The date is June 26th, 2014 the night of the NBA Draft, the Bucks future never looked brighter. There were new owners aboard, the team had a promising young core and were picking second overall. There were abundant rumors that the team would draft Duke forward Jabari Parker, who was very interested playing just up I94 from his hometown. He had a promising skill set comped to NBA Superstars Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce and was widely considered the favorite for rookie of the year. The Bucks were the youngest team in the league by a good margin, even if they lost most of their games they had a very promising young core.
17 months later things have not gone according to plan. Jabari tore his ACL 25 games into his rookie year and the Bucks took off without him. He has returned to the court this year for the Bucks but his stats are down across the board less points on lower field goal percentages. Perhaps even worse his rebound rates are down and the Bucks are struggling to pull down rebounds at a productive rate and could really use his help. His assist and steal rates are down as well, not to mention his atrocious defense.
There is no shortage of excuses for Jabari. He is still working his way back from an injury that a few decades ago might have been career ending. He still has not played a full season’s worth games, he will likely cross the sixty game threshold toward the middle of January. He is only 20 years old, not turning 21 until March 15th. There is definitely an argument he has been misused in Milwaukee’s system all year, on both ends of the court. It is still really early, and he has not been awful by any stretch of the imagination, scoring in double digits in 18 of his 28 games this year.
At the same time his season has to at some level be considered a disappointment. . Perhaps he would struggle less on defense if the system was straight man defense, instead of Milwaukee’s complicated switching. This is the thing that bothers me most, he had 9 months where he was not cleared for basketball activities, to study and improve his defense. I have watched a handful of games this year focusing on Jabari and it seems like he is still making a dozen mental mistakes on defense every game. Several of these mistakes involve boxing out, which has led to an extremely poor defensive rebounding Bucks team. He has even seen his tremendous finishing fall off a cliff almost 12 percentage points lower, including some massive blocks at the rim. Statistically it could all just be noise, but watching it I start to worry.
Jabari in the last few weeks has driven right into prolific defenders and shot blockers such as Draymond Green, Serge Ibake, and Bismack Biyombo. Some might chalk it up to large cojones and a high level of self-confidence, but to me it seems like he fails to read scouting reports and know who and what he is up against. These are guys you cannot take it directly at, you need to be more creative attacking the rim against good shot blocking defenders. At some point it becomes dumb to just try and dunk on everyone.
The biggest problem I have had with Jabari this season, actually has nothing to do with him. It has to do with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. Both of whom have taken large steps forward this season and both of whom would likely be best suited to play a forward spot for the rest of their careers. I am personally of the opinion that Khris would be remarkably better defensively at small forward, and is not quick enough to play the shooting guard spot defensively. Giannis himself could dabble at center, but going forward looks like a power forward in both stature and skill set.
I am not advocating for a Jabari trade, but I am advocating that the Bucks at least listen to offers for him. I am unsure whether or not Giannis and Jabari could ever coexist in a great offense. They seem to both be power forwards going forward, even if one could play small forward their skill sets seem more detrimental to each other than complementary. Khris on the other hand seems like the perfect guy to pair with Giannis or Jabari. I think Jabari will be far better in the future than he is now, and I think that is still the general league consensus, but I think it could benefit both the Bucks and Parker to get a better fit for the Bucks and a change of scenery for Jabari.
So what would a Jabari Parker trade look like?
Well it would have to be a swap of young prospects. Bill Simmons tweeted out a swap that would be Jabari to the Celtics and Jonas Jerebko, James Young, and the Nets pick to the Bucks. (Note: he had initially tried to put restrictions on the pick, but it is against CBA rules to put protections on a pick that was initially traded without protections.) Brooklyn currently has the 3rd worst record in the league and the Bucks have the 8th, in all likelihood the Bucks would end up with two top 10 picks in this draft which would allow them to substantially bolster their young core. There is an old adage in NBA basketball that whoever gets the best player in a trade wins, it is obviously too early to tell how this draft will turn out, but at this point in the year if Jabari was currently tearing it up at Duke like he did two years ago he would be the number 1 prospect. At the same time none of the top prospects have torn their ACL and most of them are one or two years younger than Jabari.
There is a possibility that the Bucks could look to Philly for a trade perhaps they would be interested in releasing one of their 3 centers which the Bucks could potentially have a hole at if Greg Monroe opts out in summer 2017. I don’t know if Philly would be interested in that, but they know long term all three cannot coexist on a successful basketball team, heck it is unlikely two can. Let’s say a potential deal of Jerami Grant and Nerlens Noel is on the table for Jabari Parker, do the Bucks make that deal?
I don’t know what the Bucks WILL do, but I think they should listen to any team that calls, maybe even make a few calls of their own. I think there is a solid chance if both of the aforementioned offers were on the table the Bucks would decline both of them, Jabari really is a special talent and he wants to be in Milwaukee which has not been the norm over the last few decades. I do not believe that Middleton, Antetokounmpo, and Parker can all start going forward, but they will likely get the chance to prove me wrong. Conversely this is a management staff that pulled the trigger on the Brandon Knight trade in what was one of the Bucks most promising seasons in close to a decade. If the management truly believes in #OwnTheFuture they will consider any move they believe to be the best for the Bucks long-term. No one in Milwaukee knows exactly what will happen these next few summers, but pay attention there is something special brewing in the Bradley Center.