Point guard Brandon Jennings of the Detroit Pistons has been an enigmatic player for his whole career. Drafted 10th overall by the hapless Milwaukee Bucks in the 2009 draft, Jennings has experienced a turbulent NBA career filled with plenty of ill-advised jump shots and lackluster defense.
He’s garnered a reputation of a “me-first” type of player who many fans in the sports world resent. In fairness, Jennings has never had a stable situation, whether it’s playing for revolving doors at head coach or with subpar teammates.
Still, the criticism he’s received has been fair, for the most part, but is there still hope that the soon-to-be 25-year-old point guard can hone in his skills under a new regime in Detroit?
He was brought to Motown last season along with forward Josh Smith to help resurrect the Pistons and bring them back to relevancy. The exact opposite happened. The Pistons went 29-53, missed the playoffs and their two big pick-ups (Jennings, Smith) experienced a rocky season that they wish never happened.
“It’s really embarrassing for myself,” Jennings said after the season. “I’m real embarrassed, and I’m sure the team is, that we weren’t able to accomplish our main goal, and that was to make the postseason. With all this talent, we’ve all got to look ourselves in the mirror. What could we have done to sacrifice for the team, for each other?”
Jennings is still young enough to shed his bad reputation, and with new head coach Stan Van Gundy — who has a reputation of his own as being hard-nosed and a disciplinary — Jennings might have finally found the right coach to tap into his full potential.
The look of frustration on his face was obvious in his first season wearing the red, blue and white, also calling it “the worst season of my career.” He averaged 15.5 points, 7.6 assists, 2.7 turnovers with an abysmal 37.3 FG%. His assists were actually a career-high along with a 34.4 percent assist rate, but a lot of times, the Pistons’ offense would bog down, revert to one-on-one isolation plays and went through offensive droughts. That mostly falls on Jennings’ shoulders.
A point guard shouldn’t be judged by how many assists he averages. That’s nice and all, but it’s how he runs a team. He needs to understand balance.
Meaning, is he directing guys where to be on the floor? Does he know when to go to option B when option A fails? Does he know the right times to look for his own shot and when not to? Jennings often had a tough time grasping this.
Former Piston Chauncey Billups is a perfect example. Billups never blew guys away with his assist total, but he always had the offense running like a well-oiled machine and knew exactly who to feed the ball to and directed guys on the court.
Now, no one is saying Jennings has to be Billups, who’s arguably a future Hall of Famer. But there’s no reason why he can’t finally become the point guard and leader some people still think he can become with excellent coaching he can lean on.
Jennings also had a difficult time finishing around the rim considering he was only a frail 169 pounds, which hurt his FG% along with unnecessary step-back jumpers. This offseason, he’s reportedly gained 20 pounds and that should help his struggles somewhat moving forward.
Van Gundy is fully aware of Jennings’ problems — and potential, as he stated in his introductory press conference back in May.
“The questions are his decision-making ability — not so much that he’s a high-turnover guy, but it’s his shooting percentage you get concerned about,” he said. “One of the things I like to do with guys in terms of shooting percentage is ask them why. Why 37 percent? I want to hear the answer on that. But I know he’s a very, very talented guy.”
He’ll also never be great defensively, but if Van Gundy can mold guys like Jameer Nelson and J.J. Reddick into respectable defenders, the hope is he can do the same for Jennings.
There is no question that he possesses great talent, but there are no more excuses for Jennings. The time is now for him to harness his skills.