Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker is at a crossroads. Two months after returning from his second left ACL surgery and two months before he becomes a restricted free agent, he’s making his maiden playoff voyage with the team that drafted him No. 2 overall in 2014. His comeback was expected to be a boost for a Bucks squad in need of one following the firing of head coach Jason Kidd. Yet, interim coach Joe Prunty has pushed him further down the bench during their 0-2 start to the postseason.
Understandably, Parker is frustrated after playing just 15 minutes of Game 1 and 10 in Game 2 against the Boston Celtics. He has two points on seven shots in the series, and their season is on the brink.
Jabari Parker was very animated talking about his frustration right now with limited minutes. He mentioned the only way to see the floor more was to be on the “coach’s good side”. When asked if he was on Prunty’s good side, he smirked and said “I don’t think so.” #Bucks
— Stephen Watson (@WISN_Watson) April 19, 2018
Here is Jabari Parker's longest quote from today's media availability: pic.twitter.com/jxt6RbXjpi
— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) April 19, 2018
You can’t help but feel for Parker. After entering the NBA with so much promise as a skilled and heady stretch forward, he’s had just one fully healthy season. Despite the setback of his first ACL injury during a potential Rookie of the Year campaign, he returned to average a career-best 20.1 points with 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 33.9 minutes per game, before suffering the second in February 2017.
Parker came back a year later, playing off the bench for the first time in his career — no small adjustment for any 23-year-old still finding his NBA rhythm as a scorer, much less one working his way back physically and mentally from two career-threatening injuries. Parker needs time to find his game again, but there’s no time in the playoffs to work off the rust, not when your team is in an 0-2 hole:
— Matt Velazquez (@Matt_Velazquez) April 19, 2018
So, it’s also understandable that Parker’s minutes are limited. Prunty might give him a longer leash with the offensive woes, considering he’s shot 38.3 percent from 3-point range and scored 18.9 points per 36 minutes since his early February return, but Parker has been a bigger problem on defense. The Bucks are allowing 122.4 points per 100 possessions with Parker on the floor in 25 minutes against the Celtics this series, and Boston has exploited him at every turn. Prunty has other concerns, too:
Typically, when Joe Prunty gets asked a question about an individual player, he'll talk about the larger assignments he expects of all of his players, but he took a little detour today when asked about Jabari Parker and his desire to play more minutes today.
His full response: pic.twitter.com/gqpW5s3Hrr
— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) April 19, 2018
Despite having questions about Parker’s defense, rebounding, effort and general understanding of what the Bucks are trying to do, Prunty told reporters on Thursday that Parker remains on his good side, that he doesn’t understand why he would believe otherwise. This is a disconnect that probably won’t resolve itself before a virtual must-win Game 3. The Bucks have bigger problems than placating Parker or even Eric Bledsoe’s continued refusal to acknowledge the guy who’s been torching him.
But like Parker said, he’s human. There are games to be won, and he believes he can still help, even if his coach is losing faith. There is money to be earned, too. Parker and the Bucks failed to agree to an extension prior to the season, and he recently said of the report that Milwaukee had offered him three years and $54 million, “I wish.” Who knows what’s waiting for him on the other side of the playoffs.
He’s running out of time, on the court and off, to prove himself before teams must decide between holding out hope for all that promise and weighing the risks of his injury history, before the Bucks determine if he’s the longterm playing partner for Giannis Antetokounmpo and if Prunty is the coach to lead them — before so many decisions have to be made. Jabari Parker is always at a crossroads.
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