Upward bound

Jennings’ assists escalating in March

Brandon Jennings has been climbing the ladder during March.

Not the one Bango used to perform his spine-tingling dunk a few years back.

Not the one occupied by the National Basketball Association’s leading scorers.

No, Jennings has been reaching uncharted territory in the assists category, dropping dimes at a record-setting pace.

Jennings dished out a career-best 19 helpers during the Bucks’ 122-114 victory over the Toronto Raptors at the BMO Harris Bradley Center on March 2. The total was the highest for a Bucks player in a single game since Ramon Sessions established a franchise record with 24 during an April 14, 2008 game against Chicago.

Two nights later, Jennings delivered 17 more assists and racked up 20 points in a 109-108 home triumph over Utah. He totaled 12 assists in a 117-101 road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on March 6, then recorded his fourth straight double-digit assist outing with 10 in Milwaukee’s 103-93 win at Golden State on March 9.

Besides notching his 10+ assists in four consecutive games spanning March 2-9 – the longest streak of games with double-digit assists in his career – Jennings also reached double figures in scoring in each of those games to achieve four straight points/assists double-doubles. The last Milwaukee player to accomplish that feat was Sam Cassell, who had six in a row from Jan. 3-14, 2000.

Coincidentally, Jennings doled out 10 more assists with Cassell looking on during the Bucks’ 106-93 loss to the Washington Wizards on March 13. Cassell is in his fourth season as an assistant coach with the Wizards.

Jennings’ recent assists spree brought back memories of his performance in the 2008 McDonald’s All-American Game in Milwaukee. He came into the showcase having averaged 35.5 points per game during his senior season, earning the Naismith High School Player of the Year Award. He also became Oak Hill Academy’s first Parade Magazine Player of the Year and was named the nation’s top player by EA Sports and MaxPreps.

Jennings, though, expressed his intentions of breaking the McDonald’s single-game assist record of 13, and only a few attention lapses by his teammates prevented him from challenging the mark.

Following his recent double-digit assist spree, Jennings was asked what he found more satisfying: his scoring or assist totals.

“The assist totals, because everybody didn’t think I could pass like this,” he responded. “I’d always been a pass-first point guard since high school. Now, with J.J. (Redick) and guys like that, I’m able to show what I can really do.”

Redick came up with 17 points in that night’s game against Utah, and Jennings supplemented his 17 assists with 20 points. That was just the third 20-point, 15-assist game by a Bucks player in the last 25 years.

“I told him (Redick) to just keep shooting – shooting with confidence, and that’s what he did,” Jennings said. “Due to the fact that everybody’s going to try to stop me from penetrating, I was able to find my shots in the second half and just let it go a couple times. I was in my Kobe mode.”

Jennings considers assists more difficult to achieve than points.

“The easiest thing in the NBA is scoring,” he said. “Trying to assist and being able to counteract and get buckets is the hardest thing to do. Scoring is easy. It’s something I’ve done ever since I’ve been here. But when I use the pass, I can always get my teammates involved, and that’s something I’m doing now.”

Jennings’ 58 assists over his March 2-9 four-game stretch represented the second-best four-game assist total recorded in the NBA this season. Boston’s Rajon Rondo rang up 61 assists from Nov. 17-23.

Jennings also became the first Milwaukee player to hand out 15+ assists in consecutive games since Cassell had outings of 15 and 18 on Dec. 4 and 5, 1999.

Over 12 games spanning Feb. 11 through March 10, Jennings and starting backcourt partner Monta Ellis had outscored the opposing starting guards 496 to 346 and scored the same or more points than the opponents in 11 of the 12 outings. Jennings and Ellis also totaled more assists than their rivals in 11 of those 12 games.

Ellis has been on a scoring binge in March, averaging 27.7 points through the first six games of the month on .529 field-goal shooting, hiking his season scoring average to 19.4 points a game. During that same span, Jennings was averaging 11.8 assists, bring his season mark to 6.7 per game to go along with 18.2 points a contest.

“We’re just playing,” Jennings said. “We’re not thinking about anything but the second half of our season. We’re trying to get to the playoffs. Once we get to the playoffs, we already know what the atmosphere in the city is going to be about, so we’ve just got to keep winning.

“We’re going to have to get more mentally focused and start closing out games.”