The Curious Case of Jabari Parker

By: Casey Graff, @cygnalfyre



Versatile scorer. Weak defender. Injury prone. Potential superstar.

In his fourth year, Jabari Parker remains a mystery to myself and to others around the league who have bore witness to the strengths and weaknesses his game possesses. In short, I love the player, his recovery process(es), his athleticism, and his potential greatness, but can his potential be realized after two ACL tears in four years?

We all saw glimpses of his scoring ability over the last two seasons coming back from his first ACL tear in which he averaged 20.1 points in his 2016-17 campaign and 18.9 points after the All-Star break in his 2015-16 campaign. However, this does not negate the fact that over the last 4 seasons, Jabari has been at the bottom of the league at the Power Forward position in DRPM (Defensive Real Plus-Minus) registering a negative rating each season:

2014-15, -2.66
2015-16, -2.00
2016-17, -1.61
2017-18, -0.32

This is especially alarming this season in which he has seen most of his minutes against opposing team’s second units as Jabari has primarily been coming off the bench.

So are these high scoring numbers I mentioned above achievable with Giannis, Middleton, and Bledsoe all eating up usage and shots? Let’s dig a bit deeper. Over the 15 games Jabari has played this year, he has averaged 11.3 points per game in less than 21 minutes per contest. Bledsoe has averaged 18.6 points in the games Jabari has played, Middleton averaged 18.0 points, and Giannis averaged 23.8 points. With Jabari coming off the bench, essentially he has become the 4th option and is the 4th option when the Bucks look for scoring. In fact, Jabari has a 23.5% usage rating this season when he is on the floor which is fourth on the team behind Middleton (23.6%), Bledsoe (24.9%), and Giannis (30.6%), in that order so the scoring output makes sense as well as the averages for the other players. But what about defense?

In 7 of 15 games played, Jabari has registered a negative plus minus rating while on the court. The Bucks hold a 7-8 record with Jabari in the lineup so this makes sense. This is not bad but it’s certainly not good. Of course, plus-minus doesn’t give enough information by itself unless compared to other players. So breaking it down as a single averaged number for plus-minus, Jabari owns a -1.86 plus-minus rating per game over the last 15 games played. This means when Jabari takes the floor, no matter how many points he puts up during his time on the floor, the other team will average close to 2 points more than when Jabari is off the floor. Let’s compare that averaged number to Middleton, Bledsoe, and Giannis and their plus-minus averages in the games that Jabari has played. Middleton’s plus-minus average in the games Jabari has played in is a -1.93 which is slightly worse. Bledsoe has an average of 1.53 and Giannis has an average of 2.0. These numbers tell me that over the last 15 games in which Jabari has played in, his presence may be negatively affecting Middleton’s numbers (and Middleton) whereas improving Bledsoe’s and Giannis’s numbers slightly. Defense continues to be an issue for Jabari in regards to pure plus-minus statistics however the negative correlation between Parker and Middleton is somewhat speculative. Unfortunately, there is more math and more stats to prove that this correlation exists on both ends of the floor.

Since Jabari’s return to the Bucks, Middleton’s scoring average is less than his season average of 19.9 ppg as I mentioned earlier sitting at 18.0 ppg when Jabari plays. Bledsoe’s scoring average is up to 18.6 ppg from his scoring average of 17.4 in games he’s played with the Bucks (I did not include his games with the Suns) this year and Giannis’s scoring average is down from his season average of 27.2 ppg to 23.8 ppg. Jabari’s return is negatively impacting two of three players at least as far as points go but in my opinion, that just means there are more options on offense for the Bucks and an extra mouth to feed on the offensive end of the spectrum which to me is not a bad thing. But does Jabari make the offense better? Let’s look at some assist numbers. Giannis averages 4.8 assists per game this year as a whole. In the games that Jabari has played, Giannis is averaging 4.7 assists per game. Essentially no difference there, just a tad lower. Middleon’s assist average is 4.0 this year. It is 2.7 apg when Jabari plays. Big difference but not in a good way. And finally, Bledsoe’s assist average this year is 4.7 per game. When Jabari plays, it is boosted to 5.6 apg. The correlation continues as Jabari’s presence seems to be negatively affecting Middleton. As the four usage leaders and so-called stars on the Bucks, these assist numbers are crucial on seeing who may or may not be developing good chemistry with one another on the court as Bledsoe is a piece that Jabari has never played with and Middleton has. I want to dig a little further on the offensive side with this one demographic.

When these four are on the floor together, FG% and 3pt FG% go up very slightly but assist numbers go WAY down. Bear in mind this is a small sample size as they have only seen a little over 34 minutes total in the last 15 games together but this still shows us a few positives and negatives. The percentages are positive indicators however the fact that assist numbers per 100 possessions are averaged out to 6.2 less assists when these four are on the floor together is shocking considering how much firepower each of them wields. Oddly enough, the defense gets better as far as steals and blocks go and turnovers go down as well but rebounding, which has always been an issue for the Bucks over the last few years takes a massive hit with those four on the floor garnering 19.2% less total rebounds and 23.2% less rebounds on the defensive side of the ball which is unacceptable. However, this data is skewed as most games of basketball that I’m aware of are played with five players so let’s look at some numbers if we were to say, insert Jabari into the starting five?

Now these numbers really make me smile. If you add Henson into the mix as their fifth, the Bucks average 5.8 more FG’s while attempting 2.7 less FG’s per 100 possessions. Their 3pt FG success increases to 4.3 more made 3pt shots on 6.2 less attempts! The team gets to the line more with 6.4 more trips per 100, to top off a whopping 17.6 total points per 100 possessions increase on top of that. And remember how I just said rebounding has been one of our weaknesses? The Bucks average 3.8 more rebounds per 100 possessions with these 5 on the floor together. On top of that, all defensive numbers are up as well with 10.2 more steals and 7.4 more blocks per 100 possessions. One negative is that our turnovers are up as well with this squad but if you look at all the positives, they outweigh the negatives by a long shot with this group of guys on the floor together. For those of you who don’t think Jabari could fit on this team, I believe you might be mistaken, even if this is a very, very, small sample size of slightly over 12 minutes total game time with these five on the floor.

In conclusion, we know what we are getting with Jabari. We are getting someone who can spread the floor in various ways and someone who can score, whether it be on the 3pt line, midrange, or at the rim. We are getting a guy who has had two ACL tears and has proven to be someone who we can’t count on to stay healthy. We have someone who as the 2nd pick overall of the 2014 draft gave us hope as fans of the Milwaukee Bucks. And now, we are waiting to see whether or not Jabari will be with us this coming off-season regardless if the Bucks make the playoffs this year. I am curious on how this chapter in the Jabari Parker/Milwaukee Bucks story will end.

Casey Graff


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