How does Jabari Parker’s injury impact the rest of this season for the Milwaukee Bucks?
Parker’s injury is not insignificant, but it’s impact is likely to be felt far more on the developmental side than on the results side. I’m not saying Jabari Parker wasn’t an important player for the Bucks, but I get the sense a lot of people think this injury is crippling to their chances of being the team they’ve been this season.
Parker hasn’t been a linchpin in Milwaukee’s success. He’s been fun to watch. He’s been a reason to watch, and that’d be the case whether he was terrific or terrible. No question, the Bucks are a much less interesting team without him. But a worse team? I don’t know if that’s true. Sure, he’s been scoring with great efficiency in December and all season he’s occasional gave us glimpses into a very bright future. But over the past 12 games, the stretch where the Bucks transformed from one of the league’s best defensive teams into a super ordinary defensive team here are his on/off defensive efficiency splits:
Jabari ON: 109.2
Jabari OFF: 96.2
The team is literally at its best defensively when he’s off the court and is miserable when he’s been on it. There are a lot of factors and noise when looking at an individual player’s offensive and defensive ratings, but there’s something to this.
And that’s where this gets a little bit tricky. Because if Milwaukee is still going to be average, but without one of its two young franchise cornerstones getting much needed developmental minutes …. is this just about to turn into the same season as every other recent Bucks season?
The development of Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo was essentailly what justified Milwaukee’s nature to once again attempt to be as competitive as possible this season. This was supposed to be another bad team that would secure a high draft pick, which would be used to land another foundational player alongside Milwaukee’s two young stars. But things haven’t gone according to that plan. 25 games into the season, the Bucks are a game over .500. Few saw that record coming.
The Bucks being competitive hasn’t been a bad thing, largely because their success has been tethered to the development of Parker and Giannis. With those two driving the team’s success, a winning record is like having a delicious steak followed by an even better apple pie for dessert. And Giannis is still healthy and he’ll still be thriving, possibly even more if a court spacer takes Jabari’s place. Giannis will keep growing as a player and that may make up for any strife caused if the Bucks start looking a little veteran heavy in Parker’s absence.
And there could definitely be some strife. There’s already been Bucks fans concerned that too many veterans were getting minutes, especially late in games. Reasonable minds have speculated that, even in this season dedicated to #OwnTheFuture, development has occasionally taken a backseat to winning – as it has so often over the past five years in Milwaukee. There’s truth on both sides. Yes, the likes of Jared Dudley, Jerryd Bayless and Zaza Pachuila have seen plenty of important minutes this season, but so have Parker, Giannis and Brandon Knight – all certain or potential long term building blocks.
But without Parker, the math changes. Suddenly there’s 30 minutes a night available to be distributed however Jason Kidd wants. And in the heat of the moment, it doesn’t seem like development has been on his mind. To be fair, it’d be tough for any coach to press buttons on the sideline with an eye towards 2016, so I don’t necessarily fault Kidd for doing whatever he can do to try and win a game when there’s eight minutes left and his guys are down 10. But he always could go to Parker and serve both his desire to win games and the franchise’s desire to develop for the future, as Parker met the requirements of both being good and being young.
What about now though, in this post-Parker world? Will Kidd look to the likes of Khris Middleton or John Henson or (when he’s healthy) Damien Inglis to fill Parker’s void? Or are we going to watch another Bucks team march towards the middle on the backs of two young guys and a bunch of dudes without much of a future here?
If I were a betting man, I’d bet on that path the Bucks have ventured down oh so many times before. Lots of Ersan Ilyasova, once he’s back healthy. As much Bayless, Dudley and Pachuila as we’ve been seeing. Maybe Middleton can earn a few more ticks here and there, but his playing time will be tied to his performance, rather than any desire to see him progress.
The plans for the future are still the plans for the future. Milwaukee knows Giannis and Parker are the tickets to the promised land of continued playoff success and all championship aspirations. Parker’s injury doesn’t change that or the long term outlook of him as a franchise player. I don’t even think this injury impacts how the Bucks think about Brandon Knight as his restricted free agency hits this off-season. More or less, this is a one season injury that maybe sets back Parker’s growth a bit. Not great, but nothing for the franchise to feel crippled over.
This season could play out differently though.
Instead of a Eastern Conference playoff team headed by two young stars, the Bucks could end up an Eastern Conference playoff team headed by one young star and a bunch of guys who won’t be around in two years. A team built around two or three young stars that made the playoffs sounded like an appealing watch through late April.
The team that’s starting Ersan Ilyasova and doesn’t consider parting with any veterans at the trade deadline because it wants to make the playoffs this season? That sounds like the Bucks I’ve always known and always been bothered by.
The future is still bright. But the future feels a little bit further away today than it did on Monday.