Jabari Parker’s career has been derailed by two devastating knee injuries. Know, with the Atlanta Hawks, he’s finally found his footing.
Most of Parker’s past failures can’t be put on just him. When drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks with the No. 2 overall pick, he was supposed to be the key piece to the core of Brandon Knight, Larry Sanders, a raw Giannis Antetokounmpo, a young Khris Middleton and Michael Carter-Williams (later in the season).
Sadly he wasn’t able to do that right away — he tore the ACL in his left knee just 25 games into his rookie year, disrupting a promising campaign where he was averaging 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds. Despite coming off a torn ACL, Parker showed improvement during his second year, playing in 76 games and averaging 14.1 points.
It was in his third year that he was finally looking like a former second overall pick. Parker was looking like a borderline All-Star, averaging 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists, while converting 49.0 percent from the floor and 36.5 percent from deep. He was slashing, handling the ball and finishing at the rim with authority. Then the worst thing possible happened.
Parker tore the ACL in his left knee for the second time in a three year span.
In a remarkable turnaround, he returned to game action the following season, but it was clear he wasn’t the same player. He’d only play one more season with the Bucks after his injury before signing with the Chicago Bulls the following summer. The Bulls traded him halfway through the season to the Washington Wizards.
For the last two seasons with the Bucks, Bulls and Wizards, Parker played the worst basketball of his career. Defense was never his calling card but he struggled even more with his athleticism diminished from the two injuries. His offense wasn’t at the same level either and he only averaged 12.6 points and 14.5 points in each of the past two seasons, respectively, Struggling to hit from the outside or create for himself efficiently around the basket.
However, Parker landed in the right situation for himself this offseason by signing with Atlanta. The Hawks already had a young duo to build around in point guard Trae Young and power forward John Collins. Parker had no pressure to be the first or second option on offense. With the Hawks, he could come off the bench and provide scoring, while not having to worry about making too many defensive mistakes against other team’s second units.
Parker has thrived as a reserve this season, averaging 13.8 points off the bench. However, Collins was slapped with a 25-game suspension for violating the NBA’s Anti-Drug Program. That opened the door for Parker to become the Hawks starting power forward and he’s taken things to another level.
For the season, Parker is averaging 16.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.5 steals (a career-high). Parker has had seven games this season in which he’s scored over 20 points, including a 33-point outing against the Bucks.
The Hawks aren’t asking Parker to do too many things on offense either. They have him finishing mostly in the paint. 43.9 percent of his shots are coming within three feet of the basket, which is the second-highest percentage of his career. And 19.3 percent of all his field goals have been dunks this season, which is a career-high. In a sign of how much he’s benefiting from Trae Young’s passing, 62.0 percent of his dunks have been assisted upon this season, which is the second-highest mark of his career.
Having him work near the paint seems to have paid off. The Hawks are maximizing Parker’s skills as a pick-and-roll player who has the ability to finish strong in the paint.
Now he’s not been perfect, he still has a bad game occasionally and he’s only shooting 27.6 percent from downtown. However, it’s good to see a player whose future was once derailed by injuries finally starting to look like his former self. His comeback season, paired with the show he puts in the paint, makes it hard not to have him as a player to watch moving forward.