Player of the Week: Brandon Jennings
To fully understand Jennings role on his team, you must look at the players that are around him, particularly in the teams backcourt. Former Ivy League player of the year Ibrahim Jaaber (an athletic, defensive minded player) is the starting point guard for all intents and purposes, while former Villanova and Boston Celtic Allan Ray sees over 20 minutes per game as a combo guard.
The most important backcourt player is clearly Slovenian Sani Becirovic, though, a very aggressive and extremely skilled combo guard who is having easily his best season ever as a pro. Becirovic is averaging 15.5 points per game in just 23 minutes per, shooting outrageous percentages, getting to the line at an amazing rate, playing almost no defense (as usual), and doing a fair amount of ball-handling in most minutes hes on the floor. He has the green light to do basically whatever he pleases on this team, and he can seemingly do no wrong this season thus far.
Alongside them we find the 19-year old rookie Jennings, sometimes coming off the bench (typically for the 2nd and 3rd quarters), at times getting the starting nod, but rarely a major focal point in the offense. This is quite normal considering the quality of players around him (big men Andre Hutson and Primoz Brezec are both major back to the basket threats) and the level of competition Rome competes at. As Jennings gains more experience and earns the trust of the very patient coaching staff led by Croatian Jasmin Repesa, he may feel more comfortable showing his full array of talent.
Right now, Jennings appears to be at his best receiving outlet passes and pushing the ball up the floor in transition. His outstanding combination of speed and ball-handling skills make him absolutely impossible to contain in the open floor, and he is able to change the tempo of the game immediately by turning a defensive rebound into an easy basket.
Another positive impact Jennings is making is with his shooting stroke, which appears to have major potential down the road. He does a very good job spotting up on the wing in catch and shoot situations, looking quite reliable with his feet set, while he can also make some shots off the dribble as well, although his accuracy drops significantly in the process.
As Jennings earns more trust from Repesa, we see the coach letting him get more involved in pick and roll situations in half-court sets. Jennings has great potential here too, as he turns the corner on screens with a tremendous burst of speed, and has the court vision to find the open man rolling to the basket with terrific flair and creativity. Hes shown some terrific sparks of talent with his passing ability at times, having the added benefit of being left-handed, and already being featured on some highlight reels thanks to the flashy assists he can dish out.
Where Jennings has struggled at times is in his ability to get to the basket and finish strong against contact in half-court situations. His lack of strength hurts him here, as he is not the toughest or most physical player around and seems to have trouble operating in the very crowded paint that Europe is famous for, not getting much love from the referees in the process.
He seems to be settling way too much for perimeter jumpers in turn, which helps explain the very poor percentages hes shooting from the field (35%) and beyond the arc (31%). He has a tendency to pull-up off the dribble early in the shot-clock while fading-away awkwardly for no particular reason, adding a significant degree of difficulty to an already difficult shot. He can certainly make shots of this nature, but not at a high enough percentage to justify taking them.
Jennings shot-selection and overall decision making are still a work in progress in general, which is not a surprise considering his age, even if the talent he displays is undeniable. He needs to do a better job of valuing possessions and not getting careless with the ball, as he doesnt always read what the defense gives him and tends to struggle with things like managing the shot-clock and controlling tempo. Occasionally youll still catch him looking more concerned with making a flashy play over a more simple one, but for the most part he looks very focused and willing to learn, and is definitely making strides from week to week.
Defensively, Jennings is making noticeable strides, but still has room to improve. On one hand, he seems to be putting a pretty good effort into his man to man defense, showing really nice lateral quickness staying in front of his man and better fundamentals than we saw in the past. On the other hand, he lacks significant strength and seems to get pushed off the ball far too easily, having a difficult time getting around screens as well. His team defense is definitely a work in progress, as he looks a bit lackadaisical staying aware of where the ball is on the floor, and is not showing the greatest hustle going after loose balls or trying to help out on the glass.
Even though Jennings has been fairly up and down early in the season thus far (particularly in the Italian league, where he has struggled badly at times), its hard not to come away impressed by how hes fared, all things considered. He walked into a very difficult situation and seems to be making the best of it thus far, holding his own against hostile crowds and tough gyms in places like Vitoria, Berlin and Ljubljana. There is absolutely no question that he will become a significantly better player from the experience hes gaining every day, as hes competing at an incredibly high level under an outstanding coach and is being allowed to latitude to learn from his mistakes.
Jennings looks to have the makings of a very high draft pick at the moment, even if it is very early in the season. We will have to wait and see how he progresses over the next few months, but the early returns look pretty promising.
Follow Brandon Jennings advanced stats throughout the season in both the Euroleague and Italian League on his DX stat page.
Looking Beyond the Draft
Begic Blossoming for Olimpija
Theres no wonder that Begics most intriguing abilities revolve around his low-post game. Begic takes advantage of his superb length, showing solid footwork, body control and consistently connecting on his hook shots (preferably with his right hand). Certainly not a hustler or a banger, he doesnt avoid contact down low, showing good hands to catch the ball, a good feel for the game, and decent quickness executing his moves. When you package all these abilities in a 7-3 body, you know hes going to do some serious damage.
Still fairly skinny, much of the progress he has enjoyed as of late is consequence of his body development, as he looks now visibly stronger, which allows him to take contact and operate much more comfortably around the basket. Besides, despite his great size he can get off the floor or run the court reasonably well, even if his limited quickness emerges as one of his shortcomings on the defensive end (the biggest one might be a certain degree of softness). Anyway, hes a solid rebounder, a fairly intimidating presence on the paint thanks to his length.
Well see how the season unfolds for Begic. Despite his Euroleague achievements, his performance at the Adriatic League appears to be significantly less consistent. Hes always carried a rep for being somewhat of an underachiever throughout his career, as he reportedly is not the most enthusiastic worker around, so it will be interesting to see if he can maintain his extremely hot start. Anyway, if he shows some solidity in his outings, chances are he wont be playing for Olimpija next season, as someone will throw significant money his way in the search for quality size on the paint. In fact, considering that his contract is up this summer, there is some talk that he may be bought out by a rich team in Spain or Russia this season already. And if he keeps developing, the NBA is not out of the question.
Eyenga doesnt particularly stand out for his skills or basketball IQ. Still, he can knock down three-pointers, even if his high-released jumper is pretty inconsistent (he struggles finding balance in the air to ignite a fluid release). He also shows a very nice first step to beat his opponents off the dribble -although he lacks the ball-handling skills to change directions reliably- and he shows decent criteria passing the ball. At least, he seems aware of what he can do on the court. Defensively, hes pretty intimidating, and regularly collects spectacular blocks. Still, he sometimes relies too much on his athleticism while defending, not properly doing his job on the ground.
Not likely to develop into a big-time prospect, Eyengas athleticism makes him moderately intriguing as a defensive-oriented small forward (who plays bigger than his size) with hopefully- a decent outside stroke.
-For the second straight week, it was Slovenian forward Emil Prelzdic the one making huge plays for Fenerbahce Ulker in a dramatic winning effort. The 21 year-old had another big outing, coming up with 18 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists in a double-overtime victory over Olimpija Ljubljana. The 6-9 Prelzdic is impressing with his ability to handle the ball, make plays for himself and others, and play multiple positions in Fenerbahces offense. His shooting stroke remains streaky and he really didnt look like much of a defender in certain possessions today, but there is no question that he is deserving of an extensive look sometime soon.
-Another young hero in the Euroleague today was Sergio Llull, who sparked his team back from a 5-point deficit with a minute to go to help Real Madrid defeat Armani Jeans Milano. Llulls energy, defense and aggressiveness were huge keys. With Raul Lopez again on the shelf, Llull had 11 points and 4 assists in 24 minutes.
-After three disappointing outings in which he was basically a non-factor, Omri Casspi finally had his first good Euroleague game of the season today in a blowout loss against Olympiakos, scoring 16 points in 18 minutes after getting the nod to open in the starting five. Casspi has received little to no credit from new Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Effi Birenboim in the Euroleague thus far, but a shakeup was probably in order considering how poorly his team has performed in virtually every match theyve played this season. This was supposed to be Casspis coming out party this season, after removing his name from the draft last June while despite being considered a borderline first round pick. This week started off well for him with a solid 19-point in 22 minute performance in the Israeli league against Nahariya, and he will attempt to build off his first good Euroleague game next week at home against Unicaja Malaga.
-Following up on last weeks post about Vladimir Dasic, Nemanja Gordic and Buducnosts surprising result against Turkish power Galatasaray in Istanbul, we should mention that the return game of the EuroCup qualifier was barely a contest, as Buducnost embarrassed Galatasaray 93-62 at home in Montenegro. Gordic and Dasic both scored 16 points each. That win puts Buducnost in the Group stage of the EuroCup now, alongside Czech club Nymburk, Serbian club Hemofarm and Spanish side Bilbao, which is quite a manageable draw. Gordic and Dasic will now enjoy the exposure of competing twice a week in both the Adriatic League and EuroCup, which is a nice bonus for them. They are both overdue for write-ups on this site, which is likely to happen within the next few weeks as we continue to evaluate them.
-Also qualifying for the group stage of the EuroCup is Serbian club FMP Zeleznik, who managed to knock off Ural Great from Russia in the second qualifying stage, after disposing of MyGuide Amsterdam in the first. The star of the team thus far has clearly been 6-9 power forward Dragan Labovic, who is averaging 21 points per game in their four EuroCup games this season. Labovic has been scoring right around 20 points per game in the Adriatic league as well, which qualifies him as the leagues #1 overall scorer. Even though he doesnt enjoy the same potential as some of his International counterparts, its hard to ignore the production hes delivering on a weekly basis.