It’s been a good week to be a rookie for the Bucks. Summer league is the last time most rookies get an opportunity to relive their glory days from college (or high school in Brandon Jennings case) and Jodie Meeks and Brandon Jennings have taken full advantage of that. I’m even giving Jodie Meeks top billing today. (When it comes to Meeks and Jennings we’ll have to get used to me putting Jennings ahead, I’ll explain later.)
Meeks has had a terrific first week of professional basketball. The Bucks most consistent performer in Vegas, he’s averaging over 16 points per game while hitting a tidy 57% of his shots. A good start for a player many criticized for leaving Kentucky a year early. Wait, Meeks is volume scorer who drew criticism for leaving school a year early and then proceeded to use summer league as his playground to shore up a roster spot before training camp even opened? That sounds familiar. Have we seen this episode of “The Milwaukee Bucks” before? Like in the year 2000? I know, it’s early to start with the “he’s the next Michael Redd” stuff, but I’m just pointing out what’s there and what we’re hoping for. We all knew Meeks would be there on opening night, but the Bucks made things official with his contract, a three year $2.3 million contract guaranteed in the first two years. That could be a steal come year three if he continues to develop. Meeks catch and shoot game seems perfectly designed to blend with Brandon Jennings slasher game. The Buck s were in desperate need of guards who could shoot the ball once Redd went down last year (and when Redd was playing and missing threes at a career high pace) and Meeks looks like he’s primed to chip away at some of the minutes reserved for Charlie Bell and whichever point guard falls third in line. That is, if he commits to defense, which will likely be a challenge in his first year. Even if he’s busting his tail and working hard on the defensive end, guarding NBA two’s will be a challenge at his size, at least initially and probably forever.
Speaking of those point guards, I’ve gone on long enough without really getting into how Brandon Jennings has looked so far this summer. I’ll be honest, I’ve only seen one game. Actually one half of a game. The schedule has not been conducive to my life this summer. I have made a vow to make it to Vegas next summer though, so we won’t go through this again. Anyway, Brandon Jennings. Reports were that he struggled a little in his first game of the league and looked better in game two on Sunday. But Monday, he looked like he really started to figure things out against Sacramento. The common knocks you hear about Jennings are he’s, “selfish” and “immature”. To that I reply, he’s 19. Find me a 19-year old kid who isn’t selfish and has even a little bit of maturity. If any have maturity, it’s Brandon. Not only was he making some very flashy ally-oop passes, but he was very willing to lay the ball off to teammates. And more often than not, he was committed defensively. He was matched up against Tyreke Evans, a tough match-up for any point guard in this league, but did his best to pressure Evans in the back court where his quickness was advantageous over the bulky Evans. His biggest problem came offensively, where he would occasionally get off balance on his jumper and do way too much. Does he force some bad shots? Yes. But overall I get the feeling that he is one of those players who loves setting up his teammates for sweet looking plays as much as he loves making them himself.
Except when things are getting serious.
Jennings is not unlike a lot of young point guards in that he’s probably been watching the NBA his whole life. When you’re a point guard and you grow up watching the NBA there is one quality you’re very likely to develop. You want to take (and preferably make) the “big” shot. That’s a burden you feel since the point guard is the supposed leader of the team on the court. That’s my theory on why Jennings will occasionally pull-up for a silly looking shot when the situation might call for something different. In Jennings mind it might not be that bad of a shot. In his mind it might be an opportunity to stick it to the other team and chip away at them mentally. There was no doubt in my mind Monday night that he was going to shoot the ball when things were getting a little tense with around 15 seconds to go. Jennings likely grew up watching Baron Davis who was a by-product of Gary Payton who hung around Sam Cassell and argued over who would get to take big shots when they played together on the Bucks in 2003.
So, I could see how someone would think Jennings is immature on the court. It does stand to reason however, that when camp starts and he takes some of those shots that he thinks are good shots he’ll have to answer to Scott Skiles on them. I imagine those conversations will go something like this:
Skiles: Excuse me fellas, stop the scrimmage. Hey Brandon, may I ask why you shot that pull-up three off one leg with 20 seconds left on the shot clock right there?
Jennings: Coach, if I hit that all they can do is shake their heads. They wouldn’t have no answer for it.
Skiles: Hmm. That’s an interesting theory there BJ. I love your enthusiasm. Maybe instead of shooting that next time though, you could walk off the court and drive a knife into my heart though. BJ, every time you shoot a shot like that, I die a little bit on the inside. So instead of killing me slowly, the knife would do the job quicker and with less pain. Please, blow by your man every time you get the feeling you want to shoot that or I will chain your left leg to the bench all year long. (Expletive).
The flashy passing and the ballsy shots, those are ingrained in Jennings basketball personality. They can be ironed out and used effectively. They are embraceable qualities. Those are the kinds of things that make teams exciting and competitive. And in the short term, they are the kinds of things that get people talking. Jennings has people talking, well whispering or mentioning at least, about the Bucks for the first time in a few years and that’s why he’s going to be drawing top billing, hopefully for a long time.