Brandon Jennings takes aim for the 40-percent mark

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Yesterday, in a live chat on ESPN.com, Brandon Jennings lobbed an easy-as-pie piece of cake over the plate. He didn’t have to; Jennings had stopped by to pretty clearly shill for Court Grip — the new product which Dwyane Wade plugged so aggressively but a few weeks earlier — and those kinds of advertising tours tend to be very straightforward affairs. But Jennings got just a tad sidetracked in talking about his workout schedule and his goals for next season, and offered up this gem:

Steve (Orlando):

Go Bucks! How many hours a week do you, if at all, practice your 15 foot jump shot. Thanks.

Brandon Jennings  (3:05 PM):

Actually since the lockout, I’ve been in Baltimore working for 3 months straight. I’m going to shoot over 40% this year. This whole three months of the lockout, I’ve been working out 5 days a week in Baltimore.

40 percent. That’s it. Take a moment to get all of the wisecracks out of your system. Just wring out the snark. 40 percent is an incredibly unimpressive target, a number that most NBA players eclipse with even their worst shooting seasons. We know this. Jennings probably does, too, but that didn’t stop him from setting a depressed goal for his own individual performance.

Jennings is still just 21, and he’ll evolve plenty as a player before he even hits his basketball prime. Yet his underwhelming field goal percentage numbers — .371 and .390 in his first two seasons respectively — are a cause for legitimate concern. They’re far from a death sentence for Jennings’ career, but so long as his poor shot selection continues to get the best of him, his NBA potential will be curbed substantially.

To be fair, Jennings has averaged five three-pointers a game in each of his NBA seasons thus far, accounting for nearly a third of his total shot attempts. If we use effective field goal percentage instead of standard field goal percentage, his shooting efficiency looks a bit more respectable, and Jennings actually outshoots John Wall and Russell Westbrook.

Of course, the problem with comparing Jennings to players like Wall and Westbrook is that each has produced in a way that Jennings has not. Wall sees the world in angles, and harnesses them through his own brand of awesome playmaking; he posted an assist rate 10 points higher than Jennings last season, despite JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche attempting to sabotage that number at every turn. Westbrook, on the other hand, was not only a far superior playmaker statistically in his second season, but he got to the line at an elite rate. He curbed his initially low field goal percentage with rapid improvement and a commitment to drawing contact, and those free points — which exist outside of his total field goals attempted and thus his field goal percentage — are a big component of Westbrook’s incredible production.

If Jennings were a better passer, his poor shooting numbers would matter slightly less. If he were committed to getting into the lane (where Jennings has proven himself to be an decently effective finisher), his efficiency numbers would skyrocket. Yet Jennings remains committed to forcing shots he has little chance of making, and hasn’t shown enough growth in the other facets of his game to hedge the problematic influence of his shot selection.

The blame here might not solely be on Jennings (Scott Skiles seems content with players taking long two-pointers, and the Bucks haven’t exactly had a lot of high-level talent outside of Jennings and Andrew Bogut), and that notion makes it worth considering if this alignment of player, team, coach, and system might be damaging to the offensive potential of all parties involved. If Jennings was firing up more shots than normal because of Bogut’s lingering injuries and the offensive limitations of some his teammates, then that’s understandable. But if he’s growing accustomed to shooting once every other minute despite playing for one of the league’s slowest teams as if such a thing were his Basketball Gods-given right, then we could have a bit of a problem. A fair bit of restraint would behoove Jennings, but the Bucks’ system offers structure without the means to prevent him from taking ill-advised shots. Skiles has a reputation for being an oppressive coach, but in his offense Jennings is oddly enabled.

There’s something admirable about an NBAer playing within themselves, and whether due to personal motivations or circumstance, we have yet to see Jennings pull off such a feat. 40 percent would be a nice step in the right direction, but only the slightest step. If Jennings wants to keep pace with his impressively efficient contemporaries, he’ll need to show a fair bit of growth beyond that number.

H/T: Tom Haberstroh.

Tyronn Lue says he has secret plan to fix Cavaliers’ defense for playoffs

AP Photo/Phil Long
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Only one team that ranked outside the top 12 in points allowed per possession during the regular season won an NBA title. The 2000-01 Lakers, who were 21st in defensive rating, are the lone outlier.

The Cavaliers rank 22nd in defensive rating this season and have been even worse lately.

But Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue says he has a plan. He just won’t reveal it yet.

Lue, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

“We’ve got to hold back. We can’t show our hand early because … these are some good teams and we don’t want them to be able to come into a series and be able to adjust to what we do. We just have to be able to play our normal defense until we get there and then we will see what happens.”

Also:

“I think the rebounding hurt us. Rebounding. But it will be different once some other things happen. … Their two-guards, their threes, they still crashed the boards. But we have something to fix that. Just not right now.”

What precisely those plans are, Lue wouldn’t tell us. And here’s the other part — he’s not exactly sure they’ll work.

“I’m not confident, but we’ve got to” get the defense fixed, Lue said. “We have to.”

The Cavs ranked just 10th in defensive rating last season, among the worst marks for an eventual champion. But they cranked up their defense in the playoffs, especially late. Cleveland held the Raptors 4.8 points per 100 possessions below their regular-season scoring rate and the Warriors 7.8 below theirs.

Lue also unleashed a 3-point-heavy attack in the playoffs last year after sitting on the strategy through the regular season.

So, I have some faith Lue will implement a better defensive gameplan when it counts. It also helps to have LeBron James, who can still play elite defense when not in the slog of a long regular season.

But the Cavaliers’ defensive deficiencies right now are glaring. This roster appears to lack defensive potential, and their many miscues keep them well below whatever that potential is.

The challenge in elevating this defense to championship-caliber will be immense, maybe even unprecedented.

Mavericks’ Salah Mejri dunks while getting shoved in the gut (video)

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The Mavericks built a 13-point lead over the Thunder with 3:30left thanks to plays like this Salah Mejri dunk on Nick Collison.

Unfortunately for Dallas, Russell Westbrook happened.

Willy Hernangomez dunks on Andre Drummond, Pistons’ playoff chances (video)

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Andre Drummond and the Pistons couldn’t slow down anything.

Not Willy Hernangomez. Not the Knicks. Not Detroit’s plummeting playoff hopes.

After a 109-95 loss to the Knicks last night, the Pistons — who’ve lost four straight and seven of eight — are 1.5 games and two teams out of playoff position.

Terrence Ross 360 dunks his way back into Raptors fans’ hearts (video)

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In his first appearance in Toronto since the Raptors traded him to the Magic, Terrence Ross did what he has done best throughout his career: Delight Toronto fans with a dunk.

And of course the fans appreciated it, because their Raptors cruised to a 131-112 win.