Soon, we’ll all have a much better idea about what Brandon Jennings means to the Milwaukee Bucks.
He was equal parts electrifying and enigmatic as a rookie. He seemed to have meant a great deal to the Bucks success and playoff appearance, but some questioned whether the team was winning in part because of his point guard work, or in spite of it. His shooting percentages plummeted further and further last season, with occasional peaks amongst the many valleys, just enough that there was always hope another peak would be around the next corner. Defensively he held his own, rarely gambling in a system that requires discipline. Jennings was everything anyone could ever hope for from a 20-year-old rookie point guard.
He’s been even better this season. Jennings has smoothed over some of the rougher edges of his game. He’s made a higher percentage of his shots at the rim, kept his turnovers down, boosted his shooting percentage and continued to defend his position fairly well But the successes of last season are a distant memory. Milwaukee’s been stuck in a rut since the beginning of the season and only recently seemed to have found a way out in well played games against Dallas and San Antonio. Jennings was instrumental in a victory at Dallas, as he’s often been in Bucks wins, and helped key a fourth quarter run in San Antonio with improved pick and roll play.
But now he’s gone. Out four-to-six weeks, Jennings can only watch from the sidelines as his teammates move on without him.
If Monday night was any indication, it won’t be much worth watching. Generally ball dominant, Jennings was using 26.2% of the Bucks possessions heading into Monday night. In his absence, his teammates general lack of ability with the ball in their hands was on display. Early on in Portland, the Blazers doubled Andrew Bogut off the ball when the Bucks looked to find him for post-ups inside. When Portland had built a comfortable lead and finally let Bogut catch inside, he was unable to do much with his catches. He made just two of seven shots on the evening on his way to a miserable five point, four rebound effort against a depleted Portland front line.
With Bogut struggling, Milwaukee was left with few other options. Earl Boykins was the recipient of open looks off ball swings a number of times and responded with one jumper off the front of the rim after the next, eventually finishing the evening two of 11 from the field. Chris Douglas-Roberts had his worst game as a starter, looking out of sync the entire evening while hitting just one of seven shots. It didn’t help that John Salmons failed to connect on a shot until Portland’s lead had ballooned to 26 points. He would eventually respond strongly with 23 second half points, but Milwaukee cannot function with just one perimeter player scoring and Bogut no-showing. Milwaukee looked like a team that sorely needed Jennings two strengths on offense: creation and floor spacing.
With Bogut still on the court and healthy, Jennings’ loss didn’t seem like a death knell for the Bucks. But Monday night’s Bogut wasn’t the Bogut that’s been dominating lately. It’s difficult to question Bogut as the Bucks best and typically most consistent player, but his struggles against Portland were alarming. How much did his success correlate with Jennings being on the court?
The waterbug point guard didn’t always find Bogut on the pick and roll or drop it off to him on drives to the hoop, but he, more than any other Buck, needed to be accounted for by the defense when sharing the court with the big man. Now that Milwaukee has one less player that requires serious attention, how much more defensive attention will Bogut attract? Bogut and Jennings have played together for 592:29 minutes this season and Milwaukee is +16 in those minutes. No other player has played as many minutes with Andrew Bogut and only Ersan Ilyasova has had a better plus/minus on the court with Bogut. A healthy Jennings allowed the Bucks to be Andrew Bogut’s team and for Bogut to thrive.
If Milwaukee cannot find anyone to temporarily fill Jennings role as creator and attention getter and Bogut is unable to operate freely, Jennings absence could prove to be the final hole in the sinking Bucks boat that failed to leave the dock this season.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Then become a fan on Facebook (in the sidebar).