Bucks Finding Ways to Cope Without Parker as Giannis Soaks in All-Star Weekend
As if it hasn’t already been challenging for the Milwaukee Bucks, they were only at full strength for roughly two and a half quarters this season against the Miami Heat back on Feb. 8. The excitement and build up for the return of sharpshooter Khris Middleton was completely overshadowed by the loss of one of their premier stars in Jabari Parker, again. Not only did the Bucks lose the game in Middleton’s return but Parker also went down in the third quarter with an apparent knee injury. The arena went as silent as it did when former Bucks star Michael Redd went down with his second ACL tear in the same knee eight years ago. When most were praying that it was just a sprain this time for Jabari, news broke the next day that it was indeed a second ACL tear for the young Buck. To make matters worse, it was the same knee as his previous ACL injury back in rookie season after 25 games.
This is a truly crushing blow to the Bucks and Parker, who was averaging career-highs in almost every category during his third NBA season. The Chicago native played in 51 games this year and put up 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game while shooting 49% from the field including 36.5% from three. The former No. 2 overall pick was starting to really find his game but is now forced to begin a brutal 12 month process in order to get back on the court. The good news is he underwent successful surgery on Valentines Day and should be able to make a full recovery. I think it’s safe to say that he knows how to handle to the rehab process as well as anyone.
While trying to grasp what this means for the Bucks moving forward, there’s still over a quarter of the season left with a lot to play for. While most would think that losing one of the most important pieces on the roster would be hard to cope with, Milwaukee has gotten off to a 3-1 start, including winning their last three in a row over Indiana, Detroit and Brooklyn. In the midst of the All-Star break, the Bucks are now 25-30 and sit just one game back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference behind the Pistons (27-30). With a bit of momentum on their side, the question remains whether Milwaukee will turn the season around and get back into the playoffs or fold back into the lottery? Here are some reason’s to believe that they indeed can make that playoff run despite the loss of Jabari Parker.
Khash is Back
When you lose your best player who is scoring 20 points per game, it would seem difficult to replace that kind of production at this time of the year unless it’s via the trade market. But it looks like the timing couldn’t have been any better for the return of Khris Middleton, who led the Bucks in scoring last season at over 18 points a game. The 25-year-old was back on the court in Milwaukee’s loss to the Miami Heat two weeks ago. While he scored just five points in 15 minutes off the bench, it was just important to get him back out on the floor. Two days later against the Lakers, he played 21 minutes and scored six points on 2-7 shooting and then stayed back in Milwaukee for precautionary reasons on Saturday night as the Bucks grabbed a road win in Indiana.
Still easing his way back, Khris played 18 minutes in Milwaukee’s win Monday night over the Pistons and scored 11 points on 4-7 shooting. In Wednesday night’s 129-125 win in Brooklyn, however, he looked as close to his old self as he poured in a season-high 20 points on 7-13 shooting to go along with seven assists, three rebounds, and three steals. It took him a couple games to get his feet wet but if last Wednesday was any indication, Khash is on his way back. He looked comfortable shooting the ball, and things seemed to flow better offensively with the ball in his hands. Not only does he fill a huge scoring role but his ability to create and make plays for others should help take some pressure off Giannis Antetokounmpo while allowing for more spacing.
While he can’t attack as well as Parker, Middleton brings a totally different dynamic that the Bucks have been missing all season long. As I have previously mentioned, the Bucks have had a hard time closing out games and finding a go-to guy down the stretch. When the game against the Nets got tight in the fourth quarter, Middleton was inserted back into the lineup with 2:59 remaining and the Bucks up just two at 117-115. He hit a big shot and knocked down four free throws with ease as the Nets tried to finish their comeback. That really stood out since Milwaukee had been 7-13 in games decided by six points or less this season. In fact, the victory gave the Bucks a rare four-game sweep over the Nets this season as well. Not to say it was a must win game but it was huge for this team’s confidence going forward into the second half. It gives them belief that they can make a run especially when you have Khris Middleton, a guy who has proven to be clutch in big time moments.
Attack of the Beas
Ever since Michael Beasley was inserted into the Bucks starting lineup against the Pacers last Saturday night, the veteran has proven to be a godsend. With Parker out of the starting lineup, Beas has given meaning the phrase “next man up” as he should. When the Bucks traded for the former No. 2 overall pick after the Middleton injury in training camp, his job was to simply put the ball in the hoop. In 47 games this season with Milwaukee, Beas has averaged 9.2 points and 3.6 rebounds while shooting a career high 53.2% from the field. The problem? He was stuck sharing minutes at times with Mirza Teletovic while playing behind Parker.
With Parker out of the equation, it may just be a blessing in disguise as it will allow Beas to play more freely with consistent minutes on a nightly basis. When Michael is in rhythm and has it going, he’s arguably one of the best pure scorers in the league. The knock on him has always been his lack of heart and focus due to his immaturity. Now at 28 years old with nearly 10 years of professional experience in the NBA and China, he has learned to play unselfishly within an NBA system while still being an aggressive scorer.
He couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity to showcase his game as he gets set to be a free agent next summer. In his first three starts of the season, he’s averaged nearly 15 points, four rebounds, 2.3 assists, and a steal while playing 27 minutes per game. In Milwaukee’s 102-89 win over Detroit on Monday, he dropped 23 points on 10-13 shooting to go along with four assists, three rebounds, and three steals. That kind of production will not only help the Bucks make a playoff push but it should certainly help him secure a pretty decent payday next summer.
Moose Getting Loose
While still coming off the bench, Greg Monroe continues to be the Bucks most consistent big man this season. With Miles Plumlee now gone, John Henson seemingly in Kidd’s doghouse and Thon Maker in the starting lineup but with limited run, the Moose continues to feast on defenses across the league. His numbers are down from his first season as a Buck, but if you watched games from last year to this year it’s hard not to notice how efficient he’s been in a reserve role. His 11.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.1 assists averages may not jump out at you but his PER of 22.36 while playing just under 22 minutes per game definitely should. Despite acquiring Roy Hibbert and Spencer Hawes via trade, neither has seen the floor yet.
It’s a tough situation for the Bucks and Monroe, who has an $18 million dollar player option for next season. It would be logical to move him so they at least get something in return if he does indeed decide to walk, but how do you trade a guy who has played as well as he has all season long on both ends of the floor. Not to mention his chemistry with guys like rookie Malcolm Brogdon and Michael Beasley are hard to ignore. With the trade deadline coming up, John Hammond and the Bucks front office have a huge decision to make. Is it worth it to keep him in order to hopefully sneak into the playoffs or do you build for the future? At this point, I’d rather see him ride it out. Milwaukee has publically tried to trade Monroe for months but his old school skillset isn’t too enticing for other teams around the league. Who knows, he seems to like Milwaukee and could decide to opt in if he doesn’t think he will get a long-term deal worth $18 million a year from another team this summer.
Nonetheless, Moose has been extremely important to the Bucks success this season. After back-to-back 25-point games in Milwaukee’s last two wins, he’s averaging a season-high 14.4 points in February while playing 24 minutes per game. His value is at an all-time high so it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Bucks moved him, but his presence on this team will be crucial down the stretch.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has already generated a lot of buzz around the league this season with the numbers he’s been putting up, and that continued this past weekend on the national stage with his first All-Star appearance. Just four years removed from playing in the equivalent of division II basketball in Greece, the Greek Freak has become a well-known superstar to the rest of the basketball universe. Not only was he the first Buck to play in an All-Star game since Michael Redd’s lone appearance back in 2004, but was also the first Milwaukee starter since Sydney Moncrief back in 1986.
After his team-high 30-point performance on Sunday night in New Orleans, it’s safe to say that he’s no longer just a spectacle. He’s become one of those must-see players when the Bucks play in other respective NBA cities. The overwhelming attention Giannis received at All-Star weekend is no joke and it was very much deserved. There were many story lines heading into to the game including Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook being reunited on the floor together, but a lot of people couldn’t wait to see Giannis and he didn’t disappoint. Here’s a recap of Antetokounmpo’s NBA All-Star debut.
With the East losing 192-182 to the West, Pelicans forward Anthony Davis received the MVP after scoring an All-Star game record 52 points to go along with 10 rebounds and two steals in 32 minutes. Davis’ performance was no coincidence as he was playing in front of his hometown fans. LeBron and Giannis, the two best players in the Eastern conference, sat for all of the fourth quarter except for when Antetokounmpo was put in for the final minute to leave the fans with one final lasting impression. Obviously the All-Star game is just a glorified exhibition with a lack of defense but one can’t ignore that if Giannis had gotten more minutes with the East being victorious, then he would have been the most likely candidate to take home the MVP. More importantly, Giannis leaves with an unforgettable experience while coming back to Milwaukee injury free and ready for the second half.
As much fun as it was to see Giannis put on a show in NOLA, it’s time to get back to reality as the Bucks look to build off their current three-game winning streak. The chemistry between Giannis and Jabari will have to be put on hold for 12 months, but now the Bucks get to see how he works alongside Khris Middleton for the rest of the season.
Second Half Outlook
The Bucks are in an awkward spot at the moment. One could call it basketball purgatory. It’s been that way for most of the past decade. They are either fighting for a playing spot or find themselves in the back half of the lottery. Most would like to see them just tank now after the Parker injury and try to get a higher draft pick with a ton of young talent available. Then there are some that would like to see them push forward and get into the playoffs even if it means losing in the first round as a 6-8 seed. At the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with playoff experience especially for a young team.
It will all depend on what the front office decides to do this week with the trade deadline coming up on Thursday. There are many intriguing pieces the Bucks could move to set themselves up for the future if they decide to sell. Greg Monroe, Michael Beasley, Roy Hibbert, Spencer Hawes and Jason Terry are all expiring or have a player option for next season. They could rid themselves of those contracts in hopes of finding young talent to build around the big three. Other guys like John Henson, Mirza Teletovic and Matthew Dellavedova all have multiple years on their contracts but I’m sure Milwaukee wouldn’t mind getting rid of them in order to improve their roster.
Milwaukee hasn’t been one to throw in the towel and I don’t think they have given up on this season. The most important name in this scenario is head coach Jason Kidd. He seems to be the X-factor in all of this. No one really knows how much power he has beyond head coach but he will undoubtedly be in on a lot of decision making. Judging by his coaching style, no one really knows what he’s thinking. Sometimes his rotations suggest that he’s not worried about whether the team wins or loses while he messes around too much with different lineups. It’s obvious the Bucks aren’t ready to contend for a title yet so it would be logical to just cut their losses and become big time sellers at the deadline. However, don’t be surprised if they stay put and ride it out with what they have. Stay tuned.