LAS VEGAS — After a successful NBA Summer League debut against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday, Jabari Parker struggled to find his shot in Sunday’s game against the Phoenix Suns.
That he still found a way to have a productive game, including his first double-double, speaks volumes about the type of impact Parker can have through sheer effort.
"I thought he was great," Bucks coach Sean Sweeney said. "Sometimes shots don’t fall, but if you play defensively like he did, you rebound the ball and you don’t let it affect you? That’s great."
Things started poorly for the Bucks, with Parker totaling just two points in the first quarter, making just one of his four field-goal attempts and turning the ball over three times. But Parker’s energy level remained high as he contested well on defense and collected four rebounds. He would finish the game with 11 points and 11 rebounds plus two assists and a steal, but he also turned the ball over six times and made just four of 15 field-goal attempts.
"I missed a couple of open looks. I just got to trust myself. I can’t get too mad," Parker said about his offensive struggles. "I just got to find different ways to get myself going."
Meanwhile, Giannis Antetokounmpo kept the Bucks within one point (23-22) after the first quarter with seven points and two rebounds. Coming off of a strong 17-point, six-rebound game, Antetokounmpo followed up with totals of 16 points, six rebounds and a block Sunday, but it wasn’t enough to earn Milwaukee its first win as the Bucks lost 93-82.
On the defensive end, Antetokounmpo once again showed how dangerous a weapon his 6-foot-11 frame can be. The second-year player out of Greece was everywhere, matched up against Phoenix’s rookie forward, 6-8 T.J. Warren to start the game, but he readily roamed the backcourt to harass Phoenix’s guards into bad passes and difficult shots. His length and versatility complements a tall, athletic lineup that could give opposing teams trouble during the season.
"He’s so long that he can cover a lot of ground. He can be a really good defender. He already is right now," said Bucks second-year point guard Nate Wolters. "We’ve got a lot of length on this team with Larry (Sanders), John (Henson) and Giannis, so it allows us guards to get beat off the dribble a little bit and gamble a little bit knowing they’re behind us."
Wolters had a good offensive night himself with 16 points, four assists, two rebounds and a steal to build on his seven-point game Friday. He had been hampered by an ankle injury, but looked better on Sunday as he attacked the basket and got his jump shot working in the second half.
"I felt like I could move a little better. The day off yesterday really helped me," Wolters said.
Wolters, Antetokoumpo and former Wisconsin Badgers point guard Jordan Taylor all received playing time controlling the ball Sunday as the coaching staff looks to explore options in the backcourt. And while each of them have their own styles, all three love to pass the ball and set up their teammates, which plays well with what the Bucks are trying to do this season.
"Coach (Jason Kidd) really preaches ball movement, so I think we’ll get better as time moves on," Wolters said of their play. "It’s a good start."
In the frontcourt, rookie big man Johnny O’Bryant had a difficult assignment in his second game. The second-round pick out of Louisiana State matched up with third-year center Miles Plumlee, and Plumlee’s two years of experience and two-inch height advantage helped him keep O’Bryant quiet during the first half. For his part, O’Bryant fought hard throughout the game, forcing a number of turnovers through good defensive-help rotations and physical defense against the productive veteran Plumlee. O’Bryant’s hard work paid off with a good second half in which he scored all eight of his points.
"I’m trying to carve out a niche with this team, no matter if that’s rebounding, defense or whatever. I’m just trying to bring high intensity," O’Bryant said. "It’s great going against a guy like (Plumlee). He’s a very aggressive guy, plays with a lot of high energy and keeps the ball alive, so I tried to do the same. He’s a big guy, I’m a big guy, too, and we just had a battle in there."
The Bucks have a deep roster at forward and center, so efforts like the one O’Bryant put forth Sunday are critical to his future with the team. He said Kidd tells him to keep playing hard, and that’s exactly what he is going to do.
Parker’s offensive repertoire was predicated on jump shots Sunday — including six 3-point attempts — which played in contrast to Friday’s game where fans saw Parker repeatedly drive to the basket. He was not worried about the difference, describing it as an adjustment to the NBA in which game film study with the coaches plays a major role.
"I don’t really know where I’m going to play yet on the floor, so we’re looking at different areas where I can be more effective," the star rookie said.
GAME NOTES: Antetokounmpo nearly missed a reverse slam dunk attempt that saw him rotating 180 degrees while high in the air. . . . Parker finished a first quarter buzzer-beating layup over two defenders, but had a dunk attempt blocked by Plumlee later in the game. . . . . Chris Wright’s highlights featured a tremendous putback dunk and a blocked shot after chasing down Phoenix’s Deonte Christmas in transition. . . . Antetokounmpo forced a Phoenix timeout while defending an inbound pass and was problematic for the Suns on multiple other inbound plays. . . . JaJuan Johnson had a productive night with seven points, five rebounds, a steal and a block in under 15 minutes.