Jennings jumps into practice, gets knocked down, springs back up: ‘It was cool’
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LOS ANGELES – Brandon Jennings isn’t exactly sure where the finish line is, but he knows he’s clearing hurdles with increasing frequency now. There is no timetable for his return to the Pistons, but there aren’t a whole lot of items left on his checklist before he pulls that No. 7 jersey over his head and checks into a game for real.
“Another one I cleared,” he said Thursday after Pistons practice at the Galen Center on USC’s campus. “Today, I actually took it to the rack against Aron (Baynes) and got knocked to the ground and got right back up. And it was good. It was cool. It was contact that I needed to take.”
Jennings has grown much more assertive in pushing off on the left Achilles tendon he ruptured last January just as he and the Pistons were rolling, doing a dramatic 180 from their 5-23 start and capturing the NBA’s attention with a seven-game winning streak and an offense functioning at a high level.
He’s been engaged in quasi one-on-one games with ex-NBA player Quentin Richardson, Pistons director of player development, but almost exclusively running into 3-point jump shots. That changed when they played Wednesday at Sacramento and Jennings began mixing in drives to the basket.
Thursday he jumped into practice for the first time. He’d done drills with the team for the past few weeks, but this was his first experience with live contact drills – four on four, half court. He iced his Achilles afterward and said his next goal was to practice again on Friday.
“I wasn’t nervous at all,” he said. “I just didn’t think about it once I got out here on the court. Everything I’ve been doing is by myself, so being able to have some contact and being pushed around was actually cool. I want to practice again tomorrow. I don’t want to back off. I want to keep going. I’m going to play more four on four and maybe get a chance to go up and down.”
Jennings – as anyone who follows him on Twitter could attest – is a voracious student of NBA history. He’s got a quick mind and would seem a logical candidate to become a coach when his playing days are over. He’s envisioned his role and how he’ll fit when he’s cleared to return.
“My thing is I’m looking at the second unit, because that’s where I will be playing when I first come back. First, I’ll have to have a lot of energy and just get those guys going because right now our bench scoring is probably like almost last in the league. We definitely need scoring off the bench. But also, when your first unit goes out there and they have the lead, we’ve got to be able to keep that up for them. That’ll be my biggest challenge this year. When the starters have a lead, the hardest thing is trying to maintain it.”
The Pistons have gone 5-3 but done it with an offense that is bumping along nearer the bottom than the top of NBA statistics. Jennings sees flashes of brilliance and loves what he’s seeing from the team defensively and competitively. The offensive fix, as he sees it, is fairly simple.
“We just need to move the ball and make the extra pass. That’s the biggest thing in this league,” he said. “Teams that make the extra pass and make the game look easy are always successful. When you watch Golden State – and I know they have one of the best players in the world in Stephen Curry – they move the ball so well and everybody touches it. We’re a team where we have a really good point guard, a great big man, (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s) a great player, so we just have to find ways to get everybody going.
“When we do that – and we’ve played like that – it looks beautiful. The first game in Atlanta, we played awesome. Everybody was touching it. We were just making plays. The more we keep making plays, we’ll be all right. Because our defense is tremendous – of course, because of KCP and (Andre Drummond). But our team defense is just great.”
He doesn’t have a target date in mind for his return, but his mood tells you he knows it’s coming sooner rather than later. And when he’s ready, he’ll know.
“I want to be back 100 percent,” he said. “I want to be able to play back to backs. I want to be able to do everything. I don’t just want to come back because it’s like, OK, it’s feeling good, I’m 95 percent. I want to be 100 percent when I come back.”