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NBA PM: Jabari Parker’s Health Is Key To Bucks’ Season

If healthy, Jabari Parker could be the key to the Bucks making a deep playoff run this season … The New Orleans Pelicans are reportedly interested in Rasual Butler

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Jabari Parker’s Health Is Key To Bucks’ Season

On December 15, Jabari Parker’s knee buckled while driving to the basket against the Phoenix Suns. A subsequent MRI revealed that Parker had torn his ACL, which prematurely ended his rookie season and left the Milwaukee Bucks without one of their best young players and the second overall pick in the 2014 Draft.

Parker only managed to play in 25 games in his rookie season. But before tearing his ACL, he established himself as the front-runner for the Rookie of the Year award. Parker averaged 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds in 29.5 minutes per game, and helped the Bucks get off to a 13-12 start to the 2014-15 season, which was a nice turnaround after Milwaukee finished with a 15-67 record the previous season. After losing Parker, the Bucks went 28-29, and finished sixth overall in the Eastern Conference standings. The Bucks would go on to face the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. Despite eventually falling to Chicago in six games, the Bucks played with an edge and intensity that showed that this young team is very confident and will keep improving moving forward.

Now the biggest questions entering the upcoming season for Milwaukee are when will Parker be 100 percent healthy, how effective will he be and how far can this Bucks team go?

Recent reports suggest that Parker is progressing well in his rehab, though it is unclear whether he will be ready for the beginning of the season. However, even if Parker is at, or near, 100 percent by opening night, Bucks general manager John Hammond has stated that the team will be protective of Parker.

“We’re going to be very conservative with him,” said Hammond. “If we think he’s capable of playing 20, we’ll maybe play him 10 minutes. If we think he can play a back-to-back, we’ll wait on the back-to-back. Whatever it is, we’re going to be very cautious as he moves forward because of the magnitude of who he can be and who we hope he can be for our organization going forward.”

Hammond is making the right choice by playing it safe with Parker. As important as this season is for the up-and-coming Bucks, the long-term health of Parker is even more important. This is especially true when we consider that more often than not, players coming off of ACL tears require a substantial amount of time to return to their pre-injury form (usually beyond the usual nine month to a year timeline).

However, as Kevin Pelton of ESPN Insider noted last December, players younger than 25 years old that suffer an ACL tear tend to have less of a drop off in production than players over 25. That’s good news for Parker, who turned 20 in March. Another issue, however, is that Parker missed 57 regular season games, a first-round playoff series and an offseason of potential development, which was instead occupied with rehab. This may have stunted Parker’s development over the last nine months, but the good news is that Parker already has a mature game that is based on skill and technique as much as it is on his notable athleticism.

The fact that Parker is such a skilled player should help offset any initial loss in athleticism. While Parker managed to generate a lot of offense off the dribble last season, this season he should be able to work off of his teammates on offense more. Specifically, the addition of Greg Monroe, who the Bucks signed this offseason as a free agent, gives Milwaukee a post presence that can score inside and generate offense for others. Assuming Parker plays the majority of his minutes at power forward with Monroe playing at center, Parker should have easier looks at the basket than he did last season while playing alongside Zaza Pachulia. The emergence of Khris Middleton, who stepped up when Parker went down with his injury, should help too.

In addition, though Parker only averaged 1.7 assists per game last season, his ability to score in a variety of ways draws defensive attention away from his teammates, which inherently creates better scoring opportunities for them. Assuming Parker is even just 80-85 percent of the player he was last season, having him and Monroe in the frontcourt will be a big boost for the Bucks, who ranked 25th in the league in offensive efficiency. This is where the Bucks need the most help. Aside from a few players like Middleton, Greivis Vasquez and O.J. Mayo, the Bucks don’t have many players to space the floor, which is so crucial to modern NBA offenses. Parker and Monroe will need to be effective scorers and play-makers for the Bucks to get out of the bottom-third in the league in offensive efficiency. Whether Parker is healthy and effective enough to help make that happen could be the difference between another first-round exit and a deep playoff run for this year’s squad.

Fortunately, the Bucks should still have a top-level defense with Jason Kidd effectively utilizing his athletic players, like Michael Carter-Williams, Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and John Henson. Also, if Parker is not healthy or cannot play at an effective level, the Bucks could theoretically slide Monroe to power forward while playing him alongside Henson and Miles Plumlee. However, Monroe by himself is unlikely to turn this team into an above average offensive team, which is important since below-average offensive teams rarely make deep postseason runs, even if they have a top-rated defense. As previously pointed out, Parker could have a tight minute restriction early in the season, but if he can build strength and confidence once the postseason rolls around, he could be a huge boost for the Bucks’ playoff hopes.

With so much defensive versatility, smart coaching from Kidd and added offensive firepower in Monroe, the Bucks are again well-situated to make some noise in the Eastern Conference this season, but whether they can push beyond the first or second round will likely come down to Parker’s health and ability to make an impact on the court. Hopefully Parker comes back 100 percent and reminds us all of why he was the front-runner for last season’s Rookie of the Year award before his knee buckled in Phoenix.

Pelicans Reportedly Interested in Rasual Butler

According to John Reid of The Times Picayune, the New Orleans Pelicans are interested in free agent small forward Rasual Butler, who had a workout at the Pelicans’ facility on Wednesday.

Drafted 52nd overall in the 2002 NBA Draft, Butler, age 36, has been a journeyman in the league, playing for seven NBA teams and in the D-League for the Tulsa 66ers. Butler played in 75 games for the Washington Wizards last season, carving out a reserve role for himself under head coach Randy Wittman. Butler averaged 7.7 points and 2.6 rebounds per game, but most importantly, he shot 38.7 from beyond-the-arc on 3.1 attempts per game.

At this stage in his career, Butler is most valuable as a floor-spacer and underrated defensive wing-player. Butler would be a solid addition for a Pelicans team that was 19th in three-pointers made per game last season and that has struggled with injuries the last few seasons.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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