The NBA season has reached the midpoint, and while teams like the Warriors, Rockets and Celtics have lived up to their expectations thus far, others find themselves struggling to get things right and perform consistently.

The Milwaukee Bucks played well down the stretch last season and after losing a hard fought series with the Toronto Raptors in six games, expectations for the 2017-2018 season were for the team to continue to trend upward and become a force in the East.

Instead, the Bucks find themselves in a very similar position compared to this time last year. Milwaukee is 23-22 through 45 games this season, putting them eighth in the East. The team was 21-24 through their first 45 contests in 2016-2017, fighting to make their way into the playoff picture.

While the Bucks have had to deal with minor injuries to players like Tony Snell, Mirza Teletovic and Matthew Dellavedova, no injury looms larger than forward Jabari Parker’s ACL tear dating back to last February. Parker was coming into his own during his third year as a professional, averaging career highs in points, rebounds and assists while also expanding his offensive game beyond the three point line.

The former second overall pick was turning into a star alongside superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, but after his injury the Bucks have transformed dramatically. Khris Middleton has played a major role in filling Parker’s role by averaging over 20 points per game, Malcolm Brogdon stepped up bigtime and ended up winning the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award, and of course the arrival of star point guard Eric Bledsoe has changed the way the Bucks operate.

So how will things work when Jabari returns to the court? Parker told NBA.com last week that he expects to return in early February, a week or two before the All-Star break. With minute restrictions and built in rest days likely to be put in place during the early going, the immediate impact may not be enough to get the Bucks over the hump to start winning more consistently, but once he gets in the swing of things Parker should help Milwaukee right the ship in a few critical categories that the team has struggled with this season.

The Bucks currently rank 18th in points per game and 17th in points allowed per game, two areas a healthy Jabari Parker should help improve. His offensive capabilities around the rim should help take some defensive pressure off of Antetokounmpo and Bledsoe who often draw multiple defenders as they slash to the hoop, and his ability to spread the floor and shoot threes will open up jump shots for shooters like Middleton, Snell and Brogdon.

Defensively, the Bucks are thin in the post. After trading Greg Monroe to acquire Eric Bledsoe, John Henson has played well in his new role, but with 20 year old Thon Maker being the only other legitimate big man on the team, Milwaukee has struggled on the glass. The team is dead last in the NBA in total rebounds grabbed, and have been outrebounded by 145 on the season. Parker’s return will not completely resolve the Bucks’ rebounding woes, but at 6’8 and 250lbs, he adds another big body to work in the paint and grab rebounds.

If Parker and the Bucks are able to get things going during the month of February and climb the Eastern conference standings like they did last year, Milwaukee presents a lengthy roster that nobody will look forward to facing come playoffs time.

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