Jake's Take: Finishing Strong, 12/15/10
Jake LeRoy [@JakesTake34]
Bucks at Spurs
Finishing StrongOver the summer, I came up with a list of 21 requests for Brandon Jennings in honor of his 21st birthday. Second on that list was a pleading for improved efficiency at the rim. Last year was a season-long struggle for Jennings in the paint as he struggled to finish in close. He either overlaid, underlaid or had his shot blocked. Of the 21 requests I outlined, Jennings has, to date, come closest to meeting this very request.
First, let’s go the stats. According to HoopData, Jennings is shooting nearly 10 percent better at the rim this year. He hit just 42.7 percent of his shots from in close last year, but has improved that number to 51.6 percent through 23 games this season. Jennings is still well below the league average of 63 percent, but his place among his peers is greatly improved. He is currently sixth among true point guards with at least four attempts at the rim per game, behind only Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo, Tony Parker, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook. That’s some pretty good company.
Now let’s determine what has transpired that has led to this drastic bump in accuracy. Jennings has become much more adept at avoiding the wrath of the league’s shot blockers. There were so many times last year when Jennings went up for a layup and everybody immediately knew there was no way that shot was drawing iron. That led to 5.7 percent of all shot attempts being blocked, or nearly one shot per game.
That percentage has dropped to just 3.5 percent this year. The league average for percentage of shots blocked is 5.7 percent, putting Jennings significantly below the norm. Among point guards averaging double digits, only Mike Bibby, Steve Nash, Chris Paul and Raymond Felton have had a lower percentage of their shots blocked.
So what’s preventing the opposition from getting more palms and fingertips on Jennings’ shots? First and foremost, he’s much improved at drawing contact and fouls. Blocked shots don’t end up in the box score if a foul is called. Jennings is currently attempting one free throw for every three shot attempts as opposed to one every 4.5 shots last year. His improved accuracy and foul magnetism has also yielded a slight increase in And-1 percentage, from 1.2 last year to 1.9 this season.
Variances in pace and liftoff have also aided Jennings’ progress at the rim. A year ago, Jennings seemed very predictable with the speed in which he moved and the timing in which he left his feet. This allowed defenders to get a better beat on his attempts. This year has been a different story as Jennings has done a better job of moving at different speeds within the painted area and occasionally taking off at atypical moments. This much-needed development has routinely caught big men off guard, throwing off their shot-blocking rhythms.
Jennings is still far from a completed project. He, like many Bucks, remains under 40 percent shooting for the year so his overall efficiency still has to improve. The fact he has made such considerable progress with his interior scoring is very encouraging. It’s a huge step in the right direction and, hopefully, an indication of further improvements as his career unfolds. Who knows, maybe someday he’ll answer each of my 21 wishes.
- Richard Jefferson is to ears what Daunte Culpepper and Kwame Brown are to hands. All three have unusually small features considering their body size. Look at ‘em. His ears look so little. I don’t even know how his ears could support a pair of earrings. I suppose one benefit might be a small savings in Q-Tips. That seems like a stretch, though.
- I can’t even come close to imagining what it’s like for a 6-foot-2, 6-foot-3 point guard like George Hill to be defended by Earl Boykins. It might be enjoyable if you can get Boykins in the post, but it looks so stressful trying to bring the ball up the court against him. Hill has done a pretty good job thus far, but every dribble looks like it might result in a deeply burning ulcer. Brining the ball up against full-court pressure from Boykins should be lumped in with hitting a 100-mile-per-hour fastball or returning an Andy Roddick serve.
- Second-year Spur DeJuan Blair experienced a dramatic fall in the 2009 NBA Draft due in large part to the mystifying reports that he had no ACLs. The mere idea blew my mind. To me, not having ACLs was like not having elbows or a rib cage. How is this possible? How is Blair even able to stand, let alone play basketball? I’ve been conditioned through years and years of sideline reports detailing the ugly severity of a blown ACL that this was the most important ligament ever. Yet, Blair is moving around just fine. Then I read this story and it helped clear things up. But I’m still more than a little perplexed.
- The Bucks tallied a very underwhelming three assists through the game’s first 24 minutes. The Spurs had 15 during the same amount of time. With those numbers in mind, it’s no surprise Milwaukee is trailing by 16 points at the break. The Bucks played a lot of one-on-one basketball and nearly pounded the air out of the ball. A lot of credit has to be given to the San Antonio defense, though. The Spurs eliminated many passing lanes and forced the Bucks to make difficult shots. On the few occasions when a Buck was open, he was unable to connect.
- That was a much-improved third quarter for the Bucks. They nearly tripled their first-half assist total, tallying eight in the frame after posting just three in the entire first half. It’s kind of a chicken and egg situation. Did the Bucks have more assists because guys finally started making shots? Or did they have more assists because they moved the ball better? I’m going to chalk it up to a little bit of Column A and little bit of Column B. Guys like Ersan Ilyasova had an especially strong quarter shooting, which helps, while Andrew Bogut and Keyon Dooling showed some nice interior and perimeter passing, respectively.
Closing It Out
For as great as Monday’s win over Dallas felt, this loss feels equally as bad. Manu Ginobili, who had me muttering unflattering comments all game, hit the step-back jumper to end all step-back jumpers to negate a fine comeback effort from the Bucks. Ginobili’s step-back was really more of a jump-back as he must’ve cleared three or four feet of space. I can’t help but think that a travel would’ve been called if this was a normal jump stop. Alas, ‘twas not to be.
The prominent storyline from the last two games was the insane comeback efforts put forth by the Bucks. This is a slippery slope, though. Sure, it’s great that Milwaukee refuses to give up and has the ability to close big deficits in a hurry. It’s a bad, bad habit, though. If the Bucks had played a full 48 minutes, they might win this game by double digits.
There’s no denying that Milwaukee’s second half was phenomenal, though. In the fourth quarter, Andrew Bogut looked like an eighth grader playing in a fifth-grade rec league. It was comical. Any shot that came within a few feet of the rim never even came close to drawing iron. Bogut is solidifying himself as a dominant defense force each and every night, finishing tonight’s contest with seven blocks, seven boards and 15 points.
CDR may have very well solidified himself a spot in the starting lineup with his showing tonight. He displayed an uncanny ability to finish from some of the most awkward shooting angles, augmenting his in-the-paint prowess with an ever-improving outside touch. Drew Gooden also had a strong showing off the pine, finishing with 20 points and 11 boards, including a clutch late tip-in that seemed to hang on the front rim forever.
It’s obviously very encouraging to watch the Bucks keep pace with two high-quality teams like Dallas and San Antonio. A win would’ve been great, though. A loss is still a loss no matter how encouraging it may have been. That being said, the team’s uptick in confidence is evident. The Bucks know they can play with the league’s elite in a hostile environment and that should bode well for the remainder of the season. But just imagine what they could day if they played a full 48.Until Saturday...
Note: These are the views of the 6th Fan Blogger. Thoughts and opinions expressed in this articles are not necessarily the views of the Milwaukee Bucks.