Posted Dec 29 2009 11:11AM
A week into the regular season, I remember a radio interview where the hosts asked me about Brandon Jennings. He had just scored 32 points in a win over the Nuggets and the question was of the "Is the Rookie Of The Year award a cinch?" variety.
I told the hosts to chill, that every mega-talented newcomer benefits early in the season from the opposition's unfamiliarity with their games. Once those scouts and defensive wizards get enough tape, Jennings would inevitably be in for some tough times.
Chris Paul's Hornets were 3-11 in March in his rookie year. He averaged season lows the whole month. Deron Williams came out averaging 14 and 5 in November, then dropped to single digit points for the next three months. It happens. Derrick Rose kept up his production all season, but he was somewhat of an anomaly.
B.J. was due for a slide. I knew it, NBA folks knew it, sane fans knew it. But what does it mean? It means that we shouldn't be treating his tough December as anything other than an inevitable bump on the road for someone destined for greatness.
Jennings, however, is feeling the strain of expectations that come with what is probably the greatest three-week introduction of any little man in recent memory, especially for a guy that was dissed, dismissed and disrespected before he played his first NBA game. The judges and cynics were so surprised that the kid was this dope that the 20- and 30-plus point games he turned in had their worlds in a tizzy. Then he dropped 55. Everyone expected the kid to be Isiah Thomas and Allen Iverson every night and every game.
"I feel like it's a curse because of the 55. It's almost a curse," he was quoted a few days ago. "Now that I've scored 55, everybody expects me to go out there and score big numbers every night. I'm just trying to find my way. Not every night is going to be easy. A lot of teams are changing their defense. So it's not as easy as everyone thinks it is."
B.J. needs to emphasize the blessing part of it, though. You know what his initial explosion did? Yeah, it created the weight of expectations, but it also reimaged him into a likable figure -- lovable and admirable, even. Had he come out struggling, the "bust" and "hype" rhetoric would have perpetuated along with the stigma (even if you don't want to acknowledge it) that was attached to his pioneering decision to tell the mooching, advantage-taking NCAA to go jump off a cliff when he spurned college for pro ball in Italy. His summer wasn't that great either. He had the odd Draft day weirdness of being absent in the green room (because he and his agent weren't sure he'd be a lottery pick) then arriving late to walk across the stage and shake David Stern's hand.
He followed that with an Internet snafu with rapper Joe Budden where he used a bunch of "closed door" language and threw some salt on Ricky Rubio's game. Imagine how the wolves would have swarmed if he opened the season by stinking the joint up? But his early season brilliance and all around humility and good-naturedness has made fans forget all of these missteps. Folks pull for the young dude now.
Perhaps more importantly, though, he proved to himself that he can ball in this league. B.J. is a confident young dude -- one of my favorite pre-Draft quotes was when he said that all his point guard peers and potential draftees might be ranked ahead of him, but that'd only be until they got in a workout together and he blazed them. We all know, though, that nothing can substitute for actually going out and dropping 30 and 50 points on your grown-man competition.
Jennings can now basically settle into being a normal rookie -- forget competing with Tyreke Evans for Rookie of the Year honors ('Reke's rough patch is coming soon enough) and just ball. It's definitely worth noting that, while Jennings is shooting like he has two lazy eyes and a broken left hand, his assist to turnover ratio is nearly three to one. In a pre-Draft interview with AOL Fanhouse, Jennings was asked what he wants to prove and he answered, "That I can run a team, that I'm a pure point guard. Everybody thinks I'm a shoot-first point guard but I'm really a pure point guard, a pass-first point guard."
He's proving that. Game after game, if you watch the young fella ball, you can see the conductor in him.
Last week, before a loss to the Wizards, his worst game of the season, Jennings said, "the main thing is, you just have to keep playing your game. That's what I'm doing now."
In a lot of ways, these recent struggles are exactly what Jennings needed.
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