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ROOKIE REPORT
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Brandon Jennings' 55-spot earlier this week set a NBA record for youngest player to score 50+ points.
Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

Only one word can describe Jennings' upside

By Drew Packham, for NBA.com
Posted Nov 18 2009 3:24PM

Here's a scary thought about Brandon Jennings, he of the recent double-nickel.

"He's what I call a developing shooter," Bucks assistant coach Kelvin Sampson said by phone earlier this week. "We are still working on his release, his follow through, his arch, everything. His fundamentals are getting better. The good thing about Brandon is that he's a willing learner."

From his 55-point performance against the Warriors last week, in which he went 21-for-34 from the field and hit seven of eight 3s, it's hard to imagine Jennings' shot getting better. But Sampson, who works with Jennings closely before and after practice, says there's no telling how good he can get.

"His upside is ridiculous," Sampson said.

And yet, as late as the preseason, even the Bucks didn't realize just how good Jennings was going to be.

"There was a scrimmage, late in training camp," Sampson related. "Where Brandon just took over. No one on our team could stop him. He had his way on the court and we (the coaches) just looked at each other and said, 'This kid is special.'"

At the time, seven-year veteran Luke Ridnour was playing well enough to make head coach Scott Skiles and his staff wonder who would be the team's starter. After that scrimmage, though, the Bucks handed the keys to Jennings.

"A guy like him, you give the reins," said teammate Andrew Bogut, who has benefited from Jennings' running of the team to the tune of 15.5 points and 9.0 boards per game. "There's no point having a guy like Brandon and keeping a tight leash on him. The thing about coach is he gives you that freedom, but he's still gonna teach and try to help you through mistakes and tell you when you're doing things wrong, but at the same time give you that free rein of running the ballclub."

Sampson says a lot of the credit for Jennings' early success -- he's first among rookies (eighth among all players) in scoring with a 25.5 point average and assists with 5.5 per game -- should fall squarely on Skiles.

"Scott knows how to utilize Brandon," Sampson said. "He knows what Brandon's strengths are and how to get the most out of him. Scott's smart enough to adjust the team to what Brandon does well. He's been given a lot of freedom and he's really thriving in that situation."

NBA.com's Rookie Rankings are just one man's opinion and are released every Wednesday during the season. If you've got an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for Drew Packham, send him an e-mail. You can also follow him on Twitter.

1. Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
834.525.54.85.51.10.1.478.538.784
Last Week: 2 | Drafted: 10
Sampson couldn't stop raving about Jennings, and can you blame him? "We just feel very fortunate to have him," Sampson told me. "The thing that makes him so special is that he's a risk taker. How many kids could do what he did (going to Europe out of high school) and thrive the way he is?" On a sidenote, last week I teased Jennings about inadvertently calling Bogut by the name 'Bogan'. This elicited 100s of emails explaining that, ironically, Bogan is a slang term in Australia for what we in American might call a "hick". When I asked Bogut about it, he says there's no correlation. "Brandon's probably never even heard that word in his life."

2. Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
1034.317.14.44.31.50.4.410.261.758
Last Week: 1 | Drafted: 4
Brandon Jennings has the spotlight, but I'm not ready to proclaim him Rookie of the Year, especially with Evans playing the way he is. Evans is second among rookies in scoring (17.1 ppg), assists (4.3) and steals (1.3). "Everybody said it was a strong point guard draft," Kings coach Paul Westphal told the Sacramento Bee. "(But) we'll take our guy. I like his all-around game, his ability to guard many positions, his ability to change the game at either end of the floor. More than anything, I like his approach and maturity. He's all about winning the game."

3. Jonny Flynn, Minnesota Timberwolves
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
1128.414.23.33.31.40.1.468.269.825
Last Week: 3 | Drafted: 6
Despite his struggles in three games this week (12.0 ppg, eight assists to 12 TOs, three losses), Flynn showed some fight -- literally. Unfortunately, Flynn's jawing Friday night with Dirk Nowitzki only motivated the Mavs' star and sent the Wolves into a tailspin. Not surprisingly, Kurt Rambis -- known in his playing days as an enforcer -- stood behind his rookie. "That's OK," Rambis said after the Wolves' 89-77 loss. "I don't mind that at all. I don't mind our team sticking up for their teammates. That's a good thing."

4. Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
1121.99.71.83.41.10.0.519.500.857
Last Week: 4 | Drafted: 18
Lakers center DJ Mbenga is getting an in-your-face introduction to this rookie class. First, top pick Blake Griffin threw down on him in the preseason. Then, the 5-foot-11 Lawson posterized the 7-foot Mbenga in garbage time of the Nuggets' 105-79 win over the Lakers. Aside from the highlight reel, Lawson was active in the Nuggets' three games, averaging 5.7 assists and 1.7 steals.

5. Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
1022.07.24.60.60.81.0.485.000.533
Last Week: 10 | Drafted: 26
If Gibson is getting lost in the rookie shuffle, that's just fine with him. In a recent interview with ESPN Chicago, Gibson said: "I never was the type of guy that always made a lot of buckets or (did) a lot of yelling and screaming. At the end of the day, I did what it took for my team to win. And three years in a row (USC) made the NCAA tournament. We got a lot of wins. Broke a lot of records for USC. There's nothing more I can say. It was never about me. It was always about helping my team win and try to help players around me get better. As time went on, I got better along with it."

6. DeJuan Blair, San Antonio Spurs
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
818.36.96.50.90.20.4.605.000.500
Last Week: 5 | Drafted: 37
Howard Beck of the New York Times had an insightful feature on Blair this week, chronicling the no-ACL-in-either-knee situation of the Spurs forward. Blair seems to take great pride in the fact, especially since he's proving so many people wrong. "I always say I'm blessed," Blair said. "That's why I take advantage of every day and try and smile. I'm in the NBA and without ACL's and with the Spurs. Doing my dream. I'm blessed. It's amazing."

7. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
1027.78.92.54.71.10.2.500.429.545
Last Week: 8 | Drafted: 7
With all the chaos in Golden State -- Stephen Jackson was shipped out and Monta Ellis may soon follow -- Curry could use a confidant. Enter LeBron James. "[LeBron's] been checking on me," Curry told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. "There's been a little chaos on our team, and he's been making sure I've kept my head straight. He has been a voice of encouragement." If Ellis is dealt, the Warriors may call on Curry (14 ppg, 4.5 apg in last two games) -- to become more of a scorer.

8. Wesley Matthews, Utah Jazz
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
1020.17.61.30.60.50.0.509.467.765
Last Week: NR | Drafted: FA
It's not easy for a Jazz rookie to win over coach Jerry Sloan, but if you're hard-nosed and play defense, you're golden. Just ask Matthews, who has taken over as the starting shooting guard. If you're wondering who Matthews is, you're not alone. Son of former player Wes Matthews, the Marquette guard went undrafted in June and signed with the Jazz after catching their eye in NBA Summer League action. In his last two games, both as starter, Matthews averaged 14.5 points while going 10-for-20 from the field. But it's Matthews defense that has caught Sloan's eye. "I think he's played pretty well," Sloan told the Salt Lake Tribune. "His defensive statistics are the highest on the team, and I think that's a tribute to him."

9. Toney Douglas, New York Knicks
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
916.19.31.60.90.40.0.500.375.750
Last Week: NR | Drafted: 28
The Knicks may have blown it by taking Jordan Hill ahead of Brandon Jennings with the eighth pick in the draft, but it looks like they got it right by landing Douglas with a draft-night trade with the Lakers. In two games last week, Douglas averaged 19 points, 3.5 rebounds and was 17-for-35 from the field. With the Knicks off to a franchise worst 1-9 start, D'Antoni may turn more and more to Douglas and fellow rookie Jordan Hill.

10. Terrence Williams, New Jersey Nets
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
1128.79.66.02.00.40.0.331.296.571
Last Week: 9 | Drafted: 11
The good news for Williams this week? He had back-to-back double-doubles against the Sixers and Magic. The bad news? In those two games he was 8-for-32 from the field and 1-for-8 from beyond the arc. The worse news? In all four games this week, he was just 14-for-50 (28 percent) and 3-for-14 (21 percent) from three-point land. The even worse news? The Nets are 0-11.

Honorable Mention: Chase Budinger, Rockets: Tough to drop him out of the top 10, but he's still averaging 9.3 points, sixth among rookies; Darren Collison, Hornets: Has scored in double digits in last four games (last two as Chris Paul's replacement); Eric Maynor, Jazz: Looked really good averaging 18.5 points, 7.5 assists in two games as fill-in starter. Rodrigue Beaubois, Mavericks: In three starts, Beaubois is averaging 10.7 points while going 13-for-19. Marcus Thornton, Hornets: Has averaged 11.3 ppg in last three games; David Andersen, Rockets: Had 19 points (9-for-14 FG) and six rebounds in win over the Lakers.

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