NBA

Jabari Parker was leading the NBA's rookie of the year race in mid-December. Then he tore his ACL, ending his season and candidacy. And the Bucks, amid a surprising 13-12 start after having the worst record in the NBA the season before, never broke stride.

Season-ending injuries, especially to key contributors, especially early in a season, can often spark panic and lead things astray. But the Bucks instead used Parker's injury as a chance to expand other players' roles. They won 41 games and finished sixth in the Eastern Conference in Jason Kidd's first year at the helm.

MORE: Greatest players in Bucks history | Why Milwaukee can contend — NOW

In Parker's absence, Giannis Antetkounmpo and Khris Middleton found chemistry, with the latter establishing himself enough to earn a five-year, $70 million contract this offseason. While their emergence was welcomed by the Bucks with open arms, it makes Parker's exact fit less clear coming into next season than it would have been had they folded after his injury.

There are worse problems for a coach to have.

Parker and Antetokounmpo are both world-class prospects, but both score in very similar ways. They both like to get to the rim. They're slashers. Parker is strong, skilled, and a good finisher. In his injury-stunted season, he finished with a level of savvy and competence unseen from a teenage wing in years. Antetokounmpo also finishes at the rim, but in a much more freak-of-nature-with-neverending-arms sort of way.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing — a team can always use multiple athletic, big slashers — but neither has proven great shooting range, and that's a problem. That's why bringing back Middleton, albeit for a hefty price tag, was especially important.

Parker and Antetokounmpo averaged a combined 1.1 3-point attempts a game last season — a disappointment considering Parker's solid shooting range at Duke. But Middleton averaged 3.0 attempts a game and shoots a f

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antastic 40.7 percent from deep.

Parker uses power and footwork to get to the hole. Antetokounmpo uses his long arms and athleticism. But it's Middleton's ability off the ball that makes them a potentially good mesh of wings going into next year.

While Kidd figures out lineups for this trio of skillsets, the idea of starting all three of them is, at the very least, fun. With Michael Carter-Williams running the point, and Greg Monroe manning the middle, is there a more exciting trio to round out a fun starting five than their three other best players, all of whom are under 25? John Henson blocks shots and could play next to Monroe, while O.J. Mayo could help Carter-Williams as a traditional shooting guard. But those options aren't as much fun.

Parker, Middleton, Antetokounmpo only played 86 minutes on the floor together last year, and the results were iffy. The Bucks shot just 42 percent during those minutes, but was also (not surprisngly) one of their most efficient lineups at getting to the free throw line. It should also be noted that this lineup never saw the floor with Carter-Williams, who was traded for at the deadline last February. It should also be noted that the guy that saw the most action with them, Brandon Knight, was having an All-Star-caliber year during this span.

But the trio produced 90 points per 100 possessions, 28 percent shooting on 3-pointers and a -12.8 point differential when they were in the game together. Obviously, it's hard to depict what a group is going to look like in just 86 minutes, but it shouldn't come as a surprise that a group of youngsters with overlapping skill sets didn't feel each other out on the floor instantly.

But here's the thing: They could figure each other out. They're young enough and on contracts that give them plenty of time to do it, and they play within an offense that provides lots of ball and player movement. Things could get very fun as these three develop.

The long-term hope is that 20-year-old Parker will be the one to take the scoring load. Antetokounmpo, also 20, has playmaking potential and absurd size for a perimeter player, but he is more of a do-everything type. And Middleton has his own role, though he looked good as the team's leading scorer in the playoffs against the Bulls. Parker will need to earn that scoring role, along with the trust of teammates who did well without him last year.

But they're all in Milwaukee now, and for the first time in a long time, they're all healthy. And while their fit may not be perfect, it may work just well enough to make things fun for Milwaukee come playoff time. As the three of them continue to develop, figure out each others' ticks on the floor, and establish a chemistry, they may not seem so similar afterall. This might work.

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