The Milwaukee Bucks have one of the NBA's most dynamic backcourts in Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, yet no one is sold on whether they can coexist. That's why this season is so important. It's a contract year for both, and the Bucks need to decide which player means more to their franchise.
The Bucks aren't likely to offer either of them extensions before the season starts and the chances of re-signing both are slim.
Back in March the Bucks pulled off a blockbuster trade sending their franchise player, Andrew Bogut, to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for Ellis. It was a trade that dramatically altered their style of play. Without a dominant big man, the Bucks became a run-and-gun perimeter team.
It also impacted their second-best player, Jennings. No longer would he be the primary perimeter shooter. He'd have to make room for Ellis.
To their credit, both have been professional and they appear invested in making it work in Milwaukee, Jennings recently had this to say to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal:
"I really want it to work just personally, because everybody is doubting it. Everybody knows we both can score like crazy. But I think everybody thinks we can't win together. That's going to be one of our biggest challenges. I'm up for it and I know he is."
That's a great attitude to have and there's no reason the Bucks can't be successful with both of them. It will be hard to keep both after this year though.
Gery Woelfel of the Journal Times reported that there were indications from Ellis' camp when he arrived in Milwaukee that he wouldn't be there very long. He stands to make more money after the season as a free agent.
That's not all bad for the Bucks. Jennings is the player they should be focusing on anyway. He's more important to their future success and here's why.
Jennings will turn 23 years old in a few days and he's entering his fourth year in the NBA. He's already considered one of the better guards in the NBA and he hasn't even hit the prime of his career.
His career numbers of 16.8 points, 5.4 assists and 1.4 steals per game are good and only stand to get better as he matures. In fact, the Bucks have already seen improvement. He's coming off the best scoring season of his career.
His .418 field goal percentage and 19.1 points per game last season were vast improvements over his first two years.
Ellis on the other hand is entering his eighth season and is three years older than Jennings. His numbers are very good but they don't stand to improve very much. What we've seen from him the last three years is likely his ceiling.
That's a very good ceiling but Jennings potential is greater. The Bucks would be better served investing in that potential.
A Good Point Guard is Hard to Find
Both players can play point guard. Jennings got the nod over Ellis in Milwaukee, but Ellis played plenty of point with the Warriors. Their career numbers are eerily similar. Ellis scores more while Jennings averages more assists per game.
With that said, neither is a prototypical point guard. They're shoot-first, shoot-second types who could probably score 50 points a game (between both of them) if Scott Skiles would allow it.
He won't, but that won't stop them from trying. So regardless of who the Bucks value more, they won't be getting a classic point guard.
They should keep the player who has the slight edge distributing the ball and has the potential to become better in that department.
That player is Jennings.
Once a Buck Always a Buck
When looking toward the future, why not stick with the guy that you drafted and is the clear-cut fan favorite. Brandon Jennings has only played for one team: the Bucks. They had the foresight to draft him, even though he didn't play college ball, and it's paid off.
It would be one thing if he was a bust. Then the Bucks could rationalize cutting ties with him.
Jennings hasn't been a bust. He's arguably their best player and if they let him walk after the season there would be outcry from a large portion of their fanbase.
Ellis is a great player, but his time in Milwaukee has been limited. He's a gun for hire and if they can only keep one player, Jennings makes the most sense.
Expect both players to play their tails off in a contract year. For that reason the Bucks could either find unprecedented success in the new-look Eastern Conference, or they could fall hard as their two alpha dogs struggle to co-exist.
If that happens look for the Bucks to make a second mega-trade involving Ellis in less than a year and opt to keep Jennings in the fold.