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Jennings Has Yet To Hit Second Gear

A little more than two years ago, Brandon Jennings came to Boston for his first game against the Celtics. He scored 17 points on 19 shots to go with four assists and four turnovers in 39 minutes of play in a 98-89 loss as I watched him live for the first time

Since then his career has been marked by mostly peaks, but a few valleys. He had his famed 55-point game against the Warriors within his first few weeks, made the All-Rookie First Team and has exploded from time-to-time, but he has yet to truly take the leadership reins in Milwaukee.

Jennings has been plagued by extreme inconsistency this season. He has scored 20 or more points 18 times, but has failed to reach double-figures on eight occasions. With a reserve All-Star berth up for grabs in early February, he went through a rough patch that included a performance against the Suns in which he scored three points on four shots.

With Jennings and the Bucks playing at Boston on Wednesday night, I traveled to the TD Garden with a goal of spending some time with him and keeping a close eye on why he has been so inconsistent this season.

On The Perimeter

Jennings is a career 34.5 shooting percentage from three-point territory, but still takes perimeter shots with regularity. After attempting approximately 5.0 three-pointers per 36 minutes over his first two seasons, the number has spiked to 6.5 this season.

“I think it’s what the defense is giving me and the positions that I’m in at the time,” Jennings told RealGM when asked about his long-range attempts.

In the first half against the Celtics, Jennings deferred to his detriment. He had seven assists at the half, but his own scoring suffered because of it. He didn’t force Rajon Rondo to expend any energy on the defensive end, and that led to the third triple-double (15 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists) of the season for Rondo. Jennings only attempted one true shot in the first half, with the second coming in the form of a heave at the buzzer.

Like a lot of young point guards, Jennings makes better snap decisions in fastbreak or man advantage situations than he does in the halfcourt. He created a pair of fastbreaks out of thin air in the second quarter against Boston, putting passes ahead of a teammate where the defender couldn’t interfere. Those plays showcased his potential as more than a scoring point guard.

He finished the game with eight assists and an overwhelming majority of his shots came in the final few minutes of the game. His first jumper didn’t come until he missed a three with 3:00 left in the third quarter and his first points came with 1:31 left in regulation. Had he been more assertive early on, the Bucks might not have fallen behind by 14 points midway through the fourth period and seen a late rally fall short. More than half of his attempts came from three even though he has a goal of attacking the rim more.

“I want to be more aggressive going to the basket, get to the free throw line more,” he said when asked about second-half goals.

Defending Elite Point Guards

When facing elite point guards this season, Jennings has been something of a sieve. John Wall, Tyreke Evans, Steve Nash, Tony Parker, Derrick Rose and Deron Williams have combined to average 20.7 points, 10 assists and 3.6 rebounds in nine games against the Bucks.

“The main thing is just to try and win,” Jennings said. “It’s not about getting the best numbers; the main thing is getting the win against All-Star point guards.”

The Bucks are 3-6 in those nine games.

Milwaukee With And Without Him

When Jennings plays well the Bucks tend to win, as do most middle of the road teams when they receive good production from their lead players. He is averaging 21.2 points on 42.7% shooting and 6.4 assists in wins, but just 15.7 points on 37.9% shooting and 4.7 assists in losses. 

The Bucks had more good looks against the Celtics with Jennings running the offense, but even when he is in the game they don’t always put the ball in his hands. When he did initiate the offense, he tended to make a pass and drift out listlessly to the perimeter.

Jennings has been carrying a bigger load of the offense throughout the season. He either scores or assists on 34% of Milwaukee's buckets, compared to approximately 30% in each of his first two seasons. That figure ranks him 16th in the NBA, behind the likes of Wall, Nash, Rose, Parker and Williams, but ahead of Kyle Lowry, Mike Conley and Evans.

Scott Skiles benched Jennings with the Celtics on a 23-6 run late in the third quarter. The move didn’t show much confidence in the team’s alleged star. For the season, Jennings is -78 overall and averages a -3.8 plus/minus per game on a team that is 14-21. His usage rate is just 24.7%, second to Gooden on the Bucks and far below that of the game’s top point guards.

True to form, Jennings delivered a performance worthy of a star two nights after playing passively. He scored 34 points (10-for-23) and dished nine assists (two turnovers) in a close road loss to the Hawks. “Young Money” looked to be a stud a few weeks into his rookie season, but midway through his third season he still hasn’t hit a groove. 

 

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