Jabari Parker Rounding Into Pre-Injury Form

A year after tearing his ACL, Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker is rounding into his pre-injury form.

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Just over a year ago, Jabari Parker, the second overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, was averaging a solid 12.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.2 steals per game while shooting 49 percent from the field. Parker helped his Milwaukee Bucks get out to a surprisingly strong start to the season and was widely considered the early front-runner for the Rookie of the Year award, earning Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honors for October-November. However, on December 17, against the Phoenix Suns, Parker made a hard cut to the basket off of a fastbreak and tore his ACL, ending his rookie campaign with just 25 games under his belt.

Parker spent the next 10 months or so rehabbing his left knee. He entered this season on the sideline, missing Milwaukee’s first four games. He made his debut on November 4 against the Philadelphia 76ers, contributing two points, three rebounds and one assist in 16 minutes of action. Parker got off to a slow start this season, which is to be expected after an ACL tear, but is finding his groove in the month of December.

Through 10 games in December, in 27.9 minutes per game, Parker is averaging 12.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.3 assists while shooting 47.2 percent from the field. Those numbers are almost identical to his numbers from last season, which is encouraging and an indication that he is returning to his pre-injury form.

When asked if he has fully recovered all of his athleticism and explosiveness, Parker fell short of saying he is 100 percent recovered, but clearly thinks he isn’t too far off either.

“I think pretty much, a lot of it,” Parker told Basketball Insiders. “I don’t know what [the difference is before the injury and now] because it’s been a while, so whoever has [known] me can tell the difference. I can’t.”

Indeed, Parker has shown at various points this season that he has recaptured a significant portion of his athleticism. But while Parker is an explosive athlete, his game is not dependent on his athleticism. He has a solid offensive skillset, including soft hands at the rim, a nice crossover that consistently creates separation from his defenders, solid shooting mechanics and the mobility to get around bigger forwards. However, there are still some notable limitations in his game. He hasn’t stretched his shot to three-point line at the NBA level yet, he isn’t a great passer or playmaker and his defensive impact has been less than stellar.

When asked what aspects of his game he focused on during his rehab, Parker never even mentioned the offensive end of the court.

“My defense, my awareness,” Parker said. “I did a lot of studying, so that’s a part of my game that was new.

“I feel like I’m trying to still learn. Overall I think it’s there, I’m just trying to learn.”

It’s encouraging to hear that Parker spent so much time focusing on improving defensively. However, we have seen some blown defensive assignments this season, including in a crucial moment against the Golden State Warriors on Friday night. With just over two minutes to play in the game and the score tied, Stephen Curry split two defenders off a pick-and-roll, leaving Parker as the only weak-side defender. Parker initially pursued Curry, but inexplicably pulled back, gifting Curry a wide-open layup to put the Warriors ahead for good.

Despite the limitations in his game, it’s important to remember that Parker is still just 20 years old, is coming off an ACL tear and has only played in 47 NBA games thus far. He still has tremendous upside and potential as a player and is already making an impact for his team in a somewhat limited role.

One of the interesting things about Parker is the fact that his size and athleticism allow him to play both forward positions. When asked if he preferred to play one over the other, Parker showed no inclination toward either position.

“No, I look at myself as a basketball player,” Parker said. “So I don’t expect me to put a title or position [on myself].”

While Parker may not have a preference for either forward position, he did provide some insight into which players he models his game after.

“Well, I’m just a fan of basketball, so I pretty much take little pieces from a lot of forwards from the years,” Parker said. “Some of my favorite players [are] James Worthy, Charles Barkley, Glenn Robinson, those type of guys.”

This is an interesting mix of players and shows that Parker really doesn’t want to pigeonhole himself as a small forward or power forward. However, Jason Kidd recently told Zach Lowe of ESPN that in a few years, Parker will be a legitimate stretch-four.

“Jabari will be a really good stretch-four in three years,” Kidd said. “Right now, he’s not that. And that’s OK. He’s basically a rookie.”

This would be a big development for a young Milwaukee team that has a ton of length, but struggles to stretch the court due to a lack of consistent three-point shooters. That has been a big limitation for this team so far this season, which has failed to build off last season’s success. The team currently stands at 10-18, ranking just 13th in the Eastern Conference.

When asked about the Bucks’ slow start and what weaknesses this team has, Parker pointed toward the group’s inconsistency. This is commonly an issue with young teams.

“I guess our consistency. That’s no secret, we just got to stay consistent,” Parker said.

However, Parker is still optimistic about Milwaukee’s outlook. When asked what the ceiling is for this team now and in the future, he exuded confidence.

“I don’t think we have a ceiling,” Parker said. “We have the pieces to do a lot of things out there on the floor, we have the pieces to be great. We just have to believe in ourselves and I think put them to use.”

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Alan is an experienced writer of online betting and casino guides. He is one of the main editors of Basketballinsiders.

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