By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
Posted Oct 20 2010 2:53PM
It would be premature, and maybe a little disrespectful, to suggest that opposing NBA coaches drew up a set of "Jennings Rules" that bore any resemblance to the famous "Jordan Rules" concocted by the Detroit Pistons to cope with Michael Jordan back in the day.
But then, Brandon Jennings was rather precocious and even a little impertinent as a rookie last season for the Milwaukee Bucks. Anyone who nearly posts a triple-double in his NBA debut and then scores 55 points six games later is going to earn extra attention from the other locker room as the season goes on.
So just because nobody officially dubbed them the "Jennings Rules" -- or used that as the title of a best-selling expose, as happened with Jordan and the Chicago Bulls -- doesn't mean they didn't exist. Unwritten or otherwise.
"I heard there was a lot of game-planning for me during the Hawks series," Jennings said after a recent Bucks practice. "I had inside scoop so I heard they had -- I could be overdoing it, but I heard they had maybe 12 different defenses for how to stop me. I giggled when I heard that. I guess that meant I was doing something right."
The wiry 6-foot-1, 169-pound point guard kept on doing it, too. In Milwaukee's seven games against Atlanta in their Eastern Conference first-round series last spring, Jennings averaged 18.7 points with 25 assists to just eight turnovers. In the regular season, starting all 82 games for the Bucks, he averaged 15.5 points, 5.7 assists and 2.4 turnovers.
Jennings burst onto the NBA scene last fall, dropping those 55 on Golden State and, built around that night, averaging 31 points in a six-game November stretch. He was the instant leader for Rookie of the Year consideration and, based on his single season spent overseas, a one-man argument for Euroball as an alternative to college or the D-League as a green room for the pros.
Said Bucks coach Scott Skiles: "There are people who have admitted, NBA people, that they didn't even scout him as much as they should have [last season]. He literally snuck up on everybody. So we know that's not going to happen [now]. He knows it's not going to happen. He just has to be ready for it."
Jennings' individual stats calmed down as the season played out, but he still handled the Bucks on the floor and Skiles in his ear adeptly enough to get Milwaukee into the playoffs with a surprising 46-36 record. Even as opponents adapted and adjusted to what they saw on Jennings' second or third trips through the league.
Wisely, he adjusted right back.
"Yeah, I remember we were in Denver," Jennings said. "They guarded me totally different. Guys were stepping up, trapping. They were showing hard on me, so I wasn't able to just come off the screen and do what I wanted to do. Everybody has a different game plan."
His big adjustment against the Nuggets? "I had John Salmons," Jennings said, mentioning the Bucks' midseason acquisition at shooting guard. "So I was all right."
This season, Jennings has Salmons again. And wing scorer Corey Maggette. And low-post option Drew Gooden. And a returning Andrew Bogut, whose season was clipped short by a fall that mashed his right arm. And Keyon Dooling as a reliable backup to replace mentor Luke Ridnour.
Increased options mean increased decisions on the fly for the young point guard. But Jennings, exuberant and confident in equal measure, sees nothing half-full about that. To him, the Bucks are full-full. He isn't even daunted by the Miami Heat as the East's alleged favorite, given Milwaukee's strength in places where Miami might be a little lacking.
"We've got the center, the point guard, we've got the bench," Jennings said. "I think our bench is deeper. I know Miami has the big three, but you can't sleep on us either. I think once we get everything together, we can go out and compete with those teams too."
As for learning and utilizing so many new teammates, he said: "That's why we have preseason, so guys kind of get used to playing with each other and see what the chemistry is like. Once we have five or six guys in double figures in scoring, I think we'll be all right.
"One night me and Bogut might not have it. Then we've got Corey Maggette and Keyon Dooling, all these other guys who can go out and make things happen for us."
Jennings will initiate most of whatever happens. And this season, he might be able to complete more of it. A glaring hole in his game as a rookie was his inability to finish at the rim. He took a high percentage of his shots on the inside, shot at a poorer percentage there than on his jumpers and had 17 percent of his inside attempts blocked.
"He was playing in Europe [in 2008-09], and then all of a sudden he's thrown in here with all these athletes, the length, knowing when to shoot," Skiles explained. "And he's got a wide array of shots -- he can shoot a little floater, he can stop and shoot, he can go all the way. When you're penetrating, guys are coming, bodies around. A lot of it is just knowing which shot to go to. If he would have shot a better percentage in layups, I don't think anybody would be talking about his overall percentage [37.1 percent]."
The other area where Jennings can improve, his coach said, is by relying less on his lefthanded ways.
"Like a lot of young players, his dominant hand is really his dominant hand," Skiles said. "But he's working on it. When he gets to the point where he can go right as well as he can go left, it's going to be obviously a big improvement in his game."
And time for a few new Jennings Rules.
1. FINDING THAT PECKING ORDER
The challenge to all deep teams is finding and buying into a rotation that works a) on the floor and b) for the players' egos. It's among the better problems, at least.
2. BOGUT MUST ADVANCE
The Bucks center did what he could in street clothes, offering tips with his damaged arm. He needs to be active, though, for a strong season and a shot at second round.
3. DEFENSE CANNOT SLIP
Milwaukee set a franchise-record low in 2009-10 for points allowed per game (96). Team with more scorers now has to make defense top priority.
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LAST YEAR: 46-36, 2nd in Central
FINISH: Lost in first round of playoffs
2009-10 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2009-10 Stats|
COREY MAGGETTE, FORWARD
19.8 PPG | 5.3 RPG | 51.6 FG%
Pacific Division vet could be a swell Sixth Man, if he could accept it. Bucks are hungry for his abilities to create and to get to the foul line.
DREW GOODEN, FORWARD
10.9 PPG | 7.7 RPG | 86.1 FT%
Much-traveled veteran is the most traditional power forward Bogut has played with, and seems willing to do the grunt work inside.
ANDREW BOGUT, CENTER
15.9 PPG | 10.2 RPG | 2.5 BPG
Milwaukee is hoping that this time next year, Bogut doesn't have the term "injury-shortened" in recaps of his latest season.
JOHN SALMONS, GUARD
19.9 PPG | 3.2 RPG | 3.3 APG
The Bucks need the numbers above, which Salmons provided after arriving in Milwaukee, rather than those he posted for the Bulls in a half season (12.7 ppg, 42 percent shooting).
BRANDON JENNINGS, GUARD
15.5 PPG | 5.7 APG | 37.1 FG%
An early sensation in 2009-10, Jennings seems determined to beat any sophomore slump and focus on using the many tools in his point-guard belt.
|Keyon Dooling||6-3||195||G||Part of Milwaukee's heavy ex-Clipper influence, he can lighten Jennings' load.|
|Chris Douglas-Roberts||6-7||200||G||Already has made his name via Tweets, will need minutes to do that on court.|
|Luc Mbah a Moute||6-8||230||F||Doing one thing well -- defense at three spots -- will earn him time from Scott Skiles.|
ADDED: Larry Sanders, Darington Hobson, Tiny Gallon, Drew Gooden , Keyon Dooling, Earl Boykins, Corey Maggette, Chris Douglas-Roberts
LOST: Luke Ridnour, Royal Ivey, Kurt Thomas, Charlie Bell, Dan Gadzuric, Darnell Jackson
JOHN HAMMOND, GENERAL MANAGER
The Bucks have acted swiftly and decisively in each of the past two offseasons, to the point that they have created expectations. They also are spending owner Herb Kohl's money more aggressively, and trying to blend some players with different ideas about how to play. Most of his peers have applauded Hammond's work but let's see how the parts mesh.
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