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

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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.

NBA’s minor league to offer $125,000 salaries to not-yet-draft-eligible 18-year-olds

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The NBA will lower its age limit to 18, effectively ending the one-and-done era.

Eventually.

In the meantime, the best option for most top players leaving high school is college basketball. But while the NBA takes its time changing a rule (that it never should have implemented in the first place), the NBA’s minor league will offer an alternative route.

G League release:

The NBA G League today announced a Select Contract as part of a comprehensive professional path that will be available, beginning with the 2019-20 season, to elite prospects who are eligible to play in the NBA G League but not yet eligible for the NBA.  The contracts, which will include robust programmatic opportunities for development, are for elite players who are at least 18 years old and will pay $125,000 for the five-month season.

NBA G League Select Contracts are designed for year-round professional growth and will include opportunities for basketball development, life skills mentorship and academic scholarship.  These offerings are slated to include basketball workouts during the summer months through existing NBA infrastructure like NBA Summer League and NBA Academies, year-round education programs designed to increase players’ ability to personally and professionally manage their careers, and a scholarship program for athletes who want to pursue higher education after their playing days.  Additionally, the NBA G League will further enhance player experience through existing partner relationships and NBA player development programming.

The $125,000 salary is nice and a sizeable jump from the standard minor-league salary, which these players were already eligible to receive. Select Contract players can also sign endorsements and receive loans from agents while remaining eligible to play, unlike in the NCAA.

But it’s not as if college basketball players aren’t compensated. Though their compensation is limited by the NCAA cartel, players still get tuition, room and board and cost-of-living expenses. And of course many get under-the-table money, too. The value of that compensation – particularly the tuition – varies by person.

Access to NBA infrastructure could swing some players, but that also comes with risk. Older professionals could expose younger, even more talented, players. Experience and physical advancement matter.

So does the stage. Top college-basketball players are nationally recognized stars who appear regular on television and are revered on campus. Minor-league players are relatively anonymous and play in mid-sized cities away from much fanfare.

There’s still plenty to sort out, and the details could affect how many players enter this new program out of high school. But it’s nice they have another option.

It’d be far better if they could just declare for the NBA draft if they feel they’re ready.

Anthony Davis challenging Michael Jordan as best opening-game player on record

AP Photo/Michael Wyke
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Anthony Davis called himself the NBA’s best player.

He sure backed it up last night.

Davis posted a 32-16-8-3-3 to lead the Pelicans to a 19-point win over the Rockets, considered by many to be the NBA’s second-best team. The performance immediately vaults Davis to the forefront of any MVP discussions.

But for him, it was just par for the course. Davis has repeatedly dazzled in season openers. When 18-6-2-3 qualifies as the dud, you know Davis is doing something right.

Davis’ box scores in New Orleans’ first game each season:

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That makes Davis’ average season-opener game score 24.1, one of the best ever. Only Michael Jordan has a higher mark on record (since 1983, as far back as Basketball-Reference records go; minimum: three games).

Here are the leaders:

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Obviously, Davis cares more about how he finishes than starts. The Pelicans have made the playoffs only twice with him, getting swept in the first round in 2015 and falling in the second round last season.

But it should be clear by now: Davis comes to play as soon as the season tips.

PBT Extra: Boston can be team to dethrone Golden State Warriors

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I’ve heard it from friends. I’ve seen it on NBA Twitter. I’ve debated it with sports talk radio hosts.

“This NBA season is already decided, nobody has a chance against the Warriors.”

Not true.

Boston has a shot, as I get into in this PBT Extra.

Absolutely the Warriors are the odds-on favorites to win it all, if healthy they should three-peat. They were my pick. But I believe Boston has a legitimate shot to dethrone the Warriors — they have the wing athletes, the switchability on defense, the scoring, the versatility. A Boston/Golden State Finals is going six or seven games… if we get there. It’s just day two of a long season.

But I believe in Boston.