Maurice Cheeks, Brandon Jennings

Brandon Jennings finding running a team difficult after ‘shooting at will’ in Milwaukee

14 Comments

The Detroit Pistons, clearly in win-now mode, traded the younger Brandon Knight and passed on even-younger Trey Burke in the draft to make Brandon Jennings their starting point guard.

Jennings, in his fifth NBA season – and sixth pro season, as the Pistons repeatedly noted when they acquired him – should be more polished than Detroit’s potential alternatives.

But Jennings has looked extremely rough around the edges this season.

He’s making just 39 percent of his 2-pointers and 33 percent of his 3-pointers, and his turnovers per game and per minute are both career highs. What gives?

Jennings, via Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News:

“I think I’m just thinking too much, trying to find guys instead of looking for my shot,” Jennings said. “So when I do, I’m out of rhythm because I’m not looking for it.”

“It’s been a little difficult, but it’s definitely going to take some time,” Jennings said. “I’m still gonna keep doing what I’m doing. This is a learning year for me, trying to be able to run a team. In Milwaukee I was just playing basketball and shooting at will. This year, I’m taking a step back.”

Maurice Cheeks is trying to turn Jennings into a pass-first point guard, but the results have been mixed.

Jennings is averaging a career-high 8.3 assists per game, and though increased passing has caused his turnover spike, his assist-to-turnover ratio is also a career best. The Pistons score 102.8 points per 100 possessions with him and 98.5 points per 100 possessions without him.

That’s all certainly encouraging.

Jennings’ shooting, on the other hand, has not.

His 39 percent on 2s and 33 percent on 3s are below his career averages, but neither are career lows. They’re both within his expected range.

What makes those efficiencies troubling is Jennings is shooting less frequently than ever. If he’s going to be more selective with his attempts, he should make a higher percentage of them – at least in theory. He clearly hasn’t gotten comfortable with that tradeoff in real time.

But Cheeks doesn’t see that as a legitimate excuse. Cheeks, via Goodwill:

“He just didn’t shoot the ball well. It’s not about thinking,” Cheeks said. “Part of the game is thinking. It’s a happy medium where you run offense or take shots. It’s not something new. You have shots, you take them. You make them or miss them.”

Cheeks made it clear he doesn’t subscribe to the theory of overthinking, but he wants Jennings to toe the line from aggression to recklessness.

“He’s got to be aggressive in the game,” Cheeks said. “You cannot be afraid to make a mistake. You’re gonna make mistakes. Play to his ability and his ability is good enough for him and good enough for us.”

The Pistons were spoiled with one of the greatest mid-career improvements by a point guard in NBA history when Chauncey Billups went from spot starter with the Timberwolves to NBA Finals MVP with Detroit under the tutelage of Larry Brown.

Jennings and Cheeks almost certainly won’t duplicate that. Jennings isn’t Billups, and Cheeks, though a former All-Star point guard, isn’t Brown.

But how close Jennings and Cheeks come and how quickly they get there will have a large impact on the second half of the Pistons’ season. The challenge is steep, though. Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

Jennings has said he was never a guy who studied videotape before this season and now he and Cheeks spend many hours every week reviewing games.

At some point, those lessons might change how Jennings sees the floor. If it all works, Jennings will be a better player than he ever could have been as a shoot-first gunner. If the Pistons get that more complete player, they’ll be better off for it.

But in the meantime, they’re hurting themselves in the present as Jennings changes his style on the fly. At 17-24 and just outside playoff position, Detroit might not maintain that patience with Jennings’ development.

Glenn Robinson III does his best to salvage Dunk Contest, gets victory in process

4 Comments

NEW ORLEANS — This year’s NBA All-Star Dunk Contest was doomed to disappoint, it was never going to match last year’s epic battle. It started in a hole.

It never climbed out. Don’t take my word for it, check out what JaVale McGee thought.

Saturday was an underwhelming night of dunks punctuated by a couple of moments of brilliance.

The Pacers’ Glenn Robinson III had the most of those moments — which is why he won the event. His strong night started with his first dunk, which may well have been the best of the contest.

The final one from Robinson, the one that sealed the victory, may be the other best dunk of the competition — dunking over Paul George, the Pacers mascot, and a Pacers dancer.

“I originally planned for it just to be PG (Paul George),” Robinson said afterward. “I knew I had to bring out something special. We added the mascot and the cheerleader. I really just wanted to get up high and dunk that thing hard, man. My adrenaline was going. It felt like I was looking at the rim. All I knew was the crowd go crazy. I pointed like this because, man, everybody seemed to sleep on me, didn’t really think I was going to win this thing.”

Event favorite Aaron Gordon, who should have won a year ago, opened the contest with an innovative idea — a drone dunk — but he couldn’t execute it and there were a few attempts before he nailed it.

Gordon didn’t advance out of the first round, and his first dunk summed up the 2017 Dunk Contest — interesting ideas that didn’t quite pan out like planned. (To be fair, Gordon has been battling injuries recently, that may have thrown him off).

If it wasn’t going to be Gordon, a lot of people expected it to be the bouncy Suns forward Derrick Jones Jr. who won, and he reached the Finals in part thanks to this spectacular dunk that woke the Smoothie King Center up.

DeAndre Jordan was okay, but without Chris Paul throwing him lobs it didn’t quite feel the same. Jordan can dunk with such power in game, but we didn’t see that Saturday.

In the end, it was Gordon who was making the plays.

“I’m not really a known dunker,” Robinson said. “I practiced. I prepared. I know I’m a jumper. And like I said, I’m a guy that stays out of the way. But when it’s time to shine, that’s my thing. That’s what I wanted to do. I knew all along I had some things planned, and I just wanted to show the world.”

Glenn Robinson III wins underwhelming dunk contest on over-people, below-rim dunk (video)

2 Comments

NEW ORLEANS — Glenn Robinson III won the dunk contest with the second-best dunk of the night, going over a few people and under the rim — a narrow path to slamming victory.

It would’ve rated as the event’s best dunk if he were truly under the rim rather than somewhat in front of it. And he did have the best body of work to win the contest.

But the best single dunk was still by runner-up Derrick Jones Jr., who went between the legs on a pass off the side of the backboard.

NBA stars shoot threes to raise $500,000 for Sager Strong Foundation in touching moment

1 Comment

NEW ORLEANS — The spirit of Craig Sager is strong during All-Star weekend in The Big Easy and he’s going to get a spot in the Hall of Fame, deservedly so.

After Eric Gordon won the Three-Point Contest, he and the other finalists Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker stayed on the court to shoot threes to raise money for the Sager Strong Foundation — they would shoot threes for a minute and for each make the foundation would get $10,000. Then they brought out help — Reggie Miller, James Harden, DeMar DeRozan, DJ Khaled, and others to knock down shots. That raised $130,000.

Stephen Curry tried to push that to $500,000, but it was Sager’s son that actually did it (with an assist from Shaquille O’Neal).

It was a touching moment for a great cause.

Derrick Jones Jr. catches pass off side of backboard, jams between-legs dunk (video)

2 Comments

NEW ORLEANS — With defending runner-up Aaron Gordon eliminated in the first round, Suns forward Derrick Jones Jr. might be our best hope to save the dunk contest.