Brandon Jennings wants to win.
Brandon Jennings wants to win.
So does Monta Ellis.
And that common goal, more than anything else, is the tie that ought to bind the two Milwaukee Bucks guards into one effective starting backcourt.
Jennings and Ellis logged 21 games as Bucks backcourt partners last season after Ellis was acquired from the Golden State Warriors along with forward Ekpe Udoh and center Kwame Brown in exchange for center Andrew Bogut and forward Stephen Jackson.
Jennings was the only Bucks player to appear in all 66 games of the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season and averaged a career-high and team-best 19.1 points per game along with 3.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.58 steals. He led Milwaukee in scoring 32 times, in assists 35 times and had six point/assist double-doubles.
Milwaukee went 12-11 after the arrival of Ellis, who averaged 17.6 points, 5.9 assists and 2.6 steals per game in 21 games in a Bucks uniform before sitting out the final two contests of the season with a hand injury. He was the Bucks’ top scorer six times, their assists leader 12 times, and scored the team’s final 16 points in a March 16 victory over Cleveland, going 8-for-8 from the field in the last 4 minutes of the game.
“We just kind of tried to go with the flow,” Jennings said. “I think we were trying to figure each other out a little bit.
“Now we know what to expect and we know what the pressure is. I’m glad we’ve got that down.”
As both players discussed their roles at the onset of 2012-13 training camp, they arrived at an intersection of sorts.
When Ellis was asked what role he expected to fill for the Bucks this season, he responded, ”The only thing I can say is coming in here and leading this team and doing whatever I have to do to help this team win.
“I mean, if I have to take sacrifices, I’m going to have to take sacrifices. Pretty much for me, it’s more focus on winning. Whatever it takes for me to get this team to that level of being a playoff team, I’m willing to do it.”
Jennings’ answer to the same question was similar.
“Monta and I are in agreement that we’ll sacrifice whatever just to win,” Jennings said. “Everything’s going to fall back on us – the good and the bad. We just have to play for the team and leave it out there every night on the floor. We can’t take days off.”
Ellis emphasized the importance of every player putting the team ahead of himself.
“That means doing whatever it takes,” Ellis said. “If that means I have to sacrifice – if that means I have to go from averaging 20 points to averaging 15 points … whatever it takes. If I have to get my assists up to nine or 10 … whatever it takes for this team to win, I’m willing to do it.
“My approach this year is, ‘Just win.’ That’s something we all have to come together as a team to do. It’s not an individual guy. It’s not Monta Ellis. This is the Milwaukee Bucks. We all line up as the Milwaukee Bucks. At the end of the day, that’s what we’re accountable for. So I want to lead by example, address issues when they need to be addressed and just play basketball.”
Ellis and Jennings got together for a one-on-one meeting before training camp opened.
“It was like a little brother/big brother talk, just about everything … just playing basketball and everything else will work out for itself,” Jennings said. “The fact that now we’re going to play basketball for 82 games together, and seeing where his mind-set is and where mine is. They’re both on winning, and we both want this to work.”
Ellis knows that will take a game-by-game commitment.
“We just have to work off each other,” Ellis said. “There may be one night that he has it going. We just have to continue to go with that. Some nights, I might have it going. But my thing with Brandon is to keep the press, the media, out of his ear and not let him feed into it. That’s the biggest thing with me and Brandon. All he has to do is play basketball. I don’t really have to tell him too much. All I have to do is keep his mind focused.
“He talks about having to prove this or prove that. People come with the questions about him just being a scorer. You have to block that out. I’ve been hearing that all my life. You just have to know your common goal, know what you’re after and know what you’ve been working for and putting the time in for every day, and come in and work toward that every day.”
The synchronicity of the backcourt duo will be vital on the defensive end of the court as well as the offensive end.
“The only thing Brandon doesn’t get credit enough for his defense,” Ellis said. “The only thing you see is score, score, score and shoot, shoot, shoot. He doesn’t get credit for his defense. That’s going to be the biggest shock to the world is when we get out there and play defense and have our big guys back there all on the same page. Then we’ll let it speak for itself.
“We don’t have to talk too much about it; all we have to do is go out there and play our game and not try to prove too much.”
Jennings and Ellis aren’t only sharing the same backcourt; they’re living in the same building. They seem to be making that work, too.
“I’m on the 25th floor and Monta’s on the 24th,” Jennings said. “I told him if I’m making too much noise at night, just hit the floor (actually the ceiling) and I’ll quiet down.”
The banter over the Milwaukee Bucks’ starting backcourt will no doubt continue.
Its partners, meanwhile, have had their talk and have shifted their attention to playing.