Last year we all lauded his efforts, claimed he was a winner, said he was the REAL Rookie of the Year. Maybe he wasn’t the best rookie statistically, but he was heading to the playoffs. Obviously that meant something. He added swagger to the Bucks, he was Reggie Jackson: the straw that stirred the Fear the Deer Kool-Aid we all sipped.
Now, he’s selfish. He’s calling out teammates, looking around him, instead of in the mirror. He’s arrogant and hops around too much for a guy who isn’t a winner. He can’t shoot and he’ll never be able to. It’s time to look elsewhere, and while they look around, the team may as well get what they can for him, because his stock is only going to drop lower.
It’s amazing how quickly a story can change, even if the main character doesn’t.
And that character hasn’t really changed. For the good or the bad. No, Brandon Jennings hasn’t taken a huge leap forward this year, but he hasn’t stalled as badly as it’s been played up. He hasn’t gone through some dramatic change in character either. Despite the common complaints these days. The most common bash on Jennings has been that he’s turned back into a “me” guy.
That was the knock on Jennings coming into the league. He was too about himself, too much of a showman. Last season when the showman in Jennings came out, everyone was thrilled that he was injecting life into the Bucks. His hallway confrontation with Kevin Garnett was symbolic of the Bucks standing up to the big guys around the league. After struggling for so long, the Bucks wouldn’t be going quietly into the night anymore, and it was Jennings at the forefront of that movement. That’s the power of winning.
Now the team is struggling and the angry mob is looking for a monster to chase with their pitchforks. Jennings has thrown some fuel on that fire too. He’s blamed his teammates and been a little too honest about things on occasion. The answers after games aren’t always pretty when a team is struggling and when a team wasn’t prepared. Jennings has been honest on a few occasions, and that’s resulted in him questioning his teammates, even when he hasn’t had stellar games. Sometimes he should have probably held his tongue, but he didn’t.
Think about it for a second: Has Jennings ever had to go through a season like this? Maybe in Europe, but that was an experiment, a one year test. This is probably the worst season Jennings has ever had on a success level in his career.
In losses, post game quotes are amplified, just as five for 15 shooting performances are. Add those together, and the face of last season’s success and swagger suddenly is the face of failure.
But it’s overstated.
Jennings hasn’t fallen off the table offensively. He’s raised his shooting percentage this season and has shot better than 40% for the past month and a half. He’s improved his shooting percentages at the rim and from 10-15 feet by by 9.1 and six percent respectively. If he combines this with a three-point percentage closer to last season (37.9%) than this season’s effort (32.3%), we’re talking about a guy who would be shooting better than 40% on the year and would look like a genuine offensive threat.
Knocks on his defense are unwarranted as well. Milwaukee has improved as a defensive team this season (103.1 DRating last season to 102.5 DRating this season) despite adding a number of inferior defenders. Jennings has played a role in that. Opposing point guards have a lower NET PER this season (15.3 from 15.6) and Jennings defensive rating has dropped from 104 to 103. His stats from mySynergySports check out too.
The majority of defensive plays he’s had this season have come guarding the ball handler in pick and roll situations (343 of 767). In these situations, Jennings ranks 86 in the league with .8 points per possession. Where does Rajon Rondo, the best defensive point guard in the league fall when measured this way? 94, with .81 points per possession. Jennings more than holds his own here, and this is the scenario he’s in significantly more often than not. Can he really be hurting the Bucks that much on defense? No he can’t guard Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook, but who can?
The Jennings Hate train left the station some time ago, and has only been picking up speed. I get it. He’s abrasive and not for everyone, and he’s still shooting under 40% and takes a lot of shots. People tolerated Allen Iverson because he was winning games, but no one likes a point guard that looks like he’s cocky, sounds like a jerk sometimes, shoots erratically and plays for a losing team. He’s easy to blame.
But what’s easy isn’t always right. If you’re on board for giving up on a 21-year-old point guard who’s had at least moderate success playing for one of the most demanding coaches in the league and will be heading into just his third season, I don’t know what to tell you. The direction you want to head in is a scary one. It’s one that’s all about quick fixes, it’s certainly not one that encourages patient development.
The development of Jennings has been a little rocky, and the road may not smooth out as quickly as everyone hoped initially. But there’s still time for it to smooth out. So let’s all try and pump the breaks on the Jennings needs to go stuff or the Jennings sucks stuff. He’s not great now, and he may never be. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to jump ship.
Because he could be back to stirring this seemingly settled Bucks drink next season. And we saw how fun that can be.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Become a fan on Facebook (right sidebar).