sit, with a once promising superstar in the last year of his rookie deal. Virtually unplayable in the playoffs (-60.4 points per 100 possessions with him on the court). His effort in game one was best showcased when he jogged up the court after he bricked a three while his man got a transition slam. He did not re-enter that game, played less minutes in game two, and at this point no one would be shocked if he did not play in game three.
Where do we go?
Jabari Parker will not have a big market this summer, very few teams have the level of cap space to make a large offer in the first place. Will a team risk four years of cap space on an injury prone offense only player who has serious flaws in his offensive game? At this point do the Bucks match anything? I have to assume they make the qualifying offer, but how much does Milwaukee want him back?
Jabari Parker and the Milwaukee Bucks will have choices to make this summer, but a divorce is at least on the table.