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With Jabari Parker on mend from knee injury, Bucks could add to young frontcourt in NBA draft

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ST. FRANCIS, Wisconsin — The most important first-round draft pick to suit up for the Bucks this fall will be the lottery selection that played a little more than a quarter of a season in Milwaukee.

Forward Jabari Parker is on the mend from a left knee injury that ended his rookie year after 25 games.

General manager John Hammond remains cautiously optimistic about Parker's knee and a timeline for when the second overall selection in last year's draft could return. But Hammond couldn't be more pleased with Parker's workout habits.

The 6-foot-8 forward has been spotted going through vigorous upper body exercises while rookie prospects for this year's draft work out for coach Jason Kidd and team brass.

"I get two questions every day. First, how is Jabari? Number two, when will he be back? I always say nothing has changed," Hammond said Monday. "He looks great today. He's feeling good. We're just not putting any timetable on him."

But the Bucks like what they have seen from Parker, who, at just 20 years old, has become a hard-working face of the franchise despite limited time. He averaged 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds last season.

Listed at 240 pounds, Parker appears to be getting better prepared for the rigors of life in the paint in the NBA. After one workout, Bucks scouting director Billy McKinney jokingly yelled at Parker to keep the noise level down while he was swinging a giant workout ball from side-to-side, banging it against a wall each time.

"I think this is the first time he's really had a chance to dedicate himself to his body, getting bigger, getting stronger. Our hope is, and I think it is very realistic, that I think Jabari could come back bigger, better, stronger after the injury," Hammond said.

The more immediate focus is on who will join Parker when the Bucks pick 17th overall in the NBA draft on Thursday. While there's less pressure a year after picking second overall, the task itself is a bit more challenging for Hammond.

The Bucks have narrowed their wish list to four or five players. Their top needs are a big man who can rebound and defend; and an outside shooter. In terms of body type, versatile, lengthy players — like the 6-foot-11 Giannis Antetokounmpo — are attractive to the defensive-minded Bucks.

"You know you hope you can maybe get a rotation player," Hammond said. "Sometimes in that range you can get a little luckier, maybe get a starter in a bit. Hopefully it's a keeper piece and a player that can be a contributor."

Frontcourt prospects who might fit into the Bucks' plans include UCLA's Kevon Looney, Louisville's Montrezl Harrell and Arkansas' Bobby Portis. UNLV's Christian Wood, a 6-foot-11 forward who averaged 15.2 points and 10.1 rebounds in his sophomore season, worked out for the Bucks on Monday.

"A lot of GMs told me they don't really look at any mock drafts, which is kind of a good thing because I thought they do," Wood said. "Right now, every GM I've talked to hasn't said anything bad about me, so I think I'm good."

Whatever need Hammond decides to fill in the draft, the other need could be filled by trade or free agency. And this year, the Bucks look a lot more attractive with an up-and-coming roster, plus more financial flexibility thanks to the trade of veteran forward Ersan Ilysova to the Detroit Pistons.

That deal itself doesn't necessarily impact what Hammond will do on Thursday in the first round. Regardless, the general manager has shown to be a shrewd judge of frontcourt talent in recent years.

Parker was a no-brainer last season, but Hammond gambled with the virtually unknown Antetokounmpo in 2013 with the 15th overall pick. In 2012, the Bucks took John Henson with the 14th overall selection. All three players are now key pieces up front.

A pair of University of Wisconsin players projected to be first-rounders — center Frank Kaminsky and forward Sam Dekker — have not worked out for the Bucks, though that doesn't mean Milwaukee isn't interested. The Bucks are well aware of the duo who played barely 90 minutes away in Madison.

"We could easily be drafting a guy that potentially didn't work out for us," Hammond said.

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