With Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the way last year, the Milwaukee Bucks finished above .500 for the first time since the 2009-10 season and qualified for the playoffs. They lost in the first round to the Toronto Raptors (4-2). Just making it to the playoffs isn’t anyone’s primary goal, but doing so is a step in the right direction for a franchise irrelevant on the national scene in recent years.
It is hard not to wonder what would have happened had they not lost one key guy, Jabari Parker, to an ACL injury along the way. Through 51 games he averaged 20.1 points and 6.2 rebounds a game. When they lost him, they lost their second-leading scorer (Antetokounmpo averaged 22.9 points/game) and second-best rebounder.
But now he’s back. He made his return to action on February 2 in a game against the New York Knicks. He ended up scoring 12 points in just 15 minutes off the bench.
To no one’s surprise, the plan is to limit his minutes and work him back gradually. It is probably safe to assume the goal is to have him back in the starting lineup by the playoffs. That’s assuming they qualify, of course.
So, now that Parker is back on the court, it is hard not to wonder what kind of impact he may have on the rest of the Bucks season.
They were 27-23 entering their game against the Knicks on February 2. They won that game and are 4-1 since his return. As of today, February 13, the Bucks have a record of 31-24, and would be the No. 5 seed in the East if the playoffs were to start. They would face a tough Washington Wizards team.
However, they are only .003 percentage points in front of the No. 6 Indiana Pacers and 4.5 games in front of a very hungry Detroit Pistons team (currently ninth in the East). So, there is no room for error going forward.
A player that is not ready to play could certainly be the source of much error. But the Bucks appear to be playing it very safe with Parker. Four games into his comeback he is averaging 17.8 minutes and 9.3 points a game. However, he didn’t play against the Orlando Magic last Saturday (which would have been his fifth game back). The team has stated their intent not to play him in the second game of back-to-backs for now.
On the one hand, you could say they should play him every chance they can to build up his endurance. And with other players stepping up in his absence, they need to figure out how he’ll fit into the team’s new rotation. They don’t want Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe’s production to dip so that they can get more out of Parker.
But on the other, they may already feel good about the team’s chemistry going forward. The only addition to the roster that is playing significant minutes this season is Eric Bledsoe. Otherwise, the major players are the same guys Parker played well with last season until he injured his knee.
Chemistry will probably not be an issue for the Bucks as Parker starts to play more and more. If anything, his addition to the rotation will give the Bucks an additional scoring threat on the floor. Right now, with Malcolm Brogdon and John Henson on the mend, he can help pick up the slack.
For the immediate future, he gives them a decent bench player that will score points. But over the course of the remainder of the season, the Bucks are likely hoping his impact can be more significant. However, for that to happen, they know they have to be patient.
Interim head coach Joe Prunty talked about the process before Parker’s season debut against the Knicks:
“…I think the one thing for him, is he has to — like, this isn’t get it all done here in one fell swoop. Take your time, the game will come to you, get the rhythm on both sides of the ball, stay locked into what our schemes are defensively, keep all man vision. Fundamentals, that’s really what it comes down to.”
So, for now, the impact Jabari Parker will make will not be too significant as he works his way back into game shape. But come playoff time, the Bucks are going to be a much tougher team to beat with him then they were without him last year.