Just 2:49 into the first quarter on Monday night, the 19-year-old Milwaukee Bucks rookie and second overall draft pick was called for a questionable charge on new Knicks point guard Jose Calderon. It was his second personal foul of the game and would normally earn a player a quick trip to the bench. But on this night, a preseason battle meant for learning experiences and deciding teams’ final roster slots, new Milwaukee head coach Jason Kidd left Parker in the game to fend for himself. “I think we wanted to see him play with a little foul trouble,” Kidd told SheridanHoops. “He’s a rookie. He’s going to be in foul trouble. So no better way to learn then to play in preseason with how to play through fouls.”
Though Parker was hardly dominant in the Bucks’ 120-107 preseason win over the Knicks, he still found a way to stay out of further foul trouble and make a solid contribution to the game. Parker missed six of his nine field goal attempts, but still finished with 13 points and six rebounds by taking a game-high 11 free throws, two more than Carmelo Anthony. By the way, he only committed one more foul the rest of the game.
“It’s just teaching me how to learn playing smart,” Parker told SheridanHoops about playing with two early fouls. “Just keeping me out there to experience it [was important] because there will be times where I’ll be in foul trouble and I just have to play through it.”
It’s just one of many early lessons for a young player on an extremely young team. Kidd described how he teaches his young Bucks, mainly through repetition in practice sessions and on film. “You have to show them, walk them through it,” Kidd said. “Then show them again, show it on video, walk them through it.”
Those lessons Parker is learning on and off the court are juxtaposed with the expectations being placed on him from players and coaches to the media and fans. How’s this for expectations? Kidd compared Parker to another former Duke standout, Grant Hill.
“Everyone will talk about his scoring, his athletic ability, but what I like is that he tries to make the right plays to his teammates,” Kidd said. “He passes the ball, it’s not all about scoring. He wants to win. He cheers his teammates on. That’s kind of cool to see when you’re 19 years old and you have a lot of people asking you to do different things. He’s all about doing his job, and that’s getting better.”
Parker mentioned that he was surprised by how quickly he’s had to learn the NBA game, which is a direct product of the expectations placed on him to become one of the team’s top options right away. “Unlike other rookies, I’m playing right away,” Parker said. “So I’ve really had to do things twice as fast.”
Parker’s positive responses over the course of training camp and the preseason likely comes from his character and his work ethic, which everyone interviewed for this story gushed about. And when you combine the natural talent Parker has, coming from high school in Chicago to his one year at Duke, with his make-up you get one very good basketball who draws a lot of praise.
Milwaukee General Manager John Hammond seemed quite satisfied with Parker’s development as a player and as a young man.
“What we’ve had a chance to see is an extremely high-quality person who loves the game and wants to be a great player,” Hammond told SheridanHoops. “But what he stands for as a person is just about important as any of that. Jabari’s got a chance to be a very good player in this league. He’s going to work extremely hard to make himself the best he can be and I think he has the character to go along with that.”
For Parker to become the best player he can, the team has been putting him in difficult game situations, like leaving him in with early foul trouble, to see how he’ll react.
“We’ve put him in late-game situations to take shots or make plays for his teammates and he’s responded positively,” Kidd said.
One late-game situation occurred on Friday when Milwaukee played Minnesota and Parker spun and the lane and emphatically dunked for what ended up being the winning basket. That play drew unsolicited praise from Henson and guard Nate Wolters.
“Most rookies might have settled,” Henson said of that Parker dunk, but the rookie had the presence of mind to make that play in a confined space to help his team win.
Being that complete player who can excel on both ends of the floor and in critical, high-leverage situations is rare, and Hammond did not take the comparison Kidd made —of Parker to Grant Hill— lightly. Hammond was an assistant coach with Detroit for Hill’s first three seasons in the league, giving him a unique perspective on both players.
“I can tell you this. Grant was on his way to having a Hall Of Fame career, and maybe still could be, but what Grant stood for as a person is on a completely other level,” Hammond said. “If I hear a comparison like that, I start with the person first. And what Grant stood for in his career, and still stands for today, Jabari is going to be in that same mode.”
Kidd said that he and his coaching staff will help Parker smooth out the mental aspect of his game, which Kidd described as a million things going through his head on both ends of the floor. Wolters pointed out that Parker is already playing multiple positions, even guarding power forwards at times, and every small aspect Parker brings to the Bucks is what made Hammond draft him second overall in a loaded June draft.
“You put all that together and you hope you have a real culture piece as you move forward,” Hammond said.
Alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo, John Henson, Larry Sanders and others, Hammond hopes that Parker will develop into a cornerstone piece for a franchise that likely hit rock bottom a season ago. So what does Hammond expect from Parker in his rookie season?
“To get a great body of work, a great body of experience,” Hammond said. “For him to hopefully have some very good games, continue to improve. You don’t want to put too much undue pressure on him but we hope he’s the kind of player, along with some of the other guys on our roster, that will bring hope to our fans.”
Shlomo Sprung is a national columnist for SheridanHoops who loves advanced statistics and the way they explain what happens on the court. He is also the web editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, The Sporting News, Business Insider and other publications. You should follow him on Twitter.