Jabari Parker will return from his ACL injury this season, and the 22-year-old will also take the Milwaukee Bucks to the next level.

On Feb. 8, 2017, Jabari Parker tore his ACL during a game against the Miami Heat. It was his second time experiencing the injury, and, initially, he was given a 12-month timetable to return. A couple of months have passed, and the Bucks forward has been positive throughout the rehab process, telling ESPN’s Nick Friedell that he feels “great.”

“I tell myself every day I couldn’t be in a better situation because it’s going to make me a great man at the end of the day. It’s going to make me mentally tough and it’s going to help me for the future.” He elaborated extensively, and highlighted how he’s approaching it with a different mindset this time around:

“As of right now, the way I treat my body, it doesn’t have a date. I can give you a little piece of information: I’m not the average person with this injury. Obviously I had it once, but I’ve done stuff so far that’s exciting. But most importantly, I want to be able to jump as high, jump higher than I was, be faster than I was. That’s the only way I’ll play again.

“Me getting hurt the second time has helped me embrace (rehab and recovery) stronger than I did the first one. It gave me that mentality (of) I don’t give a **** no more. Excuse my language, but I just don’t,” Parker said. “If it happens (again), it happens. But I’m not going to let that hold me back. And if it happens again, I’m just going to do the same stuff I was before.”

The most disheartening part of Parker’s injury was that it came at the worst time. After showing a slight improvement in his sophomore campaign, he was exploding in year three and put up 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists with a true shooting percentage of 56.3 — all of those were career-highs. Parker is the ideal complement to Giannis Antetokounmpo, and his expanding offense only makes the Bucks better.

Although he’s a mediocre shooter from outside, a 10.8 point improvement (25.7 to 36.5 percent) is nothing to scoff at, and Parker did a great job of incorporating triples without overdosing on them. Only 178 of Parker’s 814 attempts came from downtown, and that meant he could get a majority of his looks around the basket, which is where he excels.

He converted 63.9 percent of the shots inside of five feet, per Synergy. It’s not an other-worldly percentage (18th among players with at least 300 attempts), but it gives Milwaukee two legitimate options who can score almost at will inside the restricted area — only Houston, Denver and Indiana can say that.

Parker, like most new-school wings, is comfortable with putting the ball on the floor and going downhill. His robust 250-pound frame lets him shed smaller defenders like mosquitos on a windshield, and he’s a shockingly explosive athlete. Parker elevates with such power and can finish over the NBA’s longest rim protectors, and that also means he can throw down court-shattering dunks over any mere mortal who dares to challenge him. However, when you watch him play, it’s weird to see someone like me use the term “shocking” when talking about Parker.

Nov 16, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Kent Bazemore (24) fights for a loose ball with Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) and forward Jabari Parker (12) during the second half at Philips Arena. The Hawks defeated the Bucks 107-100. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 16, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Kent Bazemore (24) fights for a loose ball with Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) and forward Jabari Parker (12) during the second half at Philips Arena. The Hawks defeated the Bucks 107-100. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, he has a big frame, but he doesn’t look like someone who can jump out of the gym. Unlike LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler or Giannis, Parker isn’t a super-chiseled guy, therefore creating some deception. I guess that’s why my parents told me not to judge a book by its cover. Once he takes the court, it doesn’t matter. He could be 450 pounds but if he’s getting buckets, so be it. What also attributes to my phrasing is the previous ACL injury. It’s very rare to see someone come back with the same leaping power they had before, just look at Derrick Rose. He’s someone who’s nowhere near the athlete he was before.

As I mentioned briefly, Parker’s three-point shot is significantly improved. This works wonders for Milwaukee. Being a sidekick to Giannis means being able to shoot. Since the Greek Freak doesn’t have a reliable jumper yet, Parker is one of the eight guys who assume the role of floor-spacer. Milwaukee made 37 percent of their triples this year, but not all of their shooters have the offensive versatility Parker has. If the defender closes out hard, he can attack and continue to swing the rock.

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Parker doesn’t have many flaws in his game, but defense is certainly one. He’s not the worst defender in the world, but he’s also not going to impact the game on that end. Despite all the athleticism and explosiveness, it’s a struggle for Parker to muster up aggressiveness in the passing lanes and he’s not much of a rim protector. The Bucks gave up 112.1 points per 100 possessions with Parker on compared to 107.3 when he sat, and Synergy noted that opponents shot 40.1 percent from three when guarded by him, which is 4.6 percentage points above their average.

Milwaukee is a puzzling team on defense. They have a surplus of length — Parker included (7-0 wingspan) — which affects outside shooters, and opponents hit just 35.3 percent of their threes. The head-scratching starts as soon as someone crosses into two point land. Teams slaughter the Bucks by nailing 51.2 percent of their twos, but they do it by consistently hitting shots from all over. As much as Parker impacts this, it’s a team thing. Conversely, if they ever reach premier status, they’ll be able to hide Parker because I don’t have much faith in him improving dramatically as a defender.

This upcoming season isn’t a make-or-break one for Jabari Parker. There’s no reason to rush back from rehab. Even without him, the Bucks are stable enough to stay in the middle of the conference. By the time he returns for the second half of year, then Milwaukee becomes much scarier. Parker’s a guy who can get to the rim and will and is someone who you must defend on the perimeter, and I’m convinced that the Bucks are beating Toronto in these past playoffs if he’s healthy. Giannis can’t do everything by himself, and Parker is more than equipped enough to alleviate some of the duties from his rising-superstar teammate.

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