On the same night they welcomed back Khris Middleton from the hamstring tear that had cost the ace swingman the first 50 games of the 2016-17 NBA season, the Milwaukee Bucks watched Jabari Parker go down in pain and in a heap after landing awkwardly on his left leg for the second time in three seasons.
With just under seven minutes remaining in the third quarter of Wednesday night’s matchup with the red-hot Miami Heat, Parker held the ball at the above the 3-point arc and went on-on-one with a drive against Miami forward Luke Babbitt. As Parker drove, he planted his left leg as he made body contact with Babbitt and tried to explode off it toward the rim, only to immediately lose his balance, yell, and fall to the ground.
The 21-year-old forward stayed down on the ground in pain, waiting for team medical personnel. He’d eventually be helped up, off the floor and back to the Milwaukee locker room by teammates Michael Beasley and Thon Maker. Shortly thereafter, the Bucks announced he was done for the night after scoring 14 points on 6-for-11 shooting with two assists, one block and one steal in 20 minutes of floor time.
The Bucks initially diagnosed Parker with a sprained left knee … which, as Brew Hoop noted, was the same initial diagnosis Parker received in December of 2014, when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in that same left knee, an injury from which he needed nearly 11 months to return to the court.
The Bucks’ broadcast noted the similarities between the two injuries, which might not be something you want to watch:
Bucks broadcast compares Jabari Parker's 2014 left ACL tear w/ his apparent left knee injury vs. Heat pic.twitter.com/3NK6lndXXi
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) February 9, 2017
… and, after follow-up testing on Thursday morning, the team confirmed that the results were sadly the same.
This morning, Parker underwent an MRI that revealed a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee. Parker will undergo surgery to repair the injury and will miss the remainder of the 2016-17 season. The recovery and rehabilitation period is estimated at 12 months.
In the short term, losing Parker deals a significant blow to a Bucks team that has already struggled mightily of late, losing 11 of their last 13 — including Wednesday’s game against Miami — to fall to 22-29, 11th place in the East. He’s been their second-leading scorer all year, averaging 20.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 33.9 minutes per game on 49 percent shooting from the field and 36.5 percent shooting from 3-point land — all highs — while developing into the tremendous complement to All-Star starter Giannis Antetokounmpo that the Bucks hoped he’d become when they drafted him out of Duke with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft.
Parker joked before Wednesday’s game that the return of Middleton, Milwaukee’s best all-around player last year, would “save the Bucks’ season.” Losing Parker could all but end it.
The bigger concern, though, is the longer term.
Emotionally, a second ACL tear in less than three years must come as a crushing blow for a player who worked so long and so hard to come back from his first major pro injury. Physically, it could also prove devastating for the athleticism and explosiveness on display during a season in which Parker stamped himself as one of the NBA’s most gifted young scorers.
On top of that, spending another year on the shelf could stifle Parker’s development and his prospects of growing into an All-Star-caliber player. With the Duke product eligible for an extension of his rookie deal next summer, it also gives the Bucks an awful lot to think about in terms of how they want to build their roster for the future, and how much they’re willing to commit to a forward who’s already got two major knee injuries on his medical record. From ESPN’s Kevin Pelton:
On the plus side, Parker’s value was probably better established before his injury than [Minnesota Timberwolves guard Zach] LaVine’s. Parker was in line for something near a max offer, and potentially even to get the five-year maximum designated player extension that the Bucks did not give Giannis Antetokounmpo because he was willing to take slightly less than the max for four years.
Still, that same value makes it trickier for Milwaukee to justify letting Parker head into restricted free agency in the summer of 2018, where he could get an offer sheet from another team that allows him to return to free agency unrestricted after two years.
Bonus incentives or guarantees based on games played might help the Bucks mitigate the risk of Parker being limited by the injury while also giving him the opportunity to realize his full value when healthy.
Whether reserves like Michael Beasley, Mirza Teletovic and the recently returned Middleton will be able to step in and fill the significant gap in production left in Parker’s wake remains to be seen; ditto for how general manager John Hammond will move forward once the still-rehabbing Parker’s extension window opens up this summer. For now, all that’s left is to hope for brighter days ahead for one of the league’s hardest-working young stars, and to vent frustration at the Bucks’ latest cruel twist of fate.
Beasley expressing how every Bucks fans is feeling pic.twitter.com/X94LHECCRN
— BrewHoop.com (@brewhoop) February 9, 2017
You can say that again, Beas.
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