What to expect from Jabari Parker in return to Bucks
Just under a year after tearing his ACL in a game against Miami, Jabari Parker is set to return to the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday.
This isn’t the first time Parker has had to come back from a torn ACL, as he suffered that injury 25 games into his rookie season as well.
Based on Parker’s history and other players, what can we expect from the Bucks forward in his return to the court?
Parker played in 25 games as a rookie before tearing an ACL. At the time, he was averaging 29.5 minutes, 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds. When he returned after missing the first four games of the 2015-16 season, it took him four games to reach double digits in points, and this came after sitting out the second game of a back-to-back.
In those first four contests, he averaged 20.4 minutes, 6.0 points and 3.5 rebounds. That’s a change of 30.8 percent in minutes played, 51.2 percent in points and 36.4 percent in rebounds.
Through his first 32 games — that’s how many contests the Bucks will have left entering Friday — Parker averaged 26.4 minutes, 10.8 points and 4.3 rebounds. The percentage change compared to his rookie year: 10.5, 12.1 and 21.8.
There have been a few other players recently who have torn their ACL and have come back to play. Jarrett Jack did it in January 2016, then suffered a torn meniscus the following 14 months later while on a 10-day contract with New Orleans. Jack was also 32 at the time of his ACL tear — 10 years older than Parker — so that might not be the best comparison anyway.
Zach LaVine is five days older than Parker. While with Minnesota, he suffered a torn ACL in a game against Detroit on Feb. 3, 2017 — coincidentally also five days before Parker tore his. LaVine just recently returned to play for the Chicago Bulls, where he was traded to in the offseason.
There are of course differences between the two — LaVine being an athletic guard while Parker is a power forward — plus LaVine’s team and role has changed. However, let’s compare LaVine pre-ACL and post.
With the Timberwolves, LaVine averaged 37.2 minutes, 18.9 points and 3.4 rebounds in 47 games last season. In eight games with Chicago this year, he’s at 22.3 minutes, 12.6 points and 4.6 rebounds. Two years ago with Minnesota, LaVine averaged 28.0 minutes, 14.0 points and 2.8 rebounds. While LaVine’s minutes are clearly down (40.1 percent compared to last season and 20. 4 percent compared to 2015-16), his per-36 minutes scoring rate is actually a career-high 20.2 this season, compared to 18.3 and 18.0 the past two years.
Finally, there’s Dante Exum. The Utah point guard missed the entire 2015-16 season after tearing his ACL while playing for the Australian national team. As a rookie in 2014-15, Exum averaged 22.2 minutes and 4.8 points in 82 games. Last year with the Jazz, Exum, who hasn’t played this season after undergoing shoulder surgery, averaged 18.6 minutes and 6.2 points in 66 games. Again, his scoring went up — just like LaVine — but his minutes decreased 16.2 percent.
It’s an incredibly short sample size but based on the above, a reasonable expectation for Parker would see a decrease in minutes as he gets back into game shape.
LaVine has yet to play 30 minutes this season. Exum didn’t do so until his 12th game back. However, in the first go-around, Parker hit 30 minutes in his fifth game (the team’s sixth as he sat out one) and again in his sixth — and again after sitting out a game. Parker played between 19-27 minutes the next eight games before coming in just under 36 minutes in his 15th game, averaging 33.6 minutes from that time forward until the end of the season.
Based on the early game history of Parker, LaVine and Exum, we likely can expect to see Parker receive limited minutes in his first few games. The Bucks play back-to-back games twice in February after Parker returns: Feb. 9-10 and 27-28.
Going off his numbers last season — when Parker’s season ended last year on Feb. 8, he was averaging 33.9 minutes, 20.1 points and 6.2 rebounds — and a roughly 20 percent decrease in minutes, he should average around 27.2 minutes this year. While his scoring could go down just based on minutes, as seen by Exum and LaVine his production could actually increase. A 12 percent decrease in points from last season would still be 18.5 per game, or 24.5 per 36 minutes (last season he was at 21.4 per 36).
It’s hard to gauge exactly how Parker will fare — the roster is different than in the past, his role might change and, as mentioned, comparisons are tough as there are so few and the two most recent are guards, but when all is said and done at the end of the season, we wouldn’t be surprised if Parker’s final regular-season stat line is along the lines of 27.2 minutes, 18.5 points and 5.0 rebounds.