Yesterday was an interesting day around the NBA. Not so much for the Bucks, they lost again, in a depressing way, but there was something else notable in the league. Something that had me recalling Brandon Jennings’s 55-point game and got me to thinking about how I felt then and how I feel now.
Blake Griffin destroyed the Pacers. 47 points on 24 shots! That’s the second time this year Griffin has scored 40 points, making him the first rookie since Allen Iverson to accomplish that feat. All season Griffin has done amazing things, none more amazing than teaming up with other young players to lead the Clippers out of the darkness of mediocrity and into the light of relevancy. He’s averaging a double-double and looks headed for an all-star birth, rookie of the year and, if he gets the Clippers to .500, some possible MVP talk.
He’s truly reinvigorated the franchise. The way I thought (most of us thought) Jennings did last season for the Bucks.
But that wasn’t true. Perhaps it was that day, but one game does not make a career. There was lots of buzz, everyone was talking, the Bucks had a star player capable of reaching great heights it seemed. This came after a months worth of amazing runs sparked by Jennings, a 30-point game on Chauncy Billups and one game after the next where Jennings seemed to flip a switch and make four or five big shots in a row.
The city wanted it to be true, the Bucks wanted it to be true, everyone wanted it to be true, but Jennings didn’t turn out to be the transcendent talent/physical specimen Griffin is. That became clear in the months following. It’s evident now that Jennings is just a good, young point guard. He’ll have his share of nice games, he’ll win the Bucks a few on his own, but that doesn’t make him anything special in a league with as many great players as the NBA has.
It just makes him another point guard.
Maybe he’ll develop further and become something special. That doesn’t seem likely though. Guys like Griffin, or Chris Paul, or Dwayne Wade, you could see it quickly. They changed games constantly in their first seasons. Jennings had a terrific firth month in the league, but he was 25 games through his second season when he went down with an injury and still was only at 37.6% shooting for his career. His limitations physically indicate he won’t be “one of those guys.”
While he has above average quickness, we’re not talking about John Wall here. His dunk contest entry suggests he’s often wowing during games, but he’s yet to dunk in traffic in the NBA, missing his only attempt at it this season. He’s not Russell Westbrook. He’s not long armed, or muscle bound. There’s nothing physically about Jennings that suggests he’ll have an advantage on any given night. But the game is not all physical and this isn’t to say I don’t think Jennings has a bright future.
Just not the future he seemed to have when he had his own special night last season. And that changes things for the Bucks. When Jennings exploded last season, it looked like Milwaukee had a piece to build their franchise around. With Jennings driving and Andrew Bogut riding shotgun, Milwaukee looked to be in good hands. But Jennings has alternated between pretty good and pedestrian this season while Bogut is struggling nightly in January to break 40% shooting. Suddenly people are heading towards the front of the car to make sure the guys driving are still awake.
As Milwaukee stumbles through this season behind two stars who haven’t really been stars, it’s safe (once again) at 14-24 to question where this franchise is heading. The Bucks have a two week stretch coming up against lousy teams, but a team that’s won 36.8% of their games can hardly assume any games are more winnable than others. After losses to Philadelphia and Houston this week, the Bucks are just 5-6 against sub .500 teams. Even if Milwaukee straightens things out down the stretch, where are they headed? For another first round exit?
As it stands the Bucks are 2.5 games out of the fifth worst record in the entire league and two games out of the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. The season could go either way from here, and the future along with it. Milwaukee sorely needs more impact players with bright futures (Drew Gooden and Corey Maggette don’t quite qualify) and could use a superstar in the worst way. There’s no guarantees in the lottery and even a top pick in next year’s NBA draft could fail to net the Bucks much of a catch, but it certainly could provide the Bucks a sunnier future than another one and done playoff series.
The Bucks still need a superstar? They’ve certainly come quite a ways since that 55-point game.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Then become a fan on Facebook (in the sidebar).