NBA Playoffs: Defending Brandon Jennings (it's not as hard as you think)

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NBA_jennings.jpgSaturday was the playoff debut of the Brandon Jennings show.

Sure, the Hawks won game one against the Bucks, pretty handily actually. But what you were talking about later, the only thing that kept Milwaukee even in it (and led them on a run to make it a little interesting) was Jennings. He had 34 points on 14 of 25 shooting. Jennings was draining threes and hitting his little lefty floaters in the lane. He kept getting good looks seeming whenever he wanted.

How do the Hawks contain the quick Rookie of the Year candidate?

Well, by doing a lot of the things they did last time, actually. Thanks to Synergy (the best new toy on the planet, seriously) I watched all of Jennings plays in the first game, and he was hitting the shots you want him to take.

Jennings does not have a great midrange game; according to Hoopdata he shot 29.9 percent from 10-15 feet, and 34 percent from 16 feet out to the three-point line (he shot a respectable 37 percent from three). But in the first half, those midrange shots were what was falling.

His early makes: 10-foot running left handed floater, 18-foot contested jumper, step-back three, uncontested layup in transition, step-back 18-footer over Al Horford, three pointer over Jeff Teague (who bit on a crossover). Those makes might bother you if Kobe Bryant were hitting them, but Jennings is not likely to repeat that feat.

Meanwhile, all game when he drove the lane and tried to get a layup in the halfcourt offense, he got it blocked. Josh Smith and Horford each got him a couple times. Take out the two transition layups and his only make came on a pretty scoop banker with just over a minute left in the game. The rest of the time they took away his easy shots. Jennings just hit the hard ones.

That happens in the NBA. But you play the percentages, the Hawks need to bet he can’t do that again. When it was clear he was hot they still doubled off him (to cover Carlos Delfino in the post?) a once and lost him at the arc a couple times, they could contest his shot better. But he’s not likely to be that hot again.

One thing the Hawks could do a better job of is forcing Jennings to drive to the right. Mike Bibby in particular let Jennings go to his much-preferred left any time he wanted (less Bibby on Jennings is just a good idea generally). He hits that left-handed floater consistently. Force him to do something he likes less to the right.

Also, be physical, as much as the refs allow. Joe Johnson could body him well and had some success with that in the last game.

Look for Jennings to have less of an impact this game, so long as the Hawks continue to take away his layups. And if he does, that could be trouble for the Bucks, they will need Salmons or someone to step up.

PBT Extra: LeBron as MVP and other NBA postseason award predictions

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Last year, Russell Westbrook had a historic season on his way to the MVP award, with James Harden and Kawhi Leonard right on his heels. But heading into this season, the dynamic for MVP — and many of the NBA awards — feels very different and wide open.

In this latest PBT Extra, I lay out my preseason predictions for every award — LeBron James for MVP, Ben Simmons for Rookie of the Year, and on down the list. There are a few leaps and surprises in there (predicting Most Improved or Sixth Man before the season is a crap shoot, so why not gamble).

Now the predictions season is over, let’s get on to the games.

Jazz: Dante Exum undergoing surgery after shoulder injury

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Jazz point guard Dante Exum hurt his shoulder in a preseason game – an injury that immediately looked like it could be season-ending.

Though Utah doesn’t outright say Exum is done for the year, this doesn’t engender much hope.

Jazz release:

The following is a medical update on Utah Jazz guard Danté Exum who suffered a separated left shoulder on October 6 vs. Phoenix.

After further evaluation, Exum (6-6, 190, Australia) has elected to undergo surgery to stabilize the AC joint of his left shoulder. The surgery is scheduled to take place Tuesday, October 24 in Los Angeles. Further updates will be provided when appropriate.

Exum (obviously) didn’t receive a contract extension before today’s deadline, so he’ll become a free agent next summer. After one full missed season already and two years of limited effectiveness, it’s not even clear Utah will extend Exum a qualifying offer to make him a restricted free agent. The former No. 5 pick almost certainly won’t meet the starter criteria, which means his qualifying offer would be worth $4,333,931 (down from $6,619,903 based on his draft slot).

The Jazz will start Ricky Rubio, and Raul Neto will be the primary point guard behind him. Wings Rodney Hood, Alec Burks, Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles can all share facilitating duties.

Utah will probably be just fine without Exum this season, which speaks to his marginal place long-term.

Sprained ankle has LeBron James questionable for opener vs. Celtics

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — LeBron James‘ playing status for Tuesday’s season opener against Boston remains unclear.

James has been slowed by a sprained left ankle for more than two weeks and it’s still not known whether he’ll be on the floor when the Cavaliers take on the Celtics and Kyrie Irving, who asked to be traded by Cleveland this summer.

Following Monday’s practice, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said “I really don’t know” when asked if James will play.

James took part in some post-practice shooting drills with teammates. He did not speak with the media as the Cavaliers prepared for their opener, a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference finals.

James has never missed an opener in his NBA career, and teammate J.R. Smith doesn’t expect him to miss this one.

“Oh, he’s going to go,” Smith said. “He’s going to go, trust me that. I don’t care what he’s got to do, he’s going to play.”

 

Report: Richard Jefferson signing with Nuggets

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Update: The Nuggets will waive Jameer Nelson, according to Wojnarowski:

It looks like Denver will ride with the younger Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay at point guard — a risky proposition. Nelson stabilized the position in the event Murray or Mudiay weren’t ready for bigger roles. The Nuggets aren’t hedging their bets now, which puts plenty of pressure on Murray and Mudiay.

Murray should be fine eventually. Mudiay’s promise is far less certain. But this is a team trying to reach the playoffs now, and it might have to ride out growing pains from its point guards without Nelson as a safety net.

 

Richard Jefferson became a late entrant into free agency when the Cavaliers traded him and the Hawks waived him.

But the forward is landing on his feet.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Jefferson could help the Nuggets, who look primed to end a four-season playoff drought. They were set to squeeze backup small-forward minutes behind Wilson Chandler out of the undersized Will Barton and oversized Juan Hernangomez. Jefferson is far more comfortable at the position.

He’s 37 and doesn’t offer long-term upside, but he’s a savvy defender and still pretty athletic. He picks his spots well enough offensively to help on that end, too.

But Denver also has a deep roster that already had 15 players on standard contracts. There’s not an obvious cut to make room for Jefferson, though the Nuggets clearly have something planned.