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St. Francis — Zoom, zoom.

Now you see Jabari Parker, if you're an opponent trying to defend that explosive first step.

Now you don't.

The soon-to-be 21-year-old has taken off — literally — since the all-star break and is displaying the talents the Milwaukee Bucks knew he had when they chose him No. 2 overall in the 2014 NBA draft.

The latest example was a career-best 36-point performance Monday night in the Bucks' 128-121 victory over the Houston Rockets. The 6-foot-8 Parker soared for dunks, hit his mid-range jumper and even tossed in a corner three-pointer off an assist from the Bucks' new point man, Giannis Antetokounmpo.

"I want to build good habits and I want to be persistent," Parker said after practice Tuesday at the Cousins Center. "Regardless of the stat line, I just try to make the best plays."

The stat lines have been impressive. Parker had 28 points and 13 rebounds in the Bucks' double-overtime victory in Atlanta on Feb. 20. That night he played 51 minutes and soaked his tired feet in an ice tub long after the game ended.

On Monday he hit 16 of 25 shots on his way to 36 points while adding five assists and four rebounds in 40 minutes.

There's more to come and that's what has Bucks fans excited despite the team's disappointing record this season.

Parker played only 25 games in his rookie season before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, a huge setback for the player most experts thought would be the NBA rookie of the year.

He worked hard over the summer to return and was back in the lineup in the first week of November, but Parker still had plenty of adjusting to do.

"Coming from a serious knee injury, it's just putting in the time and feeling comfortable," Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. "Short time at Duke; gets drafted, new situation. A lot of expectations right away and then he has the knee injury.

"It's hard as an athlete being hurt and being out when you want to be a part of it. Then all summer working on getting his knee right.

"You could see when he came back from Toronto (a few weeks ago), just confidence. Playing with his peers. It was letting everybody know, 'I can play. You guys might have written me off, but just give me some time.'"

Parker played in the Rising Stars Challenge featuring first- and second-year players during the all-star weekend in Toronto. He blocked Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis and produced a highlight-reel dunk to show he belonged.

Since the break, Parker has averaged 22.8 points and 8.0 rebounds in six games while impressing teammates and opponents.

"He's out there having fun now," said Bucks guard Khris Middleton. "I think that him being selected (for the Rising Stars game) made him realize he was doing something right, so he took it and ran with it."

Parker sees his progress a bit differently, saying he always had confidence in himself but had to find the right path.

"In the beginning (of the season) I was second-guessing myself," he said. "Right now I'm just trying to cause a problem.

"It takes some time to get everything going. You've got to remember, I hadn't played all year until November. It was kind of tough with my body and my coordination.

"I don't like making excuses. I just want to get better every day, regardless of my circumstance."

One amazing part of Parker's game is his lightning-quick first step, something Kidd said reminds him of former Arizona and NBA star Sean Elliott.

It's not often seen in a big man and it makes Parker an exciting player to watch when he attacks the basket.

"He has a very explosive first step, and you put behind that the athletic ability, he's a special kid," Kidd said. "You don't expect that type of speed and he has it."

Rockets coach J.B. Bickerstaff wasn't stunned after watching Parker's big game Monday.

"We've watched film on him," Bickerstaff said. "We saw him in college. That's what he does. He has the ability to knock that (medium-range) shot down. He has a quick first step.

"He plays quickly off the catch. He doesn't do a lot of holding or playing with the ball. He just catches it and gets to a spot."

Parker is learning on the defensive end and is fouling less, something that allows him to stay in games longer.

"It's improving a lot," Kidd said of his defense. "All rookies have to figure out the NBA sets; they all struggle. He's getting better each time he takes the floor and he's starting to recognize what play is coming."

Parker has not made the three-pointer a regular part of his arsenal, but he drilled one from the corner in the fourth quarter Monday.

"People only get to see game time and they don't get to see in the lab," Kidd said. "He spends a lot of time shooting.

"His confidence will grow with the three-point shot. He wants to do the right thing, not just fire off threes and hopefully make one. He plays the game the right way; he's a winner."

Parker's rise has come at the same time Antetokounmpo has taken over as the primary ball handler and is putting up some staggering numbers of his own (17.3 points, 12 rebounds, 7.2 assists since the break).

One of the coaching staff's priorities is to establish that solid connection between the two young players, who along with Middleton form the cornerstone of the team's future.

Parker and Antetokounmpo shared some alley-oops against the Rockets, including an unselfish pass by Parker off the backboard that the Greek Freak dunked in the second quarter.

"That's my favorite play," Parker said. "It just shows I'm willing to sacrifice my own plays to make a better play.

"I think the more chances we get to play alongside each other, we get a better feel for where we want to be on the floor. It's just the experiences we build are helping us. I loved every bit of it (Monday)."

Kidd is happy to see the duo clicking.

"Look, they're the future and they're the now," Kidd said. "They've spent a lot of time together in the partnerships and things we do on the floor.

"We've moved Giannis onto the ball and you can see it has benefited both of them. We want this instant gratification where it just happens overnight. But if we're patient, there will be something bigger and better."
http://www.jsonline.com/sports/bucks/bucks-jabari-parker-takes-explosive-first-step-toward-greatness-b99678959z1-370743981.html
 
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