As Jabari Parker shows signs of old self, his return comes at right time for ailing Bucks
Parker plays 15 minutes and scores 12 points in his first game in nearly a full year
MILWAUKEE -- After going almost exactly one year without stepping on an NBA court, Jabari Parker was eager to make his season debut. As it turned out, perhaps a bit too eager.
With the Bradley Center crowd roaring in anticipation, Parker strolled onto the court midway through the first quarter of the Bucks' game against the Knicks, only to be sent back to the scorer's table. Jarrett Jack was shooting three free throws, not two. Parker would have to wait a few more seconds.
But what's a few more seconds when you've already waited a year?
"I was just trying to stay composed, not get carried away. Honestly, like, I was pretty much distracted because I heard the crowd," Parker said about the minor mishap after the Bucks' 92-90 win. "But I had to calm down, and teach myself, like we still gotta play, still gotta show the people why I've been working so hard."
Parker did just that, sinking his first shot of the season, a little mid-range jumper from the baseline, where he loves to operate. Then not once, but twice, he tried to throw down show-stopping slams, though he couldn't get either to go. He came up a bit short the first time, showing that perhaps he doesn't have all his bounce back just yet, and was fouled on the second attempt.
Still, he was pleased with himself for trying to make some big plays. "If anything I liked the statement that it had," Parker reflected. "Just to try to go as hard as I can."
For the night, Parker finished with 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting and three rebounds in 15 minutes, which was all he was allowed to play under his minutes restriction. Somehow, that was good enough for the second-highest point total on the team for the night. And so, fittingly, it was Giannis Antetokounmpo and Parker leading the way for the Bucks in the scoring department in Parker's return. The two players who were supposed to -- and still might -- take the Bucks to new heights.
Giannis ended up stealing the show from his buddy, hitting a wheeling lefty layup in the closing seconds to give the Bucks the win. But after the game, the first thing he wanted to talk about was Parker's return.
"It was a great feeling," Giannis said about having Parker back on the court. "Everybody was really excited about J.P. being back tonight. Most important, I think, he was just playing, just having fun. It was just great seeing him out there and competing with us again."
It will take weeks, perhaps even months, for Parker to get back to the level he was at last season before he injured his knee, but his return is a big boost for the Bucks. And it came at the perfect time, as the game before Parker made his debut, the Bucks lost reigning Rookie of the Year, Malcolm Brogdon, to a torn left quad that willfor nearly two months. Not only does Parker give them yet another high-level scorer (he averaged 20.1 points per game last season), but he also unlocks some very interesting lineups.
They only tried it for a little over two minutes against the Knicks, but the Bucks can now run units with Eric Bledsoe, Tony Snell, Khris Middleton, Parker and Giannis, with the Greek Freak playing the 5. Good luck trying to guard that group once they figure out how to play together.
But for now, Parker and the Bucks are focused on the process and getting the former No. 2 overall pick back up to speed, so he can be a key contributor both down the stretch and in the postseason.
"We've gone through a process with him. It's been stages all the way through, and he's gotta go out there and compete at the level he knows how to," interim head coach Joe Prunty said before Friday's game. "I think the one thing for him, is he has to -- like, this isn't get it all done here in one fell swoop. Take your time, the game will come to you, get the rhythm on both sides of the ball, stay locked into what our schemes are defensively, keep all man vision. Fundamentals, that's really what it comes down to."
Parker, for his part, was a bit more succinct with what's next for him.
"Only way to go from here is up," he said after the win.
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