Last night, things were supposed to start looking up for the Milwaukee Bucks. Going into their game against the Heat having lost 10 of their last 12, they were finally getting back Khris Middleton—their best two-way player last year—after a hamstring injury had sidelined him for the season's first 50 games.
Instead, the game brought new devastation when Jabari Parker's knee gave out on a third quarter drive, and he had to be helped off the floor by teammates. That Parker tore an ACL in the same left knee early in his rookie season wasn't lost on anyone; it wasn't five minutes before the broadcast replayed the 2014 injury, and the plays looked eerily similar. The preliminary diagnosis was a knee sprain, but on Thursday, Parker was diagnosed with another ACL tear.
Though the realization of Giannis Antetokounmpo's elastic potential has been the national story coming out of Milwaukee this year, Parker's growth into a dynamite offensive counterpunch has been similarly crucial to the Bucks surprising playoff contention. An absolute wrecking ball at 6'8" and 250 pounds, Parker is arguably the most explosive player in the league, and his blend of thermonuclear athleticism and old-school stylings make him a unique joy to watch. Parker and Antetokounmpo in transition have been a gruesome Final Fantasy for opponents—perhaps the Bucks most unstoppable weapon.
Parker has been averaging 20 points per game in an offense that occasionally starves for halfcourt creation, and the Bucks will look to Middleton to fill that hole. But the irreplaceable contribution—and a more illuminating statistic—is Parker's sustained assault on the rim. At 91 dunks this season, he is 7th in the league, which puts him behind Giannis and a bunch of centers; there are more tomahawks in the 91 than putbacks, and they generally sound like high-speed car crashes.
The tear means another false start for a franchise that seemed set to take off with Middleton's return. The Giannis-Jabari-Middleton troika is the most promising young core in the league—all three are just entering their primes—and under a new collective bargaining agreement intended to slow down the relocation of young stars, the Bucks, who already have three, have a shot to one day be the last surviving superteam. But because of the injuries to Middleton and Parker, that combination has played only 84 games together in two and a half seasons (including last night). The Bucks marketing line for the last few years has been #OwnTheFuture, but that future has never seemed more out of human control.
If there's any positive takeaway here, it's that Parker has rehabbed this knee before and returned with seemingly even greater force. For now, he'll need to heed his own advice.