J.R. Smith and the New York Knicks made it a sexy move last season, and now some are ready to suggest the Detroit Pistons should follow their game plan and move an expected starter to the bench. Smith was able to turn last season’s transition into the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award, but the Pistons would not have similar success. Moving Brandon Jennings to the bench would be a mistake.
Jennings is a 23-year-old point guard who, even with his shooting deficiencies, is on the cusp of an All-Star selection. With improvements, Jennings could very well represent the Pistons in New Orleans for next season’s NBA All-Star game.
Someone who will surely be playing in New Orleans next season is the New Orleans Pelicans‘ new point guard, Jrue Holiday. Holiday was selected to the Eastern Conference All-Star team last season as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers. This year, his road to the game will be a bit tougher as he is now in the Western Conference and will be forced to compete for a spot will top-tier guards Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry. Holiday’s move to New Orleans ensures a spot up-for-grabs on the east’s team.
Holiday and Jennings posted very similar production last season. Holiday’s line: 17.7 points, 8.0 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 1.6 steals, .4 blocks, 3.7 turnovers, .431 from the field, .368 from three, .752 at the free-throw line. Jennings: 17.5, 6.5, 3.1, 1.6, .1, 2.5, .399, .375, .819.
The three major differences between the two are assists, shooting percentage and turnovers. Jennings turns the ball over 1.2 less times per game than Holiday. Ball security is an important facet for someone looking to improve in the other two areas.
Last season, Jennings played alongside Monta Ellis, a high-usage guard. Only .425 percent of Ellis’ buckets last season were assisted, per basketball-reference.com (to compare: Carmelo Anthony was assisted on .393 percent of his makes). Ellis also averaged 6.0 assists per game of his own. While this two-headed guard was an issue for Milwaukee Bucks’ opponents at times, there is no doubt it stunted some of the production of Jennings as a pure point guard.
Without Ellis next to him, Jennings should take a step forward. He’ll have the luxury of logging a lot of minutes with the Pistons three-headed big Josh Smith, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. Those three alone will increase his assist potential. Respectively, they were assisted on .640, .620 and .521 percent of their makes last season.
If Jennings takes advantage of the Pistons’ offense and retools his game to be more a playmaker, his shooting percentages should see an increase as well. With the three bigs, Jennings should get away from some of the step-back jumpers and forced three pointers that hurt his percentage from the field. Instead, the big men should help to clear space for him to shoot open threes and get to the basket at a better clip, while also lowering his shot-attempts per game.
Just putting on a Pistons jersey won’t make the difference for Jennings, but the situation could. He’ll need to add a level of maturity to his game, get away from forcing shots and involve his teammates more. A move to the bench would stunt this growth. The Pistons need to keep Jennings fully committed mentally and allow him to grow with this young core. Moving him to the bench could sour him on the team’s plans moving forward. The last thing the Pistons want is an uncommitted Brandon Jennings. That breeds malcontent and could lead to disputes with coaching or management, similar to some of the troubles the Bucks had with him.
J.R. Smith moved to the bench at age 27 after his All-Star potential wasn’t reached in various situations. Brandon Jennings still has that potential, but a move to the bench would likely mean he won’t realize it in Detroit.