For the second time in three NBA seasons, Jabari Parker has gone down with an ACL tear in his left knee. MRI results confirmed the extent of the injury on Thursday and the Milwaukee Bucks announced that Parker is expected to miss 12 months while recovering and rehabilitating.
What a tough blow for one of the game's bright young power forwards, who doesn't turn 22 until March 15 and was in the midst of a career-year, averaging 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1 steal and 1.3 3s per game.
That's the toughest part about this news -- just how far Parker had come from his first ACL injury. Not only did he regain the athleticism that made him a standout in high school and at Duke, but he also shed weight and added to his game by expanding his range beyond the 3-point arc after averaging less than one 3 per game in his first two seasons.
Parker also showed more willingness as a passer, approaching three assists per game after never going above 1.7 APG in his first two years in the league.
This injury casts at least some doubts about his future, being that it's the second time he suffered a torn ACL in the same knee. Will Parker ever returns to the level he was playing at this season as an efficient, physical power forward who could also stretch the defense? That remains to be seen. And whether Parker can hold up and avoid another serious knee injury for the remainder of his career -- that, too, is a big question that nobody knows the answer to.
What we do know is this: Without Parker, the Bucks are a much different team, and it's going to be up to Giannis Antetokounmpo -- and the now-available Khris Middleton -- to pick up the point production on a team that otherwise lacks scorers.
As ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton points out in his story about the Parker injury, Antetokounmpo has actually played better with Parker on the bench this season (per NBA.com/Stats data). Pelton believes that could be the result of improved floor spacing. Whatever the reason, it tells you that more points could be in the Greek Freak's future for the rest of the season.
A case could be made that Antetokounmpo also will have to play more minutes, because the Bucks no longer have the luxury of riding Parker as the primary scorer whenever Antetokounmpo heads to the bench. While Middleton has a chance to be that guy and fill that role eventually, he's not the natural scorer that Parker is and it's going to take some time for Middleton to be at full strength after missing the first 50 games while recovering from a torn hamstring.
The Bucks might need to use Middleton more at small forward now, while veterans Mirza Teletovic and Michael Beasley handle the power forward duties. Teletovic and Beasley are limited aside from scoring, which limits their value in season-long fantasy leagues, even if they play 20-plus minutes a night. Of the two, Teletovic is more of a 3-point threat, largely because he takes more shots from beyond the arc, while Beasley is the better rebounder.
At the end of the day, though, the story here is about Parker, who joins Zach LaVine as the second bright young talent to go down in the past week with a season-ending and perhaps career-altering ACL injury.