This was not what Brandon Jennings envisioned. Saddled with middling minutes as the Bucks cautiously approach his return from a foot injury, Jennings is having trouble getting comfortable on the court for the Milwaukee Bucks.
“The foot’s fine, I’m confident, but when I hear before the game that I’m limited to (a certain amount of) minutes, it’s kinda just like, ‘we’ll, all right, I’ll try to do the best I can in the minutes I get,'” Jennings said after Milwaukee’s loss to the Detroit Pistons Saturday night.
But it hasn’t only been caution that’s kept Jennings minutes down. Before Saturday’s game, Coach Scott Skiles indicated that he could get Jennings minutes up around 30 going forward, but that nothing would be handed out.
“We’ll see. It depends on how he plays. I’m not married to that. Basically, the restrictions are off.”
The restrictions aren’t the only things that are off. In five games since returning, Jennings has made just 10 of 39 shots (25.6%). A low field goal percentage has always been a problem for Milwaukee’s point guard, but this is poor even for him. He’s often been able to make up for a shaky mid-range game and struggles in the paint with fairly accurate outside shooting, but even that shot has abandoned him. Jennings has made just three of 13 three-point tries over the past five games.
Without the three-point shot he’s so often relied upon and a shot that has never been of much use, Jennings best bet has seemed to be to get inside. But he’s more often than not dribbled into the paint only to probe the defense, dribbling to the baseline and then kicking out to a teammate. Rarely has he attacked ready to score since returning. Jennings is four of nine at the rim in his five games back, but was two of six in the Clippers game, his most active game by far. He’s twice failed to attempt a shot at the rim.
As the Bucks have found out time and time again this season, just because a player is back, doesn’t mean his game has returned with him. Carlos Delfino has been up and down since returning from a lengthy concussion related absence. In Delfino’s first three games back, he made just two of 16 three-point attempts, missing some in ugly airball fashion. In the three games John Salmons has played in since returning from a hip injury, he’s shot four of 18 from the field and missed all four of his three-point attempts. Milwaukee’s offensive leader in the second half last season has scored a meager 3.3 points per game in 17 minutes a night since returning.
Skiles thinks Jennings will need time to re-find himself too.
“He was out five weeks,” Skiles said. “It’s very difficult to take that type of time off and still be sharp. The important thing is that we get him back in there, get him minutes and see if he can’t play well. We’ll keep playing him.”
Just when he’s playing has been something of an issue for Jennings. Jennings voiced his frustrations with the minute limit imposed on him on the West Coast trip a week ago., saying, ‘if I’m going to be having limited minutes, I might as well not play at all.’ After Saturday’s game, he was disappointed to not have played even a minute in the fourth quarter. Prior to the quarter, he shot two of seven from the field, missed three three-point attempts, handed out five assists and had one turnover.
“Just more frustrated the fact that I didn’t play in the fourth quarter,” Jennings said when asked about his frustrations. “When it really counts and when it really comes down to it. And … hey, I guess I just gotta deal with it. We were down by six, we were right there, and, you know, hey, I’m a fourth quarter type player. I like to make big plays in the fourth quarter.”
There have been flashes that Jennings will be up to his old tricks again soon, like an eight points in two minute outburst in Los Angeles and some deft drives to the hoop later in the Clippers game, but Jennings has largely looked passive. Given the struggles Milwaukee’s had all season offensively, the last thing they can afford is Jennings trying to find himself for 10 games or so. But they don’t have much of a choice. Keyon Dooling hasn’t been much better and Earl Boykins has demonstrated time and again he’s built more for scoring, not for orchestrating an offense. Time is running out and Jennings knows it.
“We’re gonna have to try and get going pretty quick here or it’s going to be too late.”
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Then become a fan on Facebook (in the sidebar).