Drop 55 points on somebody and you get that team’s attention. Do it as a 20-year-old rookie in your 5th NBA game and you get everyone’s attention.
That is what the NBA’s newest budding star, point guard Brandon Jennings did to the Golden State Warriors on November 14. Okay, so he should get a ten point handicap because it was the Warriors, but still, that is fantastic shooting by any standard.
He is currently leading his team, the Milwaukee Bucks, in scoring at 21.3 points, and assists at 5.8. He is also grabbing 3.9 rebounds a game at 6’ 1” and 169 pounds.
I don’t want to call it the Brandon Jennings Show, because he is really all about learning to play a complete game for a Milwaukee Bucks team that took a chance on him. His “everybody plays defense” coach, Scott Skiles, will only help him learn to play both sides of the ball.
I say ‘took a chance’ because there were more than few teams that didn’t expect this kind of success from young Mr. Jennings. The word from his Italian team coaches was that he was overrated, didn’t play defense, was too flashy, and had a bad attitude.
Jennings is a mold breaker, in that, after failing to pass SATs here, instead of playing for a junior college or the NBA D-league, or some other such thing, he obtained a 3 year contract guaranteed for $1 million dollars to play in Italy. It had opt outs for each year. One year was enough and many figure it actually hurt his draft interest. Some say he would have been a top 5 pick instead of dropping to number 10, as he did.
The question is what should he have done? Attended one of those 13th year private academies where star high schoolers go when they have scholastic problems?
In some ways, going to Europe showed this kid’s mental toughness and drive. That it hurt scouting reports is apparent.
Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald has some interesting information on him…
“Then he went overseas, and I think that’s where things got a bit off
track. There’s a certain pecking order on teams over there, and I
don’t think they knew what to do with some kid who was only going to
be there a year. I think they considered him an assault on their way
of doing things, and they resented him.”
The result might have cost Jennings in the draft.
“People don’t want to talk about it because they don’t want to hurt
any relationships over there, but the Italians really badmouthed the
(heck) out of him,” one NBA personnel man said. “You should have heard the litany of criticisms from over there. He’s overrated. He’s too
flashy. He’s careless with the ball. He can’t defend. It was
unbelievable. I’m thinking, ‘Are they talking about the same kid?’
Since he has risen to the top of the must watch list of every NBA fan, Jennings has struggled with his shot, but continues to do other things, and is improving at the rest of his game. The kid is for real.
Most important is his ability to take and hit big pressure shots and free throws. The young man has the psyche of a winner.
As teams game plan him and look to exploit his weaknesses, he should be able to continue to find a way. He just seems like that kind of player.
Another big thing is that he is moving from cocky and bragging to a more humble and reserved public approach since a few things he said in the summer came to light. Before even playing a game, he said he will be a star in this league and he dissed Ricky Rubio. It made it out onto the net.
Now he’s learned to be more circumspect in what he says. Call him a quick learner. I see good things in his future.
The Bucks are playing at a much higher success level than anyone predicted pre-season. That is only partially Jennings doing. Skiles is a hard nosed, no nonsense coach that has gotten his teams to overachieve early in his reign.
During the pre-season, Jennings started to make a believer out of Skiles. By opening day, he was named the starting point guard.
Jennings and Bucks need to adjust
The Bucks left the gate at an ‘other earthly’ 8-3. Since they are in a 1-7 free fall for their current 9-10 record. They have lost three in a row coming in. They were not expected to win more 36 games all year by any pre-season predictions.
Part of that is that opponents are making it difficult for Jennings to score. Brandon hasn’t come close hitting 50% of his shots since November 20th against Charlotte. His FG% up to that game was a robust 48%. Since then it’s 33%. It was another 7 games before he even hit at 40% (his last game against the Cavaliers).
While Brandon will go through growing pains, it seems inevitable that he will figure things out. It will also help if and when he can get some other serious scoring threats on the court with him. Michael Redd has been out most of the year. Andrew Bogut has been out as well, and he isn’t that big time scorer that always draws double teams when he touches the ball.
Charlie Bell does what he can, and unsung Luke Ridnour has come in and stabilized things when he is on the court.
But the Bucks are dead last in free throw attempts (19 per) and only Jennings (4.2 attempts) and role player Hakim Warrick (4.3 attempts) get to the line with any regularity. Redd has that ability as well.
Not having that dimension means not putting foul pressure on the team, not being able to get to the bonus free throw situation for your own team, and allowing other teams’ bigs to defend with confidence when you try to attack the middle. A team like the Lakers are so talented they can get away with playing that way. The Bucks can’t.
The Bucks offset that by being a solid rebounding team. In most other categories they are middle of the NBA road, as in points in the paint, fast break points, etc. The same goes for their defense of those categories. Thus a 9-10 record makes sense.
But tonight’s game against the Celtics will be about the new player who just put up the most rookie points since Earl ‘The Pearl” Monroe had 56 in 1968.
For the Celtics, it will be about taking care of business at home. The Cs are on a 7 game winning streak and starting to look very good.
Kevin Garnett is shooting the lights out lately. Kendrick Perkins has played outstanding ball. The Celtics have a point guard of their own named Rajon Rondo . He tends to take things personally when a highly touted point guard is his opponent. So tonight should be interesting just for that reason alone. And I haven’t even mentioned Paul Pierce and Ray Allen .
Nursing a swollen and extended thumb, Marquis Daniels is not expected to play. Tony Allen might make his first appearance of the season on his recovering foot injury.
The Celtics, at 16-4, are tied with Orlando for top spot in the east heading into this game. They have the best road record in the league. But they are just 7-3 at home and look to improve on that this evening.
Let the fun begin.