Brandon Jennings is arguably the best point guard Detroit has had on its roster since Chauncey Billups was sent packing in favor of Allen Iverson. Jennings came in at a pretty good price too. His short contract will pay him less per year than the team paid Rodney Stuckey to hold down the position, and Jennings should perform better than, or at least as well as, Stuckey has running the offense. This has Pistons’ fans pretty excited, but before we get too lofty with our expectations, let’s take off our hope blinders and try to figure out what $24 million just bought the Pistons.
The past few years have seen the rise of advanced statistics in the NBA. While some take the notion of advanced analytics more seriously than others, it cannot be denied that they’ve gained credibility over the years. The Memphis Grizzlies hired John Hollinger, a former basketball journalist and creator of the Player Efficiency Rating (PER) stat, as their Vice President of Basketball Operations in 2012. In case you weren’t paying attention, the Grizzlies reached the Western Conference Finals last season, so it’s hard to deny that we are coming into the thick of the “Moneyball” years of the NBA. Advanced statistics aren’t going away.
So what do some advanced statistics say about Brandon Jennings?
Let’s start with effective field goal percentage (eFG%), which adjusts shooting percentages to account for three pointers being worth more than two pointers. So, it essentially weights three pointers heavier than a regular field goal. Jennings had an eFG% of .468 last season. Without much more knowledge on eFG% this doesn’t sound so bad. However, Jennings’ .468 ranks him 297th in the league last season which puts him in the 37th percentile. That’s not exciting.
Next, let’s look at assist percentage, which is an estimation of the percentage of field goals a player assisted while he was on the floor, and turnover percentage, which is an estimation of turnovers per 100 plays. For reference, Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul led the league in assist percentage with a 49.3 percent and 46.5 percent respectively. Jennings posted 29.1 percent, good for 39th in the league. That’s not so bad, right? Well, when you remember that point guards should be leading this category, you hope that Jennings would be a little bit higher. In fact, four shooting guards and one forward (LeBron James, you might have heard of him) rated ahead of Jennings in this category. Will Bynum, Jennings’ understudy in Detroit, ranked 16th last season with an assist percentage of 34.8.
Even though Jennings occasionally favors a bad shot over finding an open teammate, it appears that he knows how to take care of the ball. With 12.9 turnovers per 100 plays, Jennings ranked ahead of more notable players like Chris Paul, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Jose Calderon posted a 15.9 in this category last season, and he has a reputation for knowing how to hang on to the ball.
Next is on/off court statistics, which show how well a player’s team fares when he is on and off the court. (This paragraph will make Pistons fans wince.) When Jennings was on the court last season, the Milwaukee Bucks scored 103.5 points per 100 possessions and gave up 108.7. (Ouch.) What’s worse is that while Jennings was off the court his team improved on both sides of the ball, scoring 107.3 points per 100 possessions and giving up only 99.5. (Double ouch.) Additionally, the team’s eFG% increased from 47.3 percent with Jennings on the floor to 48.4 percent once he hit the bench. Defensively, the Bucks allowed an eFG% of 49.9 percent with him on the floor and 47.3 percent with him off the floor.
There is a popular argument that Jennings didn’t have much to work with in Milwaukee, was forced to carry a heavier load and this negatively affected his statistics. However, these on/off court stats paint quite a different picture. If the players in Milwaukee really were that bad, what do these stats say about Jennings if these same players appear to have played much better when he was not on the floor with them?
Advanced statistics don’t tell you the whole story, but they can give you some good insight. Jennings appears to know how to take care of the ball, but it also appears that he may not have figured out how to make his teammates better just yet. Hopefully playing under the watchful eyes of Billups and Maurice Cheeks will provide Jennings some insight on how to do just that.