Should Milwaukee Bucks Give Brandon Jennings a Contract Extension?

Ethan Sherwood StraussNBA Lead WriterAugust 31, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 26:  Brandon Jennings #3 of the Milwaukee Bucks drives against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on March 26, 2012 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
Chris Chambers/Getty Images

Beggars can't be choosers. I don't wish to offend Milwaukee Bucks fans, but the city is not exactly a free agent draw. Withhold your cash, let a current player go, and you might not be able to net a new big name. 

Brandon Jennings has already publicly hinted at a possible departure. Last season (via ESPN), he said, "I am going to keep my options open, knowing that the time is coming up. I'm doing my homework on big-market teams.''

This was not some off-the-cuff remark. Jennings said this over email. He is eyeing the market, more fiercely than any other free agent will eye the Bucks. 

So the Bucks have a decision on their hands—a few actually, within the single "do we sign him or not" choice. They can wait on Jennings and seek out more information before deciding on whether to make a large offer. They can give him a contract extension right now. They can just decide against re-signing him, looking to build around Monta Ellis. They can also trade him.

It is difficult to know just how good a 22-year-old point guard will become, but I would elect to gamble on Brandon were I Milwaukee. If Jennings does improve between now and his prime, whatever deal they offer today could be a bargain tomorrow.

This is what happened with the Celtics and Rajon Rondo. In 2009, Boston signed Rajon to an extension at $55 million over five years. They have yet to regret the move. In 2010, Memphis gave a much-mocked $45 million contract to Mike Conley. He has outperformed the deal in spite of the criticism. 

Gambling on young, fast point guards can work in an increasingly quick league. Brandon Jennings is currently not worth a max contract, but if a team can offer a secure future for say, $11 million per year, there are certainly worse risks out there.

On the other hand, Brandon Jennings is far from a perfect player and his improvement is far from assured. He's one of the worst shooting starting guards in the league at a career .393 field-goal percentage. Don't be deceived by his incredible rookie-year display.

Here's the oddest aspect to Jennings' woeful shooting: He's improved every season. Brandon shot .371 his rookie year, .390 his second season, and .418 in his third year. At .418, he's still abysmal, but Jennings has incrementally improved towards that terrible mark. 

This is either encouraging or discouraging, depending on your perspective. An optimist would conclude that Jennings is on an upward trajectory, and that he'll eventually merge his quickness and handle with a reliable shot. A pessimist will say that he's come so far to still be bad, and therefore, might regress to somewhere terrible.

I'll go with optimism, namely because I think Jennings is capable of returning to his good rookie three-point shooting (.374). He's not a terrible shooter anymore below the line (38 percent from 10-15 feet, 39 percent from 16-23 feet) and players tend to improve on three-point shooting later in their careers. A bounce-back season from behind the arc—or sustained genuine improvement—would easily turn B.J. into an efficient scorer. 

Of course, Jennings has more to improve on. His court-vision is good, but not great. His right hand is weak. Despite all these flaws, he's able to maintain an 18.46 player efficiency rating at this stage of his career. It might not presage greatness, but small-market teams are left few other options than to gamble on youth.