Brandon Jennings, Post-Season
Growing up, Brandon Jennings hardly ever missed the NBA playoffs.
He was never quite like you and me – unless you were a celebrated basketball player at every level of your prep career and widely ranked at the top of your senior high school class in the country. But he was also just like us – a devoted NBA fan who mimicked his heroes on the blacktop outside after watching them on television in the playoffs. For Jennings, it did not matter where he was – only that he was catching the games. This was his time of the year. The game was always on.
“All day. It was non-stop basketball.”
Therein lies the present-day difference and dilemma. The playoffs are here, and the game is still on. Just sometimes, though. Because for Jennings, watching is not the same when you are no longer simply imagining what it might be like on the court – but instead genuinely feeling that you should be on the court.
“At first, the first couple rounds I wasn’t watching at all, because I was upset. I felt like we could have been in the eight spot playing instead of Philly and moving on to the second round. So it was kind of tough for me to watch that series.”
For the second time in three NBA seasons, Jennings played every single regular season game – he played 82 as a rookie and 66 this past season during an atypically rigorous and condensed schedule. That is a lot of basketball for a 22 year-old. But for the second time in three seasons, Jennings and the Bucks played only regular season games. And that is not enough basketball for this 22 year-old.
“I mean it’s hard. It’s always hard to get away. But you have to find something to just sort of clear your mind.”
A lot started fast for Jennings in the NBA. Or, rather, Jennings started fast a lot. You know the story of the 55-point game against the Warriors just a couple weeks into his first season, and you might even remember that the Warriors game was preceded by a dominant 32-point, nine-assist effort in a win over the Nuggets and followed by 25 points, eight assists, and seven rebounds against the Mavericks.
Jennings also punched his first and thus far, only, ticket to the playoffs as a rookie. In his first NBA playoff game, Jennings went on the road and lit up the Hawks for 34 points in a loss, the fourth highest-scoring debut in playoff history at the time. Although the comeback attempt fell short, the performance made Hawks coach Mike Woodson a Jennings believer.
"He willed them back into the game with his play."
Maybe it was will, maybe it was skill. While the Bucks ultimately fell in seven games, the rookie point guard posted better numbers in most areas in the postseason than he did in the regular season, finishing with a 17.7 PER in the series after a 14.5 PER in the regular season. And yet while some have remained focused on his first couple weeks or first season with the Bucks, those of us paying closer attention have witnessed steady improvement over the past couple years.
Traditional statistics and advanced statistics agree: Jennings is getting better. Each season in the NBA, his field goal percentage, points per game, true shooting percentage, and PER have risen at the same time his turnovers have fallen.
Not everything has gone exactly to plan – Jennings has yet to approach his rookie-season 37.4 percent mark on three-pointers, yet he attempted tied for the fourth most threes in the NBA this past season while shooting 33.2 percent from long range.
But he canceled that out with by improving his accuracy from just about everywhere else on the court.
Perhaps the most pronounced area of improvement for Jennings this season was his ability to finish in traffic and around the hoop. After converting 42.7 percent and 51.4 percent at the rim in his first two seasons, Jennings raised that figure to 57.7 percent this past season. He also set career highs shooting from 3-9 feet (37.4 percent), 10-15 feet (38.2 percent), and 16-23 feet (39.0 percent). The 39.0 percent accuracy on long twos equaled that of Tony Parker and bettered the likes of Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, and Ray Allen.
More than merely improving as a shooter, Jennings set career-bests this season in assist/turnover ratio (2.49) while starting at point guard in every game for one of the best passing teams and the most improved offense in the NBA. And he did all of this during yet another season of constant change.
After his team posted a disappointing 35-47 record in 2010-11, the long summer of 2011 breezed into fall, and then the first day of winter, Dec. 22. And still the Bucks stood 0-0. By the time opening night arrived for the Bucks, following a rushed training camp and preseason, Jennings surveyed the court to find that the majority of his opening-night teammates receiving playing time were not with the team last season.
After trying 23 different starting lineups in 2010-11, Scott Skiles said on Media Day in 2011 that it would be “really nice” to settle on a standard starting lineup in 2011-12. Instead, after all of the injuries and trades, the team ended up switching starting lineups (19) more often than they had the previous season, when you account for the lockout-shortened schedule.
In his first three seasons with the Bucks, Jennings has been a part of 50 different starting lineups. So, it is fair that he should look forward to at least feel some certainty in his backcourt mate next season.
“I think me and Monta (Ellis) – we figured out each other. He is a scorer, I am a scorer. Everybody said it wouldn’t be able to work. But to me, it seemed like it was working for us. Now we just need to put it together for an 82-game season.”
Teaming Jennings and Ellis in the backcourt earned mixed reviews: they put together six wins in seven games shortly after Ellis arrived, but also fell short in the grind of a playoff push. In all, the Bucks went 12-9 when they started together in the backcourt – a .571 winning percentage that over the course of a full season would have slotted the team sixth in the East.
If only making the playoffs was as easy as pro-rating some math from last season to next season. But we do not know how long the season might go on – all we really know for certain this time is when the season begins.
“Last year we had that crazy year when we didn’t know when the season was going to start. But this year we know the season starts September 27. It gives us a great opportunity to know when we can train, and when we can take breaks. Other than that, my whole goal is making the playoffs this year. It’s not like we are going to try to get in there. We need to make the playoffs this year.”
Jennings was not reading any cue cards when he cited that date: September 27. It just happened to be on the tip of his tongue, the first thing on his mind, during a casual chat on a summery, early-June afternoon outside Miller Park. He knows the first day the season starts, but do you know what Jennings does the first day after the season ends?
“Sleep. I don’t get up until like three o’clock in the afternoon. I just sleep all day.”
If Jennings continues his growth as a basketball player, he might just miss a day of sleep after the end of the regular season next year, but he probably won’t miss the playoffs.
My passions? Writing and the Bucks, to start. So it is good to be here. I have reported on media row for just about every Bucks home game since 2009-10 – almost all of that time writing for BrewHoop. I have also written for the Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club, SB Nation, ESPN Milwaukee, Slam Online, etc. You can follow me on Twitter @alexboeder or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.