Bucks Will Survive Without Jabari Parker for Now, but Long-Term Concerns Linger

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 16, 2014

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Jabari Parker's knee injury won't sink the Milwaukee Bucks this season, but it could put a major damper on the franchise's future plans.

ESPN's Marc Stein was the first to break the news that Parker suffered a torn ACL and will miss the remainder of the season, and Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports confirmed the news. Parker has reportedly also informed teammates of the injury:

Let's get this out of the way: This is a bad thing. It's always terrible when injuries barge into a good situation and mess it up. Parker was off to a promising NBA start, and we've seen plenty of recent examples of just how long-lasting and profound the effects of an injury like this can be.

 

What We Can Say

Dec 7, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker (12) dunks the ball during the second half against the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center. The Mavericks defeated the Bucks 125-102. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY
USA TODAY Sports

There is no way to spin this positively.

Parker's season averages of 12.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists on 49 percent shooting had him in excellent position to capture the Rookie of the Year award. At the time of his injury, he led all first-year players in points, rebounds and minutes, while also ranking second in win shares and player efficiency rating, per Basketball-Reference.com.

Chicago Bulls rookie Nikola Mirotic is ahead of Parker in those two key advanced metrics, but Parker had logged over 300 more minutes than Mirotic at the time of his injury, so his overall impact has been far greater.

Anecdotally, the polished, versatile scouting report that followed Parker from Duke has been accurate. Parker is as advertised: a dynamic, skilled bucket-getter with strong offensive fundamentals and the fluid scoring mind necessary for in-the-moment improvisation.

Drives with either hand, side-steps, leaners, spins, floaters—name the shot, Parker showed it off in his first 25 games. The Carmelo Anthony comparisons were hasty, but they weren't crazy. At 6'8", the 19-year-old has legitimate guard skills, and he knows how to use his bulk to create space.

The play that ended his season was emblematic of the speed and control in Parker's game: darting up the floor after pulling down a defensive rebound, running past smaller players en route to the paint on the other end.

Even with such a small sample on which to judge him, it seems like an absolute lock that Parker will develop into a high-efficiency first option on offense.

 

What We Can't Say

For all of his obvious skills, Parker didn't make the Bucks better when he was on the floor.

To be clear, that's not a referendum on his quality as a player. It's more a statement on how hard it is for a rookie—even one as NBA-ready as Parker—to avoid the small mistakes and growing pains that come with inexperience. 

Yes, the Bucks rang up 13 wins in the 25 games Parker played—a remarkable feat that put them above .500 at the season's quarter-pole and just two wins away from matching their entire victory total from 2013-14. That's remarkable.

However, the numbers suggest we simply can't credit Parker for that leap forward.

According to NBA.com, Milwaukee performed better on both ends of the floor when Parker was on the bench:

Jabari Parker: Not Helping Yet
2014-15Bucks ORtgBucks DRtgBucks Net Rtg
Parker On98.8104.0—5.2
Parker Off106.099.0+7.0
NBA.com

Bear in mind that rookies can undergo wild growth spurts over the span of a month or week. You never know when they'll suddenly become comfortable with the increased pace of the NBA game or get wise to the various veteran tricks to which they're subjected on a nightly basis.

For what it's worth, Parker may have been in the midst of a developmental spike when he got hurt.

Per Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "Entering Monday he was shooting 60.6 percent from the field in December (40 of 66), which was the fourth-highest percentage in the league for players with 50 or more field-goal attempts."

Note that his December surge came after winning Rookie of the Month honors for the Eastern Conference in November.

Parker was getting to a place where his statistical production and intangible contributions would have matched up, at which point he probably would have become a net-neutral or even net-positive player for the Bucks.

So while his injury will delay his development, the Bucks can comfortably redistribute his minutes to the likes of Ersan Ilyasova, Khris Middleton, John Henson and perhaps even Giannis Antetokounmpo—the only Bucks player with even more potential than Parker.

Milwaukee is loaded with capable wings and forwards; replacing Parker's production (which his sub-15 PER indicates was, on balance, below league-average) won't be all that hard.

 

Where It Hurts

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 17: Jabari Parker #12 and Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks battle for position against Anthony Bennett #24 of the Minnesota Timberwolves on October 17, 2014 at U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. NOTE TO U
David Sherman/Getty Images

As evidenced by his negative impact on Milwaukee's on-court production, Parker's value to the Bucks is more symbolic than anything—rooted in his potential for stardom and perfect fit with the team's core.

He represents the team as a whole. He's young, promising and still having success despite feeling his way through an always-difficult transition process.

He represents an odd triumph of the Bucks' stubborn refusal to bottom out. They didn't lose 67 games on purpose last year. In fact, they came into the season with expectations of returning to the playoffs, and when things went south, they didn't embark on a tanking expedition like many other teams might have.

In a sense, Parker was their reward: a can't-miss prospect who wanted to play in the Midwest.

More than anything else, he represents the polished foil to the raw, incalculable potential of Antetokounmpo. The fit is as right as the differences between the two forwards are profound.

Parker is the steady, predictable scoring force—part 'Melo, part Glenn Robinson. The Greek Freak is a pass-first positional hybrid with intriguing bursts of brilliance and more rough edges than a granite quarry.

These two are perfect together, and every second they spend apart going forward is a second wasted.

That's where the Bucks should be concerned—with the missed opportunity for Parker and Antetokounmpo to develop the chemistry that will form the foundation of the franchise in the future.

Most teams have a hell of a time getting one potentially transformative prospect into the fold. The Bucks have two, and they need them to play together to maximize this unique opportunity.

Unfortunately, Parker's injury will delay the progress of one of the league's most auspicious tandems.