The Jabari Parker Injury: Where do the Bucks go from here?

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.

I disagree.

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.

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10 Comments

  1. I’ve been so much hoping for the Bucks to make this a season in which we developed not just a few of our young guys, but a bunch of them, not just some individuals, but an exciting young team. I think we have a special group of young players when it comes to both talent and character, and that they could become a special team for many successful and enjoyable seasons. As I’ve written before, our young guys should be the main ingredients to making a recipe for long-term success, with the veterans as complementary seasoning.

    Whether we win with our young guys and make the playoffs, or lose with our young guys and get a higher draft pick, it’s all good — as long as we’re developing a young team that is up and coming. To a great extent, that vision is still relevant, and is still highly desirable. I look forward to Jabari getting back in the mix next season.

    Yes, Giannis and Jabari, and quite possibly Brandon, are the centerpieces for the future, but I see a lot of potential in our other young guys: Khris, Kendall, John and Larry (without forgetting Nate, Johnny and Damien). Let’s make a commitment to at least giving this young nucleus an opportunity to each play about 24 minutes per game; let’s put them on the court through their ups and downs, and at the end of the season see who we’ve got to work with.

    Kendall is key because generally the rest of the guys play better with him directing and distributing on the court. He creates a synergy of enthusiasm and excitement and success. It’s highly relevant that last game Bucks announcers Jim Paschke and Sidney Moncrief were talking about how much easier it is to have energy on defense when the players are touching the ball and participating on offense. (Even those of us who have played pickup basketball know something of this phenomenon.)

    With a real commitment to a youth movement for the Bucks, this could be such a fun and exciting season, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a goodly number of victories along the way.

  2. great write-up. made me really realize that this is looking too much like past teams settling for mediocrity…
    the old “8th seed or bust” days

  3. It’s horrible Jabari went down. However, I don’t see this years Bucks as an “8th seed or bust” team. I hate to say it, but, I think the Bucks will do better with Jabari off the court(for this year.) The defense could be amazing. I like all Bucks fan did not want to see any of our guys injured this year, let alone Jabari. But, I think The Bucks should do fairly well, possibly become a 50 win team. Khris Middleton is only a slightly better defender than Jabari, however, Damien Inglis, if this guy can play… He’s a beast of a defender, truly a beast. He’s the French Tony Allen. These Bucks have beaten The Clippers, Phoenix, and Memphis. They most likely won’t win a series of 7 against Toronto, Chicago, or Washington(maybe), Cleveland, or Atlanta. But, with how craft Kidd is, its possible. Yes Phoenix isn’t that good this year, but they’re still a .500 team in the West.

  4. so 2 out of the top 3 picks are out for the season due to injury? wow stay healthy A Wiggins. i do think the team (Bucks) can still make the playoffs tho

    • We are making the playoffs. We aren’t trading any of the best young core in the league to get there. Our guys will have more playoff minutes, earlier in their careers than even the Thunder did. Soooooo…..where is the downside here? You would like us to trade Ilyasova, who has proven to be a quality NBA player with a definite skill set? For what exactly are we making this trade? Keep the core, develop a winning culture and silence the ignorant masses who have somehow come to believe tanking on purpose works, when a quick look at the Western Conference proves the opposite. This is why I look at other Bucks fans like -________-