We’re past the halfway point of the NBA season. James Harden is averaging 31.6 points, J.J. Redick is shooting almost 95 percent from the free-throw line and Russell Westbrook is looking to average a triple-double in back-to-back seasons. But it’s still early, and while some rates may very well hold up, expect for scoring averages to drop and for some turnaround in the two respective conferences’ standings.
The Bucks, and interim coach Joe Prunty, Jason Kidd’s former top assistant since 2013-14, have long anticipated the return of 20-point scorer and fourth-year man, Jabari Parker, after he went down with a torn ACL (the second such occurrence with his left knee). Last year, the former Duke Blue Devil ameliorated nearly every offensive statistical category from the season prior, as he ranked second on the team in points (20.1), third in rebounds (6.2), and third in player efficiency rating (19.1).
Throughout his young career, Parker has never played convincing defense, mostly in part to his lack of tenacity and average athleticism, which in turn, contributes to failure to play help defense on the wing or elsewhere, and work around screens. Nothing on that front improved last season. However, the fact remains that the former number two overall pick is a difference maker when he is on the court for the Deer. Here is what we should see from a new look team (keep in mind that Parker has never played with Eric Bledsoe) when the borderline All-Star comes back.
Parker at the four, Giannis at Center
So far this season, the Bucks have plugged Antetokounmpo into the center position for over 100 possessions, according to Cleaning The Glass. Last season, the Greek Freak played sparingly all around the floor, but was most successful at small forward, while, this season, he’s played and excelled at power forward. This year, the team ranks 23rd in pace, a stat that would likely be helped by Parker, once he becomes close to 100 percent, and his ability to run a fastbreak and facilitate, especially while playing the four.
The lineup that currently scores the most points per possession consists of Eric Bledsoe at point, Tony Snell at the two, Khris Middleton at small forward, Antetokounmpo at the four and John Henson at center. Henson could very well continue to start at center, as he’s been more productive than Tony Snell—who would also be a candidate to exit the starting lineup—on defense.
If the Bucks want good perimeter defense to make up for Parker’s lack of it, it would be logical to bench Henson and trust Antetokounmpo’s length, ability to guard all positions, and shot-blocking at the five. If anything it will surely be an experiment while Prunty decisively makes the team his own for the remainder of the season.
As mentioned earlier, Parker is certainly not a plus defender, but he provides the team with a nice mid-range shooter who can run the floor respectably and finish at the rim. He averaged at least one made three-pointer during his 51-game season, and shot 36.5 percent from behind the arc. Yes, the current rendition of the Bucks may be a seemingly strong offensive unit, but they still rank 18th in the association in points per game.
It doesn’t take a diehard basketball fan to realize the troves of talent on this year’s roster, with an Most Valuable Player candidate in Antetokounmpo, two borderline All-Stars (in Bledsoe and Middleton), a former top-10 pick in Thon Maker, plus reigning Rookie of the Year, Malcolm Brogdon. Add Parker to that bunch, and it’s ridiculous to think that a team barely above .500 (27-22) will remain as such. A lot of the onus will be on Prunty to put a scheme into place that utilizes the overwhelming amount of talent held by this squad.
Inspired Play from Parker
Let’s not forget, folks, that the Bucks, due to their, arguably, second-best player pre-Bledsoe trade is coming into what may be his final string of appearances while wearing a Bucks uniform. Less than four months ago, the team and Parker couldn’t come to a contract agreement, rendering him a restricted free agent at season’s end.
It’s no secret that players, usually, ball-out while trying to justify why they deserve big money. Earlier last week, Parker was assigned to the team’s G-League affiliate, the Wisconsin Herd, as a means to scrimmage and practice with the team.
As a player coming off his second ACL surgery, Parker will likely be playing limited NBA basketball for a month or more, perhaps coming off the bench for an extended period. With Parker returning this Friday against the New York Knicks in Milwaukee, there isn’t much time before general manager Jon Horst and Co. decide whether or not Parker is worth $20 million per year, for half-a-decade.