The incident occurred as Parker drove to the basket with Milwaukee trailing by 11 points. Parker’s left knee gave way with little to no contact and in scenes reminiscent of when Andrew Bogut destroyed his arm in the same building, the Bradley Center fell deathly silent. This was the same knee that required a knee reconstruction in Parker’s rookie season. Scans revealed the worst and six days later, once again Jabari was in for surgery. Another long, painstaking twelve month rehab began for the 21 year old offensive force.
Fast forward 11 months and the return is almost here. Recently assigned to Milwaukee’s G-League affiliate the Wisconsin Herd, Parker is able to compete in full court drills, and reports suggest he is ticking the final boxes in his return to NBA competition.
“I’m at the end of the tunnel, I’m seeing the light, and it’s really nice. I’m accepting of what I’ve been through, I’m holding up really good”. Parker said speaking with reporters in following a recent team practice in Milwaukee.
Complicating Parker’s return to the Bucks lineup will be his pending free agency as he is due to become a restricted free agent at seasons end. Undoubtedly an elite offensive talent, two knee reconstructions to his left knee at the age of 21 is enough to strike fear into any franchise. The decision ahead is a classic risk versus reward situation. Given the Bucks will have the right to match any deal presented to him, Milwaukee has the final call in their hands, though the price tag is likely to be dictated elsewhere.
With his return nearly here, lets investigate how Jabari can help the Bucks down the stretch.
The Milwaukee roster made a major move since Parker last hit the hardwood. In trading for Eric Bledsoe, the Bucks have added another All-Star caliber player to their suddenly burgeoning top end talent. With Milwaukee currently holding a 20-16 record, they remain in strong contention for home court playoff seeding. Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Bledsoe have been doing much of the heavy lifting with all three expected to figure in All-Star calculations. With an offensive rating of 108.3, the Bucks hold the leagues 7th best offense. This offensive power is despite the Bucks knocking down the fifth least three pointers per game (8.8) and having the leagues most impotent second unit (24.1ppg).
It remains to be seen what the plan will be for Jabari’s return lineup wise but either way the Bucks will gladly accept his added scoring ability leading into the playoffs. In 51 games last year Jabari averaged 20.1 points per game, the Bucks second highest total behind Giannis.
Since the 2004/5 season, Milwaukee has only had 6 players average more then 18 points per game for more then half a season (see list here – via basketball-reference.com), Michael Redd (x5), Richard Jefferson, Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, Giannis and Jabari. Only in one season (last year) did Milwaukee have multiple players average more then that mark. So far this season Giannis is averaging 29.1, Middleton 20.6, Bledsoe 18.2 and they are about to add Parker’s punch. That is going to be some rare scoring prowess at the top end and absolutely unprecedented for Milwaukee.
To illustrate how special Jabari’s season was offensively before he went down, here’s a list of players aged 21 or younger that averaged greater then 20 points and 6 rebounds per game with a true shooting percentage above .560 and a three point percentage of 36 or higher (via basketball-reference.com). To save you the click, the list is short, very short. Only Kevin Durant, Karl-Anthony Towns, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Parker have done it.
In analyzing how Jabari will fit into this group of Bucks it can be looked at from many different angles, some more complicated then others. Given you’d expect a heavy minute restriction will be in place on return and potentially the rest of the season, the first positive impact should be in bench scoring. The earlier mentioned scoring struggles for Milwaukee’s second unit have at times been crippling and certainly taxing on the starters. When you remove Malcolm Brogdon’s 13 points per game, the rest of the Bucks bench are averaging 10.1 points. That is simply horrific. Expecting Parker to be at his scintillating best would be unwise but simply replacing DeAndre Liggins, Rashad Vaughn and Jason Terry’s 10+ minutes and less then 5 points per game should at least provide a boost.
As with all Bucks players, you want to understand the fit with the centerpiece, MVP candidate Antetokounmpo. When looking at two man lineups last season, the combination of Giannis and Jabari posted an offensive rating of 105.5. Interestingly it was the second worst rating of the Bucks top ten most used two man lineups, only Parker and Matthew Dellavedova had a worse mark. Given the Bucks finished the season with a total team offensive rating of 106.9, the Giannis and Parker number was hardly disastrous, especially when you consider they were both carrying the side offensively on most nights. Certainly in transition, the pair form a deadly threat, the combination of elite athleticism and ferocious attack on the rim providing endless highlights.
An often heard criticism of Jabari is that he will take the ball out of the Greek Freak’s hands. Whilst this could indeed be the case at times, Jabari’s ability to play off the ball is severely underrated. Right from the beginning of his rookie season, Parker showed an elite ability to cut to the basket, mostly baseline for open lay-ups and dunks. Unselfish by nature, Parker is willing to play off the ball, knowing he can still score at a high rate. In scoring his 20.1 points per game last season, Parker was assisted on 60 percent of his two point makes and 98 percent of his threes. For reference, none of Giannis, Middleton or Bledsoe are assisted on more then 43 percent of their made twos this year.
Through his first two injury interrupted seasons, Parker only attempted 0.5 threes per game at 25 percent, sparking fears about his ability to shoot from the outside and bringing up obvious spacing issues with Giannis. It was later revealed that Parker was actually under instruction not to shoot threes by Jason Kidd (as touched on here via sbnation.com) and work on his mid range game in a familiar story to the recent Thon Maker developments.
The shackles were released last year and with good results as Parker knocked down 36 percent of his 3.5 attempts per game. Given both his knee injuries have occurred driving to the basket, Parker’s proven ability to be a threat from the outside is crucial going forward. With Giannis’ jumpshot still questionable, an added threat, but even more importantly a willing threat from beyond the arc could be huge for a team taking a criminally low amount of three point attempts (24.7, 26th in the league).
You should not expect the questionable (at best) defense of Parker to improve right away or maybe ever, but it’s hard not to be unbelievably excited about the offensive prospects of this team with the former number 2 overall draft choices addition getting so close.
Milwaukee are poised to make a run at the playoffs this season and with an MVP fancy driving the ship, the expectations are rising much to the chagrin of coach Kidd. Most teams hoping to make a playoff run will often look to shuffle the decks at the trade deadline, in this case the Bucks may just have a wildcard sitting in their back pocket as we speak.
Milwaukee are in an envious position with real top end talent nearing their prime. This however, does not guarantee success, as the Bucks know only too well. Tricky decisions lie in their path to success in the near future, the Parker contract decision being the first on the agenda. But for now, Milwaukee fans should buckle up, cross everything you have, and wish nothing but the best for Jabari Parker as he gets ever so close to an impressive, courageous third attempt at starting his NBA career.
A career we all hope is long and prosperous wherever he lands.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus