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NBA Daily: Jabari Parker And The Second Comeback

With Jabari Parker on the verge of returning from a second ACL surgery, he might end up being a huge help to the surging Milwaukee Bucks.

Ben Nadeau

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Not many athletes return to full strength after an ACL tear, but Jabari Parker is ready to do it all over again for the second time.

Following a year-long absence, Parker, 22, will rejoin the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday for their game against the New York Knicks. The Bucks’ up-and-down campaign culminated with the dismissal of head coach Jason Kidd earlier this month, but Parker could be just the catalyst that this hot-and-cold running roster needs. In 2016-17, just over two years after his first ACL injury, Parker looked ready to make the jump to league-wide stardom. Averaging 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists on 49 percent from the floor in 50 games, Parker had re-arrived in impressive fashion.

But on Feb. 8, disaster struck as Parker gathered awkwardly while attacking the hoop — just like that, the promising light had been extinguished once more. One year later, as he prepares to make yet another season debut, Parker knows that this is just the next step in his long-winding odyssey back to basketball.

“I feel good, even when I come back at some time, it’s just gonna still be a journey for me,” Parker told Bucks media members last week. “Taking it step-by-step, I’m not there, so every moment is an opportunity to get better.”

Through two horrific setbacks, these opportunities have come to define Parker’s career so far.

Once perceived as a weak three-point shooter, Parker made massive strides from deep upon that first return from injury. In fact, over his first two NBA seasons — although his rookie year was cut short after just 25 games, of course — Parker sported a mark of 13-for-51 (25.5 percent) from three-point range. But during that fantastic 50 game start to the 2016-17 season, Parker knocked down a respectable 65 of his 178 attempts from behind the arc.

Furthermore, Parker still very much looked like an elite scorer, taking defenders off the dribble with ease or pulling up from mid-range. But when discussing his imminent return, Parker clarified that he hasn’t gotten too far ahead of himself just yet.

“I just want to stay in tune with what I can control and the things I want to accomplish. If I think that I’m there, then I stay content — and therefore, I don’t try to get better,” Parker said. “But if I feel like I got a long way to go, then I still improve.

“I want to still keep that mentality ‘cause I don’t know how I’m gonna fit, so I just do everything that I can, in my will, to do what’s right for me and the team.”

Since Kidd was fired, the Bucks have matched their longest winning streak of the season at four games, defeating the Phoenix Suns, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls and a Joel Embiid-less Philadelphia 76ers squad in the last nine days. All of a sudden, Milwaukee has risen to 27-22 and are behind the spiraling, third-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers by just two games in the loss column. To this point, Antetokounmpo, a sure-fire MVP candidate, has been flanked by Khris Middleton — averaging career-highs in points (20.4), rebounds (5.3) and assists (4.3) to boot — but the thought of adding Parker into the mix must be absolutely salivating.

Naturally, the 6-foot-8 scoring machine will be eased back into the rotation, starting with a 15-minute limit and then rising from there, according to Matt Velazquez of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Nevertheless, there are plenty of reasons to believe in Parker again.

* * * * * *

For those uninitiated, ACL is short for anterior cruciate ligament and it helps to connect an athlete’s knee to the femur and tibia. The ACL, along with the MCL, LCL and PCL, work in harmony to provide stability to the knees, a crucial component for excelling in a demanding, change-of-direction sport like basketball. Cutting, pivoting and leaping are important skills that basketball players must utilize constantly during a game, so a pair of healthy ACLs are understandably key for success on the hardwood.

These often non-contact injuries can happen in an instant and change a promising career trajectory forever. The typical year-long recovery requires difficult physical therapy and a range of motion exercises, all done in hopes of regaining that explosive ability once again. In many cases, sadly, that explosiveness never returns.

The list of NBA players to suffer an ACL tear is not a short one and the majority of athletes aren’t quite the same afterward. But over the last decade or so, the injury has stopped being a complete career killer. Ricky Rubio (2012), Rajon Rondo (2013) and Lou Williams (2013) have all bounced back from season-ending ACL tears in the last six years alone. To his credit, Parker has already climbed this mountain once — but what about those that have torn an ACL twice?

There’s the memorable story of DeJuan Blair, a former NBA forward that was left with no ACLs after two surgeries in high school. Despite averaging 15.7 points and 12.3 rebounds during his sophomore year at the University of Pittsburgh, Blair dropped into the second round of 2009 draft and lasted four years with the San Antonio Spurs. After joining the Dallas Mavericks and Washington Wizards for a few seasons, Blair would then appear in both China and the D-League. As of today, Blair is still playing with San Lorenzo de Almagro, an Argentinian franchise, more than 10 years after his ACL operations. Suffice it to say, however, Parker must be aiming higher than that.

Subsequently, Josh Howard tore his left ACL shortly after being traded to the Wizards in early 2010. Howard reached just 61 combined contests over next two seasons. But following a right ACL tear while with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2012, the 10-year veteran would never play another NBA game. Strikingly, there’s also the case of Michael Redd to consider, perhaps the Bucks’ last franchise cornerstone prior to the arrival of Parker and Antetokounmpo. Redd, a one-time All-Star and Olympic gold medalist, averaged 21.2 points per game before injuring his left ACL and MCL in 2009. He returned for the 2009-10 season, but tallied just 11.9 points over 18 games — a stark comparison — until he re-tore the ligaments on that same knee, which practically knocked Redd down for good.

The difference, notably, is that Redd was 30 years-old at the time of his second surgery and at 22, Parker, hopefully, is just getting started.

* * * * * *

Although the Bucks currently put up 105.2 points per game, an average that sticks them dead center in the NBA (tied for 15th), they’ve struggled all year from three-point range. Hitting them at a clip of just 35.5 percent, the Bucks nearly rank in the bottom ten for conversion rate. Even worse, Milwaukee only makes a paltry 8.7 three-pointers per contest, a poor tally that only the Knicks and Timberwolves beat out in futility.

Middleton has led the way thus far with 1.9 three-pointers per game, but his 34.7 percent average is his lowest mark since his rookie season. On top of that, the only rostered player to surpass two made three-pointers per game is Mirza Teletovic (2.1), but he’s been sidelined since November following his own knee surgery and the reemergence of pulmonary emboli in his lungs. If Parker’s three-point outburst in 2016-17 was not an outlier, then the Milwaukee offense could see a major bump in the coming months.

The mental aspect of recovering from an ACL injury can be just as difficult as the physical side though too, so expecting Parker to do it all again is a tall order. When Derrick Rose tore his ACL during the 2012 playoffs, outsiders wondered if the hyper-athletic leaper would ever regain his MVP-winning mojo. In the days after that injury, K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune talked with Jamal Crawford, who tore his ACL in 2001, about how challenging it was to mentally recover from the worst injury of his 18-year career.

“Then, after surgery, you start rehab and start to see some progressions,” Crawford said. “You get a little more confident as it goes along. And then the last stage is the mental part: ‘Can I still do that move? Can I still do that cut?’ The actual leg you injure ends up being stronger than the leg that’s not injured. But you don’t believe that at first. You’re scared. You doubt.”

Since the initial injury, Rose has dealt with multiple issues on both knees and the point guard hasn’t played a 70-plus game season in seven years. Needless to say, Parker will hope to dodge that fate altogether. Unfortunately, according to a 2013 study from the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, the likelihood of reinjuring a rehabbed ACL within 24 months of reconstruction is apparently six times greater than someone who has never endured that ailment before. Beyond what injuring that left ACL for the third time might mean, it will also increase the odds that Parker seriously hurts his right knee as well.

While it’s not unpopular hyperbole to say that most everybody is hoping for a full and permanent return to the court, the Bucks must wait and see for now.

In October, the Bucks couldn’t reach an agreement with Parker on a contract extension, a decision that will make him a restricted free agent this summer. Understandably, the Bucks want to see how Parker has recovered from another career-altering knee injury before promising him upwards of $150 million. If his impending return is anything like that first comeback though, Parker will surely be a key cog in Milwaukee for the foreseeable future.

Antetokounmpo recently remarked that he thinks Parker’s presence will “take this team to the next level” — but for now, the talented scorer is just looking forward to beating those stacked odds for the second time.

Ben Nadeau is a Seattle-based writer in his second year with Basketball Insiders. For five seasons, he covered the Brooklyn Nets for The Brooklyn Game.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Bought Out Players Faring Well With New Teams

The deadline for teams to send their unwanted players to the buyout market was March 1. Jordan Hicks takes a look at some of the key acquisitions since the deadline and how they are helping postseason pushes.

Jordan Hicks

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The buyout market seems to be gaining more and more popularity with each season. While rebuilding teams tend to forego more seasoned players in order to give their younger guys some run, veteran players often find themselves bought out or waived prior to the deadline.

Teams competing for a spot in the playoffs – so it seems – have increasingly taken advantage of this situation by signing guys that can definitely help them get enough wins. While you definitely will not find All-Stars in the pool of available players, oftentimes solid role players find themselves there due to a myriad of reasons.

It could be that their previous teams wanted to give more playing time to guys more in-line with their future plans. It could also be because their previous team was simply wanting to lose games in order to increase their draft position, which is also known as tanking. By waiving better players on your roster and keeping less talented ones, teams can essentially give themselves a better chance to lose games without totally making it look like they’re doing it on purpose.

This year had one of the stronger pools of players on the buyout/waived market as of March 1st in recent memory, so let’s take a look at some of the top players and how they’ve fared since joining their new team.

Wesley Matthews

Matthews was part of the marquee trade that sent Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks. He ended up with the Knicks, but after two short games, they realized they didn’t want his talent interfering with their draft position. They waived him prior to the deadline and he was picked up by the Indiana Pacers.

This has turned out to be an incredibly important acquisition for the Pacers – primarily due to the fact that they lost All-Star Victor Oladipo for the season.

Matthews brings grittiness on the defensive end and a diverse set of skills offensively. He is an above average shooter from the three-point line, averaging 38.8 percent on 6.1 attempts per game since joining Indiana. He has added much-needed scoring to the offense as well – currently at 12.5 points and 2.4 assists each night.

He’s very clearly a step below Oladipo, especially when considering what Vic brought to both ends of the floor, but the fact that the Pacers added him without having to give up any assets is pretty remarkable.

While he has yet to add any considerable value on defense, Matthews has ranked fifth on the team in offensive rating since joining them on February 7. If Oladipo was still on the roster, you could argue that they wouldn’t necessarily need Matthews. But in light of recent events, being able to add Matthews as easily as they did was certainly a win for the franchise.

Enes Kanter

Another player the Knicks decided to unload was Enes Kanter. He was sent to the player pool via buyout, and it is safe to assume that New York had to spend handsomely to send him there.

Kanter is an interesting player. He has always been able to get buckets around the rim, as well as grab rebounds, but he has always struggled defensively. This was not why the Knicks wanted to let him go, however. Tension had been growing between Kanter, the front office, and the coaching staff, as they wanted to limit his minutes in lieu of the younger players on the roster.

Enes just wanted to play, and, by being bought out and signing with the Portland Trail Blazers, he’s been able to do just that.

Since joining Portland, the team as gone 9-3. While he continues to have his struggles on defense, he is posting 10 points and 6.7 rebounds on only 18.2 minutes per night.

Since the acquisition, Meyers Leonard has seen a decreased role. Kanter has turned into the de-facto backup to starting center Jusuf Nurkic. While Kanter is a poor defender himself, Portland has enough solid defensive players in the frontcourt that they haven’t had too much of a problem hiding him on that end of the floor.

Jeremy Lin

Lin headed to the market after being bought out by the Atlanta Hawks. He was picked up by the Toronto Raptors, who have struggled to field consistent backcourt players off the bench due to injuries – which was made more difficult after dealing Delon Wright to the Grizzlies as part of the Marc Gasol trade.

In 13 games with the Raptors, Lin is averaging 8.4 points and 2.5 assists in 20.8 minutes per game. He has struggled to find any consistency with his shot, as he’s averaging just 39 percent from the field and a morbid 18.4 percent from three.

That shooting has every opportunity to increase. Lin is a 34.3 percent shooter from downtown over the course of his career.

The Raptors will need Lin to pull his shooting together as the season wraps up for a strong playoff campaign. The bench unit was a major part of their success last season and it is proving to be another key part this year. In order for Toronto to finally reach their goal of winning the Eastern Conference, they’ll need Lin to be at his best. He isn’t the only key to their success, but he’ll have a major impact on how the Raptors finish out the season.

There are still plenty of solid players on the market. Carmelo Anthony, Ben McLemore and Nick Young could provide instant offense off the bench. Greg Monroe, Marcin Gortat and Zach Randolph could help improve the frontcourt of any team in need. Whether or not teams decide they need their services, only time will tell.

While the season plays out, it will be interesting to see just what impact these players discussed – as well as those not mentioned – will have for their franchise in the postseason.

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NBA Daily: Justin Bibbs Gets First NBA Opportunity In L.A.

Justin Bibbs spoke to Basketball Insiders about joining an NBA team after going undrafted, playing in the G League, his developing skill set and more.

David Yapkowitz

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One of the best moments in the life of an aspiring pro basketball player is to receive the news that an NBA team wants to sign them.

For Justin Bibbs, that dream became a reality of his when the Los Angeles Clippers called him up to the team on a 10-day contract last week. The former Virginia Tech guard went undrafted last summer and was spending his first professional season in the G League with Maine Red Claws, the affiliate of the Boston Celtics.

This past Sunday against the Brooklyn Nets was actually his first day being around the team as they had immediately assigned him to the Agua Caliente Clippers after signing him.

“To be honest, I still don’t have words for it. It’s kind of indescribable,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “I always wanted to be on this level, but now that I’m here I just trying to take in every second of it, just relax and let God do his thing.”

Bibbs had a decent showing with the Celtics in summer league, leading to him being added to their training camp roster. He was ultimately cut and joined the Maine Red Claws as an affiliate player. Each NBA team is allowed to assign up to four players to their G League affiliate, players who were in training camp and are guaranteed a G League roster spot.

Affiliate players, however, are still considered ‘free agents’ in that they can sign with any NBA team. Bibbs played in 44 games with the Red Claws and averaged 11.8 points per game, 3.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists.

At Virginia Tech, he was a knockdown outside shooter (42.4 percent) and a strong defender. He has good size for a guard at 6-foot-5 and 225-pounds. It’s those qualities that he’s hoping to bring to the Clippers should he get the chance on the court.

“I always bring energy defensively and I just play my game. On offense, I bring shooting,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “But it’s whatever the coach tells me to do and basically just playing the right way.”

Although Bibbs has reached his goal of the NBA, he’s in a different situation than the rest of his Clippers teammates. They’re all secured with guaranteed contracts. Bibbs has ten days to prove himself to team brass, ten days to show he’s worth keeping around a bit longer.

“I’m happy that my play has been rewarded, that the organization believed in me enough to give me a 10-day. Its motivation for me to keep going,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “I was called down from the G League team, and I’m just trying to get all the sets and plays and stuff, trying to make that adjustment. But it’s definitely a blessing.”

He’s played in three games for the Agua Caliente Clippers so far, logging 27.1 minutes per game off the bench. He’s put up 9.7 points per game on 45.8 percent shooting from the field, 5.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists during that stretch.

He’s yet to log any minutes for the Clippers, but he’s just thrilled to be a part of an NBA organization. Despite being undrafted, he always knew that he’d get to this level at some point.

“Yeah I did, for sure I did. I didn’t know when or how, but I always thought I would be here,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “I had no idea what team, but being out in LA, I’ll take that as a blessing. But yeah I thought I would be here for sure.”

For players like Bibbs who are on 10-day contracts, nothing is guaranteed. But he’s soaking up the entire experience as long as he can. Whether the Clippers decide to retain him a little bit longer, or he moves on to another opportunity, he just wants to be able to play his game.

“My overall goal is just to actually play my game my way and not be restricted,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “Kind of just play freely and right now that’s what I’ve shown, that’s what got me here. I’m just taking in the whole process, just taking it all in and getting the experience and knowledge.”

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft – 3/19/19

With the field of teams set for the 2019 NCAA March Madness tournament, things should get noisy over the next few weeks on the NBA Draft front. Steve Kyler offers up another 60-pick Mock Draft before all the zaniness begins.

Steve Kyler

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Let the Madness begin.

The basketball world will shift its attention to college basketball’s biggest stage over the next few weeks, especially this weekend’s opening round of 64.

While the tournament doesn’t necessarily make or break a player’s draft stock, this will be the first time some notable draft prospects will face elite talent and, more importantly, the pressure of the big stage. You can check out march madness predictions 2019 here.

Expect things in the draft world to start to percolate, not just because of the magnitude of the games, but also because a lot of NBA scouts will be in the same places, which is where the draft chatter originates.

Equally, a lot of NBA teams will watch games together in the conference rooms this week, so more group discussion on players will happen inside NBA teams’ front offices, and that could lead to new preference information flowing into the NBA Draft information bubble.

Here is this week’s 60-Pick Mock Draft, based on NBA games played through 3/18/19:

Here are the first-round picks that are owed and how those picks landed where they are.

The Atlanta Hawks are to receive the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyle Korver trade in 2017, which is top-10 protected. But based on the standings, it will not be conveyed.

The Boston Celtics are to receive the Memphis Grizzlies first-round pick as a result of the three-team Jeff Green trade in 2015; the pick is top-eight protected and, based on the current standings, would not convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are to receive the Dallas Mavericks first-round pick as a result of the Luka Dončić – Trae Young swap on draft night in 2018. The pick is top-five protected and, based on the standings, would convey.

The Boston Celtics are to receive the more favorable of either the Sacramento Kings or Philadelphia 76ers first-round picks as part of the Markelle Fultz pre-draft trade in 2017. Based on the current standings, the Kings pick is the more favorable and would convey to Boston.

The Boston Celtics are to receive the LA Clippers first-round pick as a result of the Deyonta Davis draft day trade with Memphis in 2016. The Grizzlies got the pick in their Jeff Green/Lance Stephenson deal at the deadline in 2016. The pick is lottery protected and, based on the current standings, would not convey.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are to receive the Houston Rockets first-round pick as a result of the three-team deadline deal that sent out Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss.

The Brooklyn Nets are to receive the Denver Nuggets first-round pick as a result of the Kenneth Faried – Darrell Arthur trade in July 2018. The pick is top-12 protected and, based on the current standings, would convey.

The San Antonio Spurs are to receive the Toronto Raptors first-round pick as a result of the Kawhi Leonard – DeMar DeRozan trade in July 2018. The pick is top-20 protected and, based on the current standings, would convey.

The Phoenix Suns are to receive the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as a result of the Eric Bledsoe trade in 2017. The pick has top 3 and 17-30 protections, designed to yield a lottery-level pick to Phoenix. Based on the current standings this pick would not convey. If the debt is not settled this year, the pick in 2020 would be top-7 protected.

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