Jason Kidd said something that stood out to me after Milwaukee’s 128-121 victory over the Houston Rockets on Monday night.
“The ball is touching his hands a lot more,” Kidd said.
The quote was about Jabari Parker and it wasn’t exactly revolutionary. But it provoked a thought in me. Why was the ball touching his hands more? Where was it touching his hands more? How? Why? When? All sorts of questions started popping up. Thank God for NBA.com/Stats.
Parker has played significant minutes over the past eight games since Milwaukee made a lineup switch that sent Michael Carter-Williams and Greg Monroe to the bench. In those games, Parker has averaged 38.5 minutes. To that point, Parker had averaged just 28.6 minutes per game. An extra 10 minutes every night makes a big difference in any player’s statistics. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Parker’s points per game have jumped from 11.2 points to 20.5 points.
But Parker’s increased scoring production hasn’t just about him getting more time. Kidd is right. He’s getting more touches. He’s more involved offensively, not in a dramatically different way than he was before, but with more volume. Parker’s averaged 30 more touches per game over his past eight games, going from 45.8 touches to 75.8. And to the Bucks credit and his benefit, he’s not just touching the ball on the perimeter and keeping it moving. It’s been clear this season that Parker is best when he catches the ball near the basket or on the move towards the hoop. That’s exactly where he’s been getting the ball recently.
Now, “post touches” don’t necessarily mean the same thing for Parker that they may mean for Greg Monroe. This doesn’t mean Milwaukee’s tossing it to him and watching him isolate a defender for two seconds on a backdown. It just means catching the ball within 10 feet of the hoop. For Parker, that’s often been on cuts to the basket along the baseline.
The best thing for Parker and the Bucks has been his improved production per touch. He’s not just getting the ball more; he’s doing more with it. He’s increased his overall points per touch to .27 from .24 thanks to remaining consistent from the post and in the paint while improving on those elbow touches.
So, why is Parker getting better? The obvious dot to connect to Parker’s upswing was Monroe’s benching. Without Monroe clogging up the paint, Parker had more opportunity, my thinking went. But my thinking appears to be wrong. Parker was playing 20.3 minutes per game with Monroe earlier this season and has played 19.9 minutes per game with him since his benching. Monroe is getting a few less touches from the elbow per game of late, but he’s still basically as involved as ever, with Monday being an exception.
But the dynamic has changed a bit. Despite still playing together, Parker is now getting way more touches than Monroe. Monroe’s averaging 43 touches per game since February 9, after averaging 48 per game previously. They used to share the ball about 50/50, but now the ball is in the hands of Parker over 1.5 times more than it’s in Monroe’s hands every night. Part of that can be attributed to (kind of) new Bucks point guard Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Parker and Giannis are Milwaukee’s building blocks and have been so since the Bucks selected Parker in 2014. But there have always been some concerns about the two of them playing together. Most of the concerns revolve around both of them being bad (and unwilling) outside shooters. But over the past eight games, they’ve gotten more and more minutes together and fed off each other.
Since February 9, Parker has averaged 28.3 minutes per game with Giannis, up from 20.9 with him the rest of the season. In those increased minutes, Giannis has found Parker much more often too. Before February 9, Giannis had passed the ball to Parker with just 7.5% of his passes. That number has almost tripled, to over 20%. That’s led to nearly three additional shots per game from Giannis passes.
This is a two-way street, too. Parker used to almost pass exclusively to Michael Carter-Williams, not because he just liked MCW more than anyone else, but because that was his point guard and he was often just moving the ball back to him to re-initiate the offense. But now Parker is finding Giannis – his new point guard and partner in crime? – consistently. He’s hit Giannis with 23.7% of his passes since February 9, compared to just 9.7% of his passes before that. He used to hit MCW with over 40% of his passes! Think of how destructive that was for Milwaukee. Goodness.
But Parker and Giannis seem to have found something of late, and Kidd has noticed.
“You can see that between the relationship that Giannis and Jabari have, finding one another,” he said. He went on to speak to Parker and the team’s improved confidence and comfort.
Milwaukee may have found something with this Parker and Giannis duo. After losing their mojo for most of this season, finding it with these guys is kind of funny. I mean, it’s so obvious. But I guess there’s something to looking in the place that makes the absolute most sense.