One month into the NBA season, everyone seemed convinced that Brandon Jennings was the next big thing. He scored a Bucks rookie record 55 points against the Golden State Warriors and became the talk of the league.
Jennings was playing great, leading the way early for talk of Rookie of the Year. While he played great individually, the Bucks were still playing as they had for the previous several seasons, and seemed destined for another spot in the NBA lottery.
Four months later, the Bucks are now the talk of the league, but all the early love for Jennings has disappeared. Tyreke Evans and Stephen Curry are talked about as the front runners for the top rookie with very few mentions of the Bucks point guard.
The Bucks currently sit as the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, and have gone 12-2 in their last 14 games. The Bucks can thank many things for their resurgence.
Michael Redd getting injured was a true blessing in disguise for Milwaukee. Without his injury, the team probably never signs Jerry Stackhouse, or trades for John Salmons. However, in fairness, Redd could have very well been traded had he remained healthy.
Secondly, Andrew Bogut has become a dominant force at both ends of the floor. The 25-year-old Aussie is averaging a career high in nearly every major statistical category including scoring (16.2), rebounding (10.5), and blocks (2.5). He is finally living up to the pressure of being the first overall selection in the 2005 draft.
Coach Scott Skiles has also convinced the team of the importance of playing defense. Having a big man like Bogut helps, but there are several members of the team that have stepped up their games defensively, leading to more minutes for them, and more wins for the Bucks.
While all these factors have been important to the Bucks putting themselves in prime playoff position, no one should underestimate the importance of the 20-year-old Jennings in all of this.
In fact, without Jennings, the Bucks would not be anywhere close to experiencing the success they are right now.
Yes, it is true that his numbers have declined in recent months, but it has translated into the team's success.
While the numbers have dipped, it's not like he has gone into the tank and stunk up arenas around the league. Jennings is still averaging 15.9 points and 6.1 assists per game this year. Those aren't numbers to scoff at from someone that was playing high school ball two years ago, and riding the bench in Europe last year.
Jennings leads the Bucks on both ends of the court, which allows his teammates to feed off the rookie.
His aggressive style on defense has given fits to point guards around the league. He may be small in stature, but he hasn't backed down from one challenge this year. It's easy to see how he invigorates the veteran Bucks roster with his intensity and hustle.
As much as he does defensively, he does he more when the Bucks have the ball.
Jennings runs an offense every bit as good as a point guard that has been in the league for years. It's his ability to dribble-drive that allows his teammates to have space to knock down open shots.
Jennings and Bogut use their versatility to stretch defenses, allowing Jennings to open the court up with his playground flashiness.
His 37.2 percent shooting from the field is the only negative in his game. It's a deficiency that should have been expected for any player with limited high-level exposure like Jennings. However, he's shooting 41.5 percent in March, his highest percentage since November.
Jennings has drawn notice of players around the league and they realize how special of a player he is. After their game with the Clippers Wednesday night, Baron Davis sang praises of Jennings and touted him to be the top rookie.
"I think Brandon should be rookie of the year because it's all about winning in this league. Jennings has led the Bucks to fifth place in the Eastern Conference."
Fans may have lost Jennings in the shuffle, but it's obvious those in the league have a great deal of respect for the Compton, California native.
Evans or Curry may still beat Jennings as the top rookie in the league, but that would just be shameful. Regardless of winning the honor or not, Brandon Jennings will have one honor that neither Evans or Curry will attain this year: Leading their team to the playoffs and playing in May.
To read more by Jesse Motiff, click here .
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