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Grading Brandon Jennings Sign-and-Trade Between Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks

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Grading Brandon Jennings Sign-and-Trade Between Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks

At long last, the moment you've been waiting for the entire NBA offseason has arrived...Brandon Jennings has signed!

With the Detroit Pistons, by way of a sign-and-trade with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Ryan Reynolds, your thoughts?

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, the Pistons will send another Brandon (Brandon Knight) to Brew Town, presumably to fill the Brandon void that Jennings would otherwise leave behind. Knight will be joined in his Midwestern quest by Khris Middleton and Slava Kravtsov.

As for Jennings, he'll earn $24 million over the course of a three-year deal in the Motor City.

What does all of this mean for these two Central Division rivals? And how does each side figure to make out from this surprising swap?

 

Detroit Pistons Grade: B-

USA TODAY Sports

Let's start with the more interesting side here, because clearly, wherever Brandon Jennings goes is more interesting than wherever he came from.

In Jennings, the Pistons now have themselves a soon-to-be-24-year-old point guard who once upon a time (i.e. the 2009-10 season) looked like one of the most promising young players in the NBA.

What followed was the usual flood of outsized expectations. Jennings' 55-point bonanza opposite a then-porous Golden State Warriors defense still stands as the best of his career.

Which would be fine, except that came in just his seventh game in the Association.

Since then, Jennings has established a reputation for himself as a shoot-first, ask-questions-later-type floor general. He ranked sixth among point guards in field-goal attempts last season (15.6 per game) but converted just a shade under 40 percent of them.

To be sure, Jennings is a gifted player whose sheer talent, in a vacuum, makes the money he's about to be paid less a gamble and more a semi-sound investment.

He was a slightly above-average three-point shooter last season (37.5 percent), and his assist rate (29.6 percent of his teammates' baskets, per NBA.com), while not all that high, was still solid and represented an improvement over his second and third seasons.

The problem is, Jennings isn't going to exist in a vacuum. Rather, he's going to play on a team built to operate from the inside out. His job will entail getting the ball to Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond down low and knocking down shots to keep opposing defenses honest.

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Brandon Jennings will have to prove that he can co-exist with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe (10).

That'd be all well and good for an unselfish shooter like Jose Calderon, who spent the second half of the 2012-13 campaign in Motown. But Jennings is hardly Calderon's equal in any respect. He's a gunner, first and foremost.

And he will now have to share the floor with at least one other in fellow Oak Hill Academy product Josh Smith. Both have been known to shirk their more useful functions—passing for Jennings, playing in the low-post for Smith—in favor of launching headache-inducing jumpers.

That's not unlike Brandon's last failed partnership with Monta Ellis.

According to NBA.com, the Bucks were outscored by an unsightly 151 points during the nearly 2,300 minutes those two played together last season. Those numbers don't look quite so bad on a per-game basis, but when Jennings and Ellis constitute the core of your club, you should hope they'd be no worse than a net neutral.

In essence, Jennings gives the Pistons yet another needy player on a team already chock-full of them as well as a starting backcourt that is wanting for reliable shooting. Rodney Stuckey's final percentages for 2012-13 (.406 from the floor, .302 from three) represent marked improvements over his abysmal start to the season.

To be fair to Joe Dumars, the Jennings signing is hardly without merit. Brandon's still young, with plenty of his own upside and plenty more time to grow with his new teammates. Perhaps the Pistons' plan to employ Chauncey Billups, who returned to Motown this summer, as a mentor for Jennings. If nothing else, Jennings could learn quite a bit about defense, shot selection and leadership from a former finals MVP.

On the whole, the fate of the Pistons doesn't rest entirely on the team's guard play anyway. They project as a big, bruising ballclub with the requisite size and skill inside to take advantage of the shift toward smaller, quicker and more perimeter-oriented teams around the NBA.

Think of the Pistons as the Eastern Conference's version of the New Orleans Pelicans: a team that wants to win now, but whose investments in guards and wings also leave room for future improvement. In that schema, Jennings becomes Detroit's Tyreke Evans, a once-heralded prospect whose fall from grace belies his youth and his talent.

In both cases, though, the ceiling of the team is far more contingent on the development of the bigs (Anthony Davis in New Orleans, Drummond and Monroe in Detroit) than it is on what the shooters and slashers bring to the table.

But therein lies the danger for the Pistons.

Bigs like Monroe and Drummond don't run the offense on their own. They need smart ball-handlers and willing passers to get them the ball in their sweet spots to ensure that they're utilized properly.

Jennings wouldn't appear to fit that mold well, if at all. But, again, he's young enough and gifted enough to (maybe) figure it out in time.

 

Milwaukee Bucks Grade: B

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The last time the Bucks took part in a sign-and-trade, they brought back a whole bounty of two second-round picks for J.J. Redick. Redick had been acquired less than five months earlier, along with Gustavo Ayon and Ish Smith, in a deal that sent two intriguing prospects (Tobias Harris, Doron Lamb), a useful guard (Beno Udrih), and cash to the Orlando Magic.

In that light, then, the Jennings trade marks a significant (albeit restricted free agency-assisted) step up for Bucks GM John Hammond. This time around, he managed to bring back three real, live players: Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton and Slava Kravtsov.

Which team got the better end of this trade?

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The latter two are both coming off rookie seasons in which they made relatively minor contributions. They combined to play in 52 games, with Middleton in particular shuttling between the big club and the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the D-League.

Knight is clearly the prize of this package. In Knight, Milwaukee has added a hardworking, studious 21-year-old who, though a bit of a "tweener," has the potential to be a perimeter player of considerable impact for years to come.

For the Bucks, the challenge lies in carving out the proper role for their latest arrival. Milwaukee already has a pair of new additions, in Luke Ridnour and OJ Mayo, "entrenched" in the backcourt. If the Bucks feel that Knight is better suited to playing the point, they could slot him as the starter ahead of Ridnour.

To this point, though, Knight wouldn't seem fit to fill the role of floor general. As Grantland's Zach Lowe recently noted, Knight's reads and passes are usually a half-second too slow, which can prove fatal to the proper execution of the play at hand.

On the plus side, Knight is a solid defender (despite jarring evidence to the contrary) with quick feet and an above-average jump shot. The split in his numbers between the pick-and-roll/isolations and handoffs, while somewhat skewed due to disparities in frequency, hint at a future for Knight off the ball:

Brandon Knight's Offensive Play Types, 2012-13
Frequency Points Per Play Rank FG% 3P% TO%
Pick-and-Roll 27.4% 0.69 133rd 36.4% 36.7% 20.6%
Isolation 6.6% 0.73 140th 38% 18.2% 19.5%
Hand Off 5.6% 1.14 9th 53.7% 41.2% 10.8%

Synergy Sports

Granted, Knight will have to improve as a spot-up shooter (35.9 percent from the floor, 153rd in efficiency) if he's to play off the ball as often as he should. 

That being said, if the Bucks heed that warning and give Knight more run at shooting guard as a result, they may have netted themselves a useful rotation player who can stretch the floor and pair with Larry Sanders to form a dynamic, defensive duo.

If not...well, Milwaukee may begin to wonder whether it could've gotten more for Jennings, a player who never seemed content to stay in Milwaukee to begin with.

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