Then: “From an underrated perspective, Brandon Jennings, especially if he falls out of the lottery as expected. Most NBA teams just haven’t seen how talented he is because they weren’t allowed to watch him in high-school and he didn't play much in Europe. In the workouts people are starting to see the talent, but he has even more than that if you put him in a 5 on 5 setting. From the scrimmages I attended in Rome, the Synergy footage I’ve watched and the game I was at, I was pretty floored. He has a chance to be pretty awesome.”
-Fifteen Questions with Jonathan Givony (6/24/2009)
A few weeks before draft day, we reiterated just how good we felt Jennings could be. Despite averaging less than 20 minutes per-game, shooting under 40% from the field, and playing a constantly shifting role during his time in Italy, Jennings’ natural talent was too much for the Milwaukee Bucks to pass up with the 10th overall selection.
Blessed with outstanding athleticism and natural talent, Jennings has easily been the most pleasant surprise of this season’s rookie class –a much needed stroke of luck for a Bucks franchise that accommodated his growth into a budding NBA star by opting not to match the Minnesota Timberwolves offer sheet to then-incumbent starting point guard Ramon Sessions.
With the luxury tax looming just above Milwaukee’s payroll figure, three of their top four scorers from the previous season signed to suit up elsewhere, and Michael Redd facing an uphill battle to round into form after tearing his ACL last January, the Bucks were nothing short of a best-case scenario for the then 19-year old Jennings.
With countless possessions at his disposal to make mistakes and a Head Coach tailor-made to help him improve on his weaknesses in Scott Skiles, Jennings has been a godsend for the 15-21 Bucks. While no one will dispute his talent at this point, if Jennings had landed elsewhere, there is a distinct possibility that he wouldn’t be enjoying as much success as he currently is.
The Buck’s sub-.500 record certainly isn’t blowing anyone away, and they have really struggled as Jennings has fallen into a slump, but the fact that they are being led by a rookie point guard that almost no one saw as an immediate starter is noteworthy.
In spite of the negative publicity Jennings drew after failing to qualify to attend Arizona out of Oak Hill Academy, the persistent questions about his meager production in Italy, his current shooting slump, and the growing pains he’s had to work through as both a person and player, Jennings’ NBA career is off to an outstanding start.
Part Two: Scoring Ability (Perimeter)
Then: “Perimeter shooting is the area that Jennings needs to work the most on if he’s to come anywhere close to reaching his full potential as a scorer—he’s made just 22 of 99 attempts from beyond the arc in 43 games in both the Euroleague and Italian league this season, or 22%.
Jennings has a tendency to contort his body and fade away excessively on many of his attempts—something he’s been working on extensively with assistant Nenad Trajkovic, who was hired after Nando Gentile replaced former head coach Jasmin Repesa in December. Trajkovic worked for many years as an assistant and head coach with Serbian powerhouse Partizan Belgrade, widely considered the best team in European basketball in everything revolving around developing young players.
After every practice, Jennings works with Trajkovic on his shooting, getting up as many as 500 jumpers. He credits Trajkovic with helping him improve his mechanics significantly (“going straight up and straight down, extending my arm, not fading away too much anymore, keeping on balance, not turning my hips a lot” Jennings explains), and indeed his shot looked much better than advertised in the three practices we observed, although he still has plenty of room to continue to improve, particularly with his pull-up jumper.”
-Brandon Jennings, Biding his Time in Rome (5/13/2009)
Last May when Jennings was finishing off of his tenure in Rome, we were fortunate enough to get an incredibly in-depth view of his situation during our European scouting tour, a luxury that shockingly few (if any) NBA teams opted to take advantage of, certainly not to the same extent.
At that juncture we found Jennings enlisting the services of Lottomatica assistant coach Nenad Trajkovic to craft himself into the jump shooter he is today: one capable of putting up 55-points in an NBA game and being a threat to exceed 20-points on any given night. The healthy appetite Jennings showed for shooting after practice has provided the most notable shift in his skill set from the last time we wrote about him on two fronts.
First, the consistency of his footwork and accuracy from beyond the arc have improved dramatically since last season. One of the biggest knocks on Jennings during both his high school days and throughout his foreign excursion was his outside jump shot.
Displaying erratic form and a penchant for taking off balance shots –especially off the dribble– Jennings’ work with Trajkovic seemed to get the ball rolling towards a sounder, more refined shooting mechanic that features excellent rhythm and significantly improved balance.
The dramatic effect that the tweaks Jennings has made to his form are clear in the outrageous differences in his situational shooting percentages from last season. Through 36 games this season, Jennings has scored 1.44 PPS (Points Per-Shot) in catch and shoot situations according to Synergy Sports Technology, good enough to land him in the 99th percentile League-wide and an astounding improvement from the 1.08 PPS he posted in such situations in 43 games last season with Roma.
Even with the slump Jennings has been in over the past few weeks, those numbers are nothing short of amazing considering that he shot 22% from beyond the European arc (substantially closer than the NBA’s) last season .
Second, the level of confidence Jennings displays in his perimeter repertoire has risen noticeably from last season. Willing to step up and take responsibility as his team’s primary option in the clutch, Jennings has developed the short memory and aggressive shooter’s mentality that will serve him well as he grows into a star –Jennings hasn’t let his recent struggles get into his head as he’s continued to be aggressive.
As with many young guards thrust into a big role, the Compton native has had his fair share of issues with shot selection, something that isn’t really a surprise all things considered.
An overwhelming 72% of his catch and shoot opportunities come in situations where he has a hand in his face, according to SST. However, in a testament to the way this season has gone thus far, Jennings has made 54% of such attempts, more than 10% better than when left open.
While the work Jennings did during his preparations for his rookie campaign have had eye-opening improvements in some aspects of his game, they haven’t been as beneficial to others; his catch and shoot numbers only tell a fraction of the story.
Though Jennings has clearly taken strides as a spot up shooter, he has a lot of work to do on other aspects of his perimeter game, particularly his pull-up jump shot. After shooting a torrid 49.3% from three in November, Jennings has seen his shooting percentages diminish significantly to the point that he shot just 32% from distance in December, and 29% thus far in January.
Despite the fact that his percentages are dropping, he continues to attempt even more 3-pointers each game, which will likely bring his numbers even further down to earth.
A large portion of that dip stems from his decision-making after he puts the ball on the floor, when he appears all too eager to force 20+ footers over defenders. Some of his willingness to force shots stems from poor shot selection –as evidenced by the threes he’s takes regularly off the dribble, but the fact that he takes it upon himself to be his team’s first option and is easily the Bucks best shot creator doesn’t help either.
Free to take the first available look he creates, Jennings is never shy when he sees an opening, but the bad habits he appears to have worked out of his spot-up jumper still limit the efficiency of his mid-range game.
Prone to fading away, relying heavily on his pull up under duress, and not always holding his release as religiously as he does when shooting off a catch much like he did when we saw him in Rome; Jennings converts just 34% on his shots off the dribble.
Compare that to his relative efficiency from a stand-still and it becomes apparent what has caused Jennings’ shooting to fall off the map, and where he needs to improve in the future. If he can take the steps necessary to improve his shot selection, continue to work on his mechanics, and translate his poise to his midrange game, history says he’ll do just fine.
His first month in the NBA was surely too good to be true, but for a player who was often-maligned for his shooting; it was certainly a very encouraging sign of progress.
Part Three: Scoring Ability (Slashing and Finishing)
Then: “The best things that Jennings brings to the table, though, definitely can’t be taught. He’s incredibly fast in the open floor, highly fluid getting up and down the floor, and extremely natural changing directions sharply and attacking the rim. In today’s NBA, where speed is absolutely at a premium like at no other point in time, Jennings has game changing potential as a shot-creator.
Look no further than the way a relatively unheralded player like Aaron Brooks has been able to put his stamp on this year’s NBA playoffs for evidence of how valuable a speed demon like Jennings can be in the right offense. All the bumping and hand-checking he’s been learning to deal with all season long from European defenders might make life a lot easier for him once he reaches the NBA, where everything is much more open thanks to the defensive 3-second rules and much tighter officiating on the perimeter.”
“Harnessing that talent will be an ongoing process for Jennings, as he is not what you would call a polished player at this point. Turnovers remain a major issue for him--he commits one on 23% of his possessions in the Italian league according to our advanced stats, as he still lacks a great deal of experience operating in the half-court and is prone to making questionable decisions at times. He clearly lacks the strength to finish many of the plays around the rim he’s able to create for himself at this level, so continuing to add strength to his lanky frame will also be a priority moving forward.”
- Brandon Jennings, Biding his Time in Rome (5/13/2009)
One of Jennings’ biggest weaknesses, as we identified last summer, lies in his lack of physical strength. Extremely quick and agile with the ball, he has proven time and time again that he can get to where he wants to go on the floor with relative ease.
Able to explode out of his crossover in a manner reminiscent of Allen Iverson, Jennings is a nightmare for the majority of the League to stay in front of. Under the NBA’s current hand-check rules, Jennings is able to use his full repertoire of hesitations, stutter steps, and in-and-out moves to create driving angles that few guards have the quickness to cut off.
While no one is going to question Jennings’ mobility in half-court sets, one of the biggest knocks against the young guard is his inability to convert the shots he creates for himself at the rim.
According to our friends over at hoopdata.com, Jennings only converts a paltry 42% on his shots at the rim, one of the lowest rates of any point guard in the NBA –a problematic ranking for a player capable of getting to the rim at will.
This is a topic that was discussed in an in-depth article by Kevin Pelton today on Basketball Prospectus.
Many of the issues Jennings had around the rim in Europe persist in the NBA. Though he’s able to find seams to the rim, he frequently appears uncomfortable once he gets there. Despite his excellent leaping ability, Jennings struggles excessively with contact, failing to shield the ball and finish strong, and regularly finds himself smothered by rotating post defenders. His skinny frame hurts his effectiveness in the paint, since he struggles to even get the ball up on the rim after he takes a bump. Perhaps the more pressing issue is that he hasn’t yet learned the nuances of drawing fouls effectively. Over time, Jennings needs to hone that craft to maximize the offensive potential of his outstanding athleticism, as there is simply no reason why he should be converting just 39% of his 2-point attempts, one of the worst rates of any player in the NBA.
While Jennings certainly has a lot of things to work on, one scout we talked to was impressed by his efforts to develop his floater. One of the hardest shots in basketball, Jennings shows a deft floater from time to time, which certainly bodes well for him in the future, but still has a hard time converting in traffic. With opposing teams able to game plan around Jennings with Michael Redd ailing and now out for the whole season, he’s going to face a lot of adversity from the mid-range in, a real challenge that should prove invaluable to his long-term development.
Part Four: Playmaking
Then: “In the second quarter, Jennings comes up with a steal and has a three on two transition opportunity. Not seeing the angle he was looking for, he pulls the ball out, waits for his teammates to run down the floor and calls a play, to the shock of everyone in attendance who had watched him play in America. “The Brandon Jennings of old would have never passed up that opportunity” the Director of Player Personnel sitting next to us points out while nodding his head. “Gotta limit those turnovers” Jennings explains to us afterwards. “My job is to be a pass-first point guard.”
A similar theme ensues for the rest of the night, as Jennings refuses to force the issue time after time, not hunting shots in the least bit, looking extremely focused on facilitating the offense, making the extra pass to the point that you may have wondered if he’s being a bit too passive even. Another transition opportunity occurs after yet another steal, and Jennings connects with Ibrahim Jaaber on a perfect give and go pass for an easy layup, as the ball doesn’t even touch the ground once.”
-Brandon Jennings, Biding his Time in Rome (5/13/2009)
“What separates him from the Aaron Brooks and Monta Ellis types of the world, though are his playmaking instincts. His talent and creativity with the ball were always evident in the games, scrimmages and practices we saw, as he sees the floor and is capable of making incredibly difficult passes look easy, in a way that no point guard in this draft not named Ricky Rubio can. Over the course of our three days in Rome, we saw Jennings make a handful of mind-blowing plays that hint of an incredible future that is in store, particularly in transition or running the pick and roll.”
-Brandon Jennings, Biding his Time in Rome (5/13/2009)
Anyone who had the pleasure of watching Jennings early in his high school career got a taste of his instincts as a playmaker, and his play last season Italy spoke of his potential to translate his passing ability to the NBA level. A gifted passer who shows the ability to thread the needle in traffic and put the ball right on the money running full speed in transition, the biggest positive changes in Jennings’ game from the beginning of this season to now –both qualitatively and quantitatively- reside in his merits as a point guard.
Statistically, Jennings has clearly come a long way from last season, and even from last month. During his season playing in the Euroleague, he posted an assist to turnover ratio of only 1.37, a representation of the difficulties he had translating his natural instincts into his role as a change of pace scorer. Fast-forward to his first month as a pro, Jennings showed marginal improvement in November, posting an A/TO ratio of 1.75 –an adequate mark for a rookie floor general. During the month of December, Jennings posted a mark of 2.91, likely thanks in no small part to the return of Michael Redd.
Clearly deferring to Milwaukee’s recovering franchise player, Scott Skiles’ impact on Jennings is apparent at times. During November many of Jennings’ assists were the result of his knack for the things that aren’t easy to teach. Extremely good at putting the right amount of touch on his lob passes and hitting his teammates in stride, Jennings has excellent court vision –allowing him to be highly effective working off the pick and roll in half-court sets, scenarios that account for roughly half of his offensive possessions. Jennings made a conscious effort to involved Redd in Milwaukee’s offense to a fault, sometimes hesitating when he’s created his own shot and unselfishly sacrificing his offense to create for others. With Redd now out for the season, it will be interesting to see how the rest of Jennings’ season plays out.
Though Redd’s presence had refocused Jennings’ passing, the biggest change in the young floor general as a point guard from last season to this season in a qualitative sense lie in his comfort level operating in traffic. Many of his turnovers early this season were the result of losing the ball either after being trapped or when trailed by a defender in transition. Skiles’ influence is clear in the way Jennings now controls the ball. No longer prone to letting defenders sneak up on him, Jennings does a better job of using his body to shield the ball when pushing it up the floor. He’s also appeared more decisive on his drives.
From day one, Jennings has looked extremely aggressive running the pick and roll, but he seems more poised and disciplined with the way he’s been attacking the lane. Many of his drives that resulted in turnovers earlier this season were the result of allowing the defense to string his drives out to the wings, allowing additional defenders to get involved. Recently, the former McDonald’s All-American has been more composed when he turns the corner. Instead of forcing drives across the court in an effort to turn the corner after using screens, he has been better about using his first step to get to the elbow and then kicking when he sees defenders respond. Though he still makes his fair share of rookie mistakes, this newfound discipline has helped Jennings maintain the spacing in the Bucks offense and has increased his assist numbers while decreasing his turnovers.
Considering how natural a passer Jennings is in terms of pure court vision, he would be well served to continue developing this part of his game rather than attempting to become an Allen Iverson-type scorer, as that would clearly give his team a much better chance of winning games. He’s already shown an extremely quick trigger early on in his career, ranking 16th amongst all NBA players in field goal attempts per-40 minutes pace adjusted, despite the fact that he converts just 39% of his attempts.
Part Five: Defense
“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.”
-Brandon Jennings, Biding his Time in Rome (5/13/2009)
In the same way that it limits his finishing ability at the rim, Jennings’ lack of physical strength hurts him defensively, as we repeatedly noted. At this point, Jennings is a mixed bag on the defensive end. There are certain scenarios where he excels because of his physical tools, but others where he is inherently limited. Perhaps the best thing that can be said about Jennings’ defense at this point is that his effort level is considerably better than it was in Italy, which is a major step for a player as young as he is.
In terms of weaknesses, there are three key areas where Jennings seems to struggle. First, as we saw last season, he has an extremely hard time working around screens. Appearing even leaner than his listed 169 pound weight because of his rangy frame, even a player as quick as Jennings can’t always recover from a well-set ball screen.
Second, he is a clear liability against stronger, more compact guards in the post. Whether his man posts up in a traditional sense or is able to get a step on him in an isolation situation, once Jennings is in a compromised position on his man’s shoulder, he doesn’t have the strength to regain any ground to contest the shot.
Third, and finally, Jennings still struggles with some of the fundamentals, especially in the way he defends the perimeter off the ball. Periodically getting turned around when making rotations and often leaving his feet when closing out shooters, Jennings is definitely still learning what it takes to be a sound defensive player on the NBA level.
While there are certainly a number of deficits in Jennings’ defensive abilities, he’s exceedingly good in other areas. His quickness allows him to pressure the ball extremely well from end to end, allowing him to pester opposing point guards with a one-man press. He also shows a willingness to pursue loose balls, whether it be rebounding or looking for a steal. More than anything else, the fact that Jennings gets in a stance and doesn’t give up on plays as frequently as he used to is a huge step towards his development into a respectable NBA defender.
Part Six: Readiness and Maturity
Then: “Despite the fact that his playing time has largely evaporated over the past six weeks, Jennings is taking everything in stride, handling himself with maturity not found amongst players 10 years his senior here in Europe. “That’s just the hand I’ve been dealt” Jennings says with a smile and shrug. “If I could do it all over again, I probably would have signed with a smaller team, but things haven’t worked out that bad.”
-Brandon Jennings, Biding his Time in Rome (5/13/2009)
Considering all the criticism Jennings received (surely from our direction as well) for his decision to go overseas and his Green Room debacle on draft day, he’s certainly taken everything in stride. The hard-line style of former Lottomatica coach Jasmine Repesa seemed to ignite a maturation process in Jennings that continues today. Showing a willingness to learn, playing with a passion that has earned him the respect of his teammates, and working tirelessly in practice, the humbling experience Jennings had in Europe has been integral in the success he’s found in the NBA. [Read Full Article]
NBA Draft Media Day Interview Transcripts (Part Two)
June 25, 2009
DraftExpress: So Brandon, how nervous are you right now?
Brandon Jennings: I’m not nervous at all, just a little worried you could say with all of the trades that have been going on. Washington doesn’t have a pick now so I think it’s going to shake up the draft a little bit.
DX: Any idea where you’re going to get picked? What are you hearing?
BJ: I’m actually not hearing anything, so I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing right now. I can’t really control the draft, so whatever happens is what’s meant to be. So I’m just going in with a positive attitude and whatever happens, happens.
DX: You worked out for a wide range of teams, starting with the top ten picks and now most recently with Phoenix (14) then New Jersey (11). Has anyone given you the indication that you’re strongly in the mix?
BJ: No one really said much. To be honest I don’t really want to know, I just want to go into [the green room] and wait for my name to be called. All of the workouts were good, I think I showed a lot and proved people wrong. A lot of people doubted my jump shot or how good I really was, but I think I showed them
DX: Some guys decline to come to the green room perhaps because they were a little afraid of being the last one in the green room. Has that thought crossed your mind at all?
BJ: Yeah it actually has a lot. Being on the road with some of these guys, they make you think a little bit, should I go, should I not go? Some of these guys were saying, no way, you aren’t going to see me sitting alone in the green room. So I had a little bit of cold feet thinking about it, actually I’m still thinking about it, so I don’t know yet.
Reporter: Has anyone asked you to be there? Did the League make a request for you to come?
BJ: No, but it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. You get to shake David Stern’s hand, that’s what everyone dreams about.
Reporter: You talk about how you don’t really have much control over what happens in the draft, but when you see these trades go down, do you guys start twittering or texting each other about it?
BJ: My Twitter has been blowing up lately, but I haven’t really been getting a chance to look at it, I’ll get back to those guys after the draft. You know a lot of the guys are shocked about the trades that have been happening. So now, basically, it’s about who Minnesota picks; I think whoever they take in those two spots are going to change the whole draft around.
Reporter: What would make your strategy of going to Europe pay off in your mind? Is it anywhere in the first round? The lottery? Do you have a point where you say I made the right decision?
BJ: I think if I go top five. If I’m a top five pick then I’ll think for sure it was the right decision, and I think even top ten, but top five would really stand out.
DX: And if you don’t go top ten was Europe a bust?
BJ: No because I did get that year of playing professional basketball under my belt, so you can’t take that away.
DX: You got a lot of money too.
BJ: The money was cool, but I think just being around grown men and playing that different style of the game and learning different things was good too. I’m sure I’ll get a lot of heat from the media, I’m sure a lot of people will think, well you see what happened to Jennings so you probably don’t want to do the overseas thing. So I’m sure there will be a lot of negativity, but I’ll be ready for it.
Reporter: Do you think the college basketball community is rooting for you to do well or not so well?
BJ: [Laughs] Probably not, because if I go top five I think you’ll see a lot more guys going overseas. It’s a great experience, I think more kids should do it just to step out of their comfort zone and see how strong they really are as a person. I think I showed that this year and I think I showed everyone that I can handle my own when I was out there, even though I didn’t play a lot.
Reporter: Was any part of it hard for you? The basketball part? The personal part?
BJ: I think the off the court stuff was difficult sometimes. We didn’t have any dryers so we had to hang dry our clothes for two days, the food was different, some people spoke English but a lot didn’t. On the court the style is different; it’s not a very open court game involving a lot of isolation, it’s strictly team basketball.
Reporter: If you get picked by a team like the Knicks, a big market team, do you think you’re even better prepared to handle it now?
BJ: Yes; you know New York is a great marketing city, but I doubt I get picked by the Knicks. I think everyone knows who they’re trying to get, so I’m not really going to talk too much about them. I mean I would love to be there in NYC, don’t get me wrong, you see what D’Antoni did for Steve Nash in those two years. But I think any team that I go to I’ll be ready mentally.
Reporter: How much more would Roma have to pay you for you to stay there this year?
BJ: It wasn’t about the money at all. I just wanted to go over there and do my year and learn. It was like a pre-draft for me. I just went over there and learned things and I wanted to bring it back to the NBA. At the end of the day the dream of every kid is to play in the NBA.
Reporter: What did you learn by being in Italy for the year?
BJ: Well actually it just made me realize how good we have it over here. When you step out of your comfort zone and you go to other places and see how they live, you sit back and you realize that you’re blessed to be an American and live in the States. We don’t know how good we have it until you get out of your comfort zone.
Reporter: How nervous or excited are you for the draft tomorrow?
BJ: I haven’t really been thinking about it too much. I’ve been a pro already. So I have some money in my pockets already. I’m just chill about the situation but this is a little different. This is the NBA so I just can’t wait till it’s over.
Reporter: How has your game improved by playing in Europe?
BJ: I’m more mature. Out of high school I was a little wild. I just did whatever I wanted to do. But I think Europe has slowed my game down. I read situations more off the pick and roll and overall, I’m just a better point guard.
Reporter: Do you think playing in Europe for one year is more important than playing in college for one year?
DD: Yeah I think so, because the pick and roll game is a big thing in the NBA. That’s all they run in the NBA and it’s the hardest thing to stop. And overseas I’ve been doing that for a whole year now. In college you really don’t do too much of that. A lot of people play zone, a lot of people press, so the game is totally different. So overseas, I was also able to learn the up and down game because it’s more of a half court game.
Who would you consider the most under-rated player in this year’s draft based on their talent and where they are projected to be picked??
Jonathan Givony: From an underrated perspective, Brandon Jennings, especially if he falls out of the lottery as expected. Most NBA teams just haven’t seen how talented he is because they weren’t allowed to watch him in high-school and he didn't play much in Europe. In the work-outs people are starting to see the talent, but he has even more than that if you put him in a 5 on 5 setting. From the scrimmages I attended in Rome, the Synergy footage I’ve watched and the game I was at, I was pretty floored. He has a chance to be pretty awesome.
Attractive young mothers in their early 30’s push babies in designer strollers in the perfect 85 degree weather of early May. They leisurely walk past a group of students sitting atop ridiculously high pink stools outside a Sushi bar wearing cutoff t-shirts with catchy slogans like ‘go vegetarian!’ Welcome to Flamini, the Park Slope of Rome, a trendy neighborhood just north of the bustling city center. “Ciao, ciao, ciao, ciao, ciao, ciao, ciao” they chirp at each other seemingly all day long.
A few blocks away, at the Palazzetto dello Sport, amongst the ruins of the 1960 Summer Olympic site, a 19-year old American by the name of Brandon Jennings is absolutely dominating an inter-squad scrimmage consisting of multiple members of the Italian national team and some of the most coveted import players in the Italian league.
Pitted against one of the best defenders in Europe in American guard Ibi Jaaber, Jennings gets to wherever he wants on the court, showing blazing speed, outstanding ball-handling skills, incredible creativity and a real flair for making flashy plays. He makes spot-up and pull-up jumpers from inside and outside the arc, runs the pick and roll to perfection while flicking gorgeous underhanded bounce-passes right on the money to a flashing Andre Hutson, and even tries to go up and challenge former NBA center Primoz Brezec in transition with an emphatic dunk.
Even though their regular season ended on Sunday, no one on the team knows when they will be playing their first game in the quarterfinals of the Italian playoffs. The league is evaluating a spiteful appeal made by legendary Italian team Fortitudo Bologna (formerly home to NBA players such as Dominique Wilkins, Marko Jaric, Carlos Delfino, and Marco Belinelli amongst others) against a narrow loss they suffered to Teramo this past weekend, which shockingly relegated them to the second division. The frivolous protest will surely be denied, but in the meantime, the entire league sits and waits for a new playoff schedule to come out. Just another day in the wacky world of Italian basketball.
Jennings’ situation isn’t much clearer. With the team having signed journeyman Slovenian power forward Jurica Golemac to add depth to their extremely banged up frontcourt, the future lottery pick may now be the odd man out when the team submits their 12-man roster on game-day, as Lottomatica Roma is now over the quota for foreigners. Welcome to the world of an American teenager in European basketball.
Despite the fact that his playing time has largely evaporated over the past six weeks, Jennings is taking everything in stride, handling himself with maturity not found amongst players 10 years his senior here in Europe. “That’s just the hand I’ve been dealt” Jennings says with a smile and shrug. “If I could do it all over again, I probably would have signed with a smaller team, but things haven’t worked out that bad.”
When given the opportunity, Jennings has shown he can be productive at this level. We had the chance to sit alongside two NBA head coaches and one Director of Player Personnel as Jennings played the second most minutes he’s seen all season long this past Sunday, as Rome knocked a bad Cantu team out of the playoffs in a game that was meaningless for his squad since they had already locked up the second seed in the playoffs in the previous round. 8 points, 7 assists, 3 turnovers, 3 rebounds and 2 steals was his final line. Having made a long trip out to Rome, we were all just happy to see him step on the court after notching a DNP-CD the previous week. Little did we know, Jennings would end up having one of his best games of the season.
One year ago we got the chance to see Jennings practice, scrimmage and play in the week leading up to the Jordan Brand Classic in New York. A few months prior to that, we saw him lead his Oak Hill squad to victory in the Hoophall Classic in Springfield. Comparing the Brandon Jennings we saw then with what we’re seeing now might make you rub your eyes in disbelief.
Gone is the brash, arrogant teenager with the Kid ’N Play style flat-top who dominated the ball in absolute fashion and looked first and foremost for his own shot, his stats and the ultimate high-light play. In his place is a much more mature, respectful young man, always cheering on his teammates, showing great body language and painstakingly trying to do what his coaches ask of him, almost to a fault at times.
In the second quarter, Jennings comes up with a steal and has a three on two transition opportunity. Not seeing the angle he was looking for, he pulls the ball out, waits for his teammates to run down the floor and calls a play, to the shock of everyone in attendance who had watched him play in America. “The Brandon Jennings of old would have never passed up that opportunity” the Director of Player Personnel sitting next to us points out while nodding his head. “Gotta limit those turnovers” Jennings explains to us afterwards. “My job is to be a pass-first point guard.”
A similar theme ensues for the rest of the night, as Jennings refuses to force the issue time after time, not hunting shots in the least bit, looking extremely focused on facilitating the offense, making the extra pass to the point that you may have wondered if he’s being a bit too passive even. Another transition opportunity occurs after yet another steal, and Jennings connects with Ibrahim Jaaber on a perfect give and go pass for an easy layup, as the ball doesn’t even touch the ground once.
As the game deteriorates into garbage time in the fourth quarter, we finally get to see some of that old flash come out—with a perfectly timed behind the back bounce pass to Andre Hutson, a beautiful alley-oop lob to Angelo Gigli, and then—gasp—a Rucker Park style behind the back pass-fake followed by a sneaky lay-in, plus the foul. “I needed to get a little something in there” Jennings chuckled afterwards, “although I don’t want to go too far.”
That’s not to say that everything is all rosy at this point with Jennings’ game—he still has a significant amount of work to do on his decision making skills and shot-selection before he can be considered an efficient point guard. While it’s obviously not fair to compare his stats as a rookie in the Euroleague and Italian league with that of his NCAA counterparts, the fact that he’s shooting just 38% from the field on the season can’t be viewed as a positive.
Perimeter shooting is the area that Jennings needs to work the most on if he’s to come anywhere close to reaching his full potential as a scorer—he’s made just 22 of 99 attempts from beyond the arc in 43 games in both the Euroleague and Italian league this season, or 22%.
Jennings has a tendency to contort his body and fade away excessively on many of his attempts—something he’s been working on extensively with Bosnian assistant Nenad Trajkovic, who was hired after Nando Gentile replaced former head coach Jasmin Repesa in December. Trajkovic worked for many years as an assistant and head coach with Serbian powerhouse Partizan Belgrade, widely considered the best team in European basketball in everything revolving around developing young players.
After every practice, Jennings works with Trajkovic on his shooting, getting up as many as 500 jumpers. He credits Trajkovic with helping him improve his mechanics significantly (“going straight up and straight down, extending my arm, not fading away too much anymore, keeping on balance, not turning my hips a lot” Jennings explains), and indeed his shot looked much better than advertised in the three practices we observed, although he still has plenty of room to continue to improve, particularly with his pull-up jumper.
The best things that Jennings brings to the table, though, definitely can’t be taught. He’s incredibly fast in the open floor, highly fluid getting up and down the floor, and extremely natural changing directions sharply and attacking the rim. In today’s NBA, where speed is absolutely at a premium like at no other point in time, Jennings has game changing potential as a shot-creator. Look no further than the way a relatively unheralded player like Aaron Brooks has been able to put his stamp on this year’s NBA playoffs for evidence of how valuable a speed demon like Jennings can be in the right offense.
All the bumping and hand-checking he’s been learning to deal with all season long from European defenders might make life a lot easier for him once he reaches the NBA, where everything is much more open thanks to the defensive 3-second rules and much tighter officiating on the perimeter.
What separates him from the Aaron Brooks’ and Monta Ellis’ of the world, though are his playmaking instincts. His talent and creativity with the ball were always evident in the games, scrimmages and practices we saw, as he sees the floor and is capable of making incredibly difficult passes look easy, in a way that no point guard in this draft not named Ricky Rubio can. Over the course of our three days in Rome, we saw Jennings make a handful of mind-blowing plays that hint of an incredible future that is in store, particularly in transition or running the pick and roll.
Harnessing that talent will be an ongoing process for Jennings, as he is not what you would call a polished player at this point. Turnovers remain a major issue for him--he commits one on 23% of his possessions in the Italian league according to our advanced stats, as he still lacks a great deal of experience operating in the half-court and is prone to making questionable decisions at times. He clearly lacks the strength to finish many of the plays around the rim he’s able to create for himself at this level, so continuing to add strength to his lanky frame will also be a priority moving forward.
Something that must be pointed out is the fact that Jennings doesn’t even really run the point for Rome that much, as he’s often slated next to either of Rome’s dominant ball-handling guards Ibrahim Jaaber or Sani Becirovic. Clearly there wasn’t a great deal of thought put into how these players complement each other on the part of the club or Jennings' camp when the roster was assembled last summer. There is no doubt that in another situation, Jennings may have been able to better put his playmaking talent on display, as he was obviously on a very short leash here in Rome.
Defensively, Jennings has made great strides since he first got to Rome—it’s not rare to see him come up with some excellent possessions on this end of the floor each and every game—but he still has a ways to go here as well. His long arms, excellent quickness and outstanding hands make him a terror in the passing lanes for example—he ranks second in the Italian league in steals per-40 pace adjusted, but he also has a tendency to reach excessively and try to pick players’ pockets from behind.
He’s learning how to use his body and speed better to stop the ball, but older, more experienced point guards are able to take advantage of his over-exuberance and lack of strength at times, lulling him to sleep and then blowing right by him. Off the ball, he has a tendency to lose his focus on occasion, and he’s still a major target for the bruising, moving screens European big men are known to set, which he has a difficult time fighting through. In the game we saw he picked up three cheap fouls in less than 90 seconds—two of them clearly being rookie calls—which forced him to play very cautiously from that point on.
There is one clear-cut benefit from playing in Europe, though: “I’ve got the flopping down pat!” Jennings jokes.
We had a chance to sit down with Jennings and talk about his experience here in Rome so far. Because of the length of the interview we had to cut it into two parts, which you’ll see here:
Situational Statistics: This Year's Point Guard Crop
May 8, 2009
AAU basketball and high-level European basketball are worlds apart. Brandon Jennings got to experience the difference first hand and it shows in his numbers.
Jennings has the second lowest usage on this list at 7.6 Pos/G, and his .77 PPP is the worst. The rigors of international basketball aren’t kind to the average eighteen year old, and considering he threw himself to the wolves in signing with a team playing on the highest levels in Lottomatica Roma, he struggled as expected. His athleticism let him make some plays from time to time, but his inexperience was constantly apparent in his shot selection. He took 2.1 pull up jumpers per game, but only hit 21% of them. He shot under 25% from the field when running the pick and roll and when isolated as well. The fact that he was fouled on merely 6.2% of his halfcourt shots didn’t help his PPP in those areas either. Jennings was at his best in spot up situations, but his 1.07 PPP is still only a bit above average –though he did put up 1.39 PPP on open catch and shoot jumpers. News isn’t all bad for Jennings, as he turned the ball over less than average (15.2% of halfcourt Pos), but at the end of the day, he scored on merely 29.7% of his possessions. Jennings’ struggles may make any point guard considering the jump from high school to the top level of Europe think twice, as it’s likely just too big a jump in competition to overcome in a minimal role in a single season.
First came a DNP-CD, according to some Italian sources because of something Jennings wrote in his excellent blog that may have been perceived as criticizing his coach’s practice regimen:
“Tuesday-Friday it was straight running, we felt like we were trying out for the Olympic Cross Country Team or something. I think the coach was upset about our loss last week, because he made us run on the football field (soccer field) for a good 45mins. Then the next day we ran 80 sprints in practice for an hour and a half…which was rough. It felt like we were back in pre-season training camp. Then the next day we worked on defense the entire practice. This was all leading up to our game on Sunday…”
After his team dropped their fifth straight Italian league game in a row (pretty shocking for a team like Rome), this time to tiny Carife Ferrara, Rome’s Croatian head coach Jasmin Repesa decided to “resign” –reportedly after heavy pressure from ownership and the team’s general manager, legendary Serbian basketball player Dejan Bodiroga. It was said that Repesa had lost the confidence of his players in the locker room, and that Jennings’ lack of playing time may not have sat too well with the people upstairs, considering the huge investment they made in him. In a subsequent move, the team also parted ways with former Celtic guard Allen Ray, who, despite shooting a very poor percentage from the outside, had been Rome’s most productive perimeter scoring threat to that point.
With a new interim head coach in place, Nando Gentile, Jennings was inserted back into the starting lineup for the game against Ricky Rubio and DKV Joventut. He did not disappoint in the least bit, saving arguably his best game of the season thus far for the watchful eyes of a number of general managers and at least 30 NBA representatives. We also covered the game for USA Today, and you can read the recap we did for them right here.
Jennings spent most of the game alongside Ibrahim Jaaber, playing both on and off the ball in Rome’s fairly disoriented offense. He looked very aggressive attacking his matchup, displaying his world-class speed in the open floor, and moving the ball nicely around the court finding open shooters. On two separate occasions he punished Joventut’s full-court press on an in-bounds pass by faking a move towards the ball, only to take off in a full-sprint in the opposite direction, receiving a lob-pass over the top of the defense and going in for an easy score.
Jennings’ perimeter shot again wasn’t falling in this game, something that has increasingly become an issue for him in both the Italian league and Euroleague. He’s hit just 9/47 attempts from beyond the arc this season, or 19%, while converting on only 46% of his two pointers.
Decision-making continues to be an issue for the young point guard, both in the form of careless turnovers and poor shot-selection. He pulled up wildly off the dribble from well beyond the 3-point line on one occasion before anyone else had touched the ball, and attempted a very off-balance floater from the free throw line shortly after.
Defensively, Jennings struggled. Ricky Rubio blew by him on a couple of occasions even though everyone in the building knew he could only drive left, and he even fell down on one possession trying to stay in front of his man. The pick and roll gave him all sorts of trouble, and he again made very little effort to try and crash the glass or get his team extra possessions.
All in all, Jennings wasn’t at his best, but still emerged as one of the best players on the floor at times, which is an impressive feat considering his age, lack of experience and the level of competition he’s currently playing at.
After the game we spoke with him in the locker room about a number of issues. Here are some key quotes:
-About playing against Ricky Rubio:
“It was cool. He was only playing with one hand. He’s pretty good. Not bad.”
On what Europe has helped him improve on:
“Maturity. I’m more mature. I’ve handled it well so far. I’m learning something now. I’m around older guys that have been here before—Ibi [Ibrahim Jaaber], Sani [Sani Becirovic], Hutson [Andre Hutson]. It’s a learning experience. “
-On being benched abruptly early in the 3rd quarter:
“I made a couple of fouls. It was my mistake. We were trying to make a run. I can’t complain. If we’re here winning, I can’t complain. I’m sure I’ll play more now.”
-On being on a short leash:
“I make mistakes and they take me out. It is what it is. I’m gonna make mistakes…It’s a little bit frustrating not to play.”
-On whether this is how he envisioned Europe:
“I knew coming in that there will be ups and downs. This has made me stronger. I’m seeing what it’s like to not be playing. Who knows, in the League I might not be playing at first. Mentally this is something good to go through.”
-On whether he was sad to see Coach Repesa step down:
-“I never gave it no thought.”
-Thoughts on the media criticism from outlets in US about his lack of stats in Italy:
“I never read it. I don’t read it. It’s a long season, and it’s still early. I can’t get caught up in that stuff. I’m sure it was negative. People don’t understand what it’s like here in Europe.”
-On working on his defense:
-“I’m getting smarter and stronger. That’s something that will come along.”
-Question from Spanish media outlet on why he came to Europe:
“To learn the pro game for a year or so. The goal is to learn. Hopefully on June 26th I’ll be shaking David Stern’s hand.”
-On what he needs to improve on:
-“My strength and my defense.”
-On whether there is pressure on him:
“Coach says to play with confidence. There is no pressure at all.”
-On what he would tell a high school player currently considering playing in Europe:
“First thing, if you’re not mentally tough, you have no chance. Their passion here is unbelievable. If you get on a good team, you won’t be scoring 35 points. There will be ups and downs. If you’re mentally tough, you will succeed. I knew that with this team we had a chance of winning the Euroleague and Italy.” [Read Full Article]
European Roundup: Jennings Managing Expectations
November 14, 2008
Brandon Jennings seems to be settling into his role in European basketball thus far, to the point that it seems safe to begin preliminarily analyzing how he’s playing. With nine games underneath his belt (five in the Italian league, where Rome is 4-1, and four in the Euroleague, where they stand 3-1), Jennings is averaging 18.5 minutes per game, scoring 8 points on 35% shooting from the field and 31% from beyond the arc, pulling down under 2 rebounds and dishing out 2.35 assists compared with 1.35 turnovers. Not really the stuff legends are made out of, but fairly impressive nonetheless considering what he’s going up against at his age. Numbers are typically not the best way to evaluate players in Europe, and this definitely holds true in this case.
To fully understand Jennings’ role on his team, you must look at the players that are around him, particularly in the team’s 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 he’s 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. He’s 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 he’s 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 doesn’t always read what the defense gives him and tends to struggle with things like managing the shot-clock and controlling tempo. Occasionally you’ll 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 he’s 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 he’s gaining every day, as he’s 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.
Widely spread news by now, one of the very top high school players, Brandon Jennings, is looking to join a European team for the following season. It’s not only a pioneer move (concerning highly touted recruits), but also could unfold some serious consequences in the future.
We've heard that there are much bigger reasons for Jennings deciding to go overseas than meet the eye, but will stick to the facts for now until more light is shed on the rumors that abound at the moment.
At this point, anything that happens to Jennings will be scrutinized and used as an example for others in the future. His failure could very well close this newly opened path; his success might dangerously open a flood of teenagers looking for a paycheck, since they can’t get into the NBA, especially if the 20-year old age limit is dictated.
However, any attempt to draw simplistic conclusions is bound to lead to wrong decisions.
First and foremost, we have to understand that Europe is a huge mass of different basketball competitions, with some of them hardly resembling each other. This is not like playing in the NBA, where there are 30 defined teams and a comparable level between them. Overseas, there are some incredibly competitive leagues and some easier ones, balanced and unbalanced, defensive oriented and scoring happy, with an intense tactical approach and more free styled, better leagues and worse leagues, with a huge gap between them.
It’s also a matter of different teams, with different coaches, mentalities, nationalities and styles.
So it’s not simply about going to Europe and collecting your pay check, but you have to make the right choice. And Jennings, as good as he might be, will have to as well.
We all know the kid, oozing with talent, blessed with excellent athleticism, ball-handling skills, very nice shooting touch and passing ability. It has been a piece of cake for him to disrupt opposing defenses at the high school level, either playing against mediocre teams or in all-star type settings.
But this is completely different, as he will face tougher, stronger, bigger, more experienced and much more organized defenses (on a different degree depending on where he’s headed to). A teenager, lacking strength and without any real knowledge of how to run a motion offense (the staple of European basketball), a dominant ball-handler who has never been asked to play any type of real defense or execute in high pressure situations—could really struggle to adapt in such a short time-frame.
It would likely be a big mistake for Jennings to put himself into an excessively demanding environment. A high profile team (like Euroleague outfit Rome- who are rumored to be strongly in the picture) usually enjoy a deep roster and a very structured game on both ends of the court. There are no one-man shows here, the ball needs to flow and the team works united for a purpose. A player like Jennings, who loves to jack up shots and to dribble looking for the final definitive pass, probably doesn’t enjoy the experience and maturity to adjust quickly enough. Playing in a top league, you need to be extremely mature and consistently effective in order to enjoy significant freedom within the system, certainly not the easiest task for such a young kid playing the point guard position.
Every loss in Europe is treated like a tragedy for the entire week until the teams suit up again—certainly a far cry from the AAU type settings Jennings is accustomed to where teams often don’t even have to wait for more than a few hours before forgetting everything and hitting the court again. 2-3 consecutive losses in Europe usually lead to a variety of reactions coming from sponsors, the front office and the often incredibly negative media—causing the coach’s seat to heat up, the paychecks to arrive a little bit later (or not at all), and even players getting cut for imaginary “breach of contracts.”
So if he doesn’t fit, he could easily end up relegated to the bench, regardless of being perhaps the most talented player on the roster, a dreadful scenario heading into the draft.
For a guy like him, who comes to the Old Continent just en-route to a quick exit to the NBA, it’s all about being on the court and able to display his abilities. Forget about learning the nuances of a highly structured basketball system in depth. If you think he’s coming back in a year looking like a cross between Stephon Marbury and Theo Papaloukas (the Greek guy who killed the US Team at the 2006 Worlds schooling them on the pick-and-roll), you’re very wrong. If he were willing to do it, which is not happening, it would take him significant time and would put his draft stock in serious danger.
Therefore, where might Jennings fit easier?
Going just by leagues, the Spanish ACB, for example, mentioned by Jennings as a country-name he happens to be familiar with, would likely be the worst possible choice.
The strongest domestic competition in Europe, it’s very deep and extremely competitive. Without huge differences between the top teams and the bottom, there’s a bunch of legit title candidates, while you usually have close to half of the squads battling not to get demoted, so there’s high pressure and little patience. For a mid-sized team, a few bad games might mean to find yourself out of the playoffs and fighting for your life. Besides, there’s not much up-tempo basketball, just two Americans are allowed per team (often playing marginal roles), deep benches, and the game is usually highly structured. Just take into account that college graduate rookies rarely succeed in the ACB, and it even takes significant time to adapt for those coming or returning from the NBA. It’s nearly impossible to see a team in this league putting their fate in the hands of an American teenager.
The Italian league is another spot mentioned as a place Jennings would consider—Rome (the clear-cut second best team) seems to be looking strongly at him right now. This is a very physical league where strength and mental toughness is at a premium, two things a player like Jennings cannot be expected to bring to the table at this point in his career. A smaller team in first division may be able to offer him shelter here playing alongside an experienced American guard, but most of the usual suspects you would consider expressed very little interest to us when asked about this possibility. The option of playing in the Italian second division (still a fairly strong league by European standards) might be even more attractive, as there are only two Americans here (and one European) and there should be more patience to be found in a setting like this.
On the bright side for a player like Jennings, France is an interesting league. Although showing good parity considering the relatively small differences between the best and worst teams, you will find a lot more freedom, up-tempo basketball and guard-oriented style, with many fast and athletic players, not much size and not showing the most tactical emphasis around. Financially, mid-level teams can offer between 100-150 thousand dollars (but often closer to 80 or 90k)—nowhere near the 300-800 thousand his people have been mentioned as looking for.
Israel is another attractive choice. Although Hapoel Holon pulled a shocker this past season, this is a league tyrannized by Maccabi Tel Aviv, so the pressure to perform from day one is not that big. Here you can find some of the highest scores in Europe, as there’s more of a laid back attitude on the game style, and off-court demands. Besides, Americans seems to adapt pretty fast here, finding a friendly environment and many countrymen sharing their teams within a very small radius. The budgets here outside of Maccabi are even smaller than in France—think 80 to 120k.
Another good showcase (that’s the main point, after all) could be Turkey, especially out of the top 5 or 6 teams, where high scores are a regular fit, players enjoy extended minutes on the court, helping them to engross their stat-lines, and Americans dominate the statistical rankings. The money here flows much more freely than in most other leagues these days, even if teams regularly overspend their budget and are then forced to release players midway through the season (or just not pay them their final monthly salaries). The language and cultural barriers are high, though, and the turnover amongst teams is fairly significant.
Considering how much his stock and future career will depend on this upcoming season, Jennings would be smart leaving money on the table if needed in order to find the most proper league and team to showcase his abilities. Neither to play the Euroleague should be a priority for him: he doesn’t particularly need that exposure because teams will go to scout him wherever he plays.
Other kids thinking about following Jennings’ steps will have to carefully examine the circumstances of Brandon’s success or failure. Will he prove that Europe is a viable option for high-school graduate players? Will he succeed because of the setting where he’s playing in? Will he fail because he didn’t choose the right situation? Does he enjoy or lack some certain ability or mental characteristic that allows or hinders him to adjust to a given European environment?
Just think about the learning curve of NBA teams when drafting international players. They would take almost any seven-footer with potential following Nowitzki’s success, and of course it doesn’t work that way. For the same reason, the fact that Jennings succeeds or fails is not enough reason for any other top high school kid doing the same in any European team. Different players and different environments require different analysis.
For the Blue Team, the co-MVP of this game was named Brandon Jennings (10 points, 14 assists, 3 turnovers, 6 rebounds, 5-13 FG, 22 minutes), a much more worthy selection considering the way he played and more importantly, the value he brought to his team. He seemed more concerned at times with checking out the scoreboard to see how many assists he was racking up, but still did a great job feeding everyone around him. He showed his shiftiness in the open floor with his flashy ball-handling skills and excellent hesitation moves, and utilized both hands showcasing his court vision and making outstanding post-entry passes, lobs, and drive and dish plays. At times it seemed like he was dominating the ball a little too much, but considering the way he got everyone around him involved and cheered his teammates on both on the court and from the bench, there is not a whole lot to criticize here.
For the Blue team, the center of attention as always revolved around the flamboyant presence of their point guard Brandon Jennings. He dominated the ball for every minute that he was on the floor, pounding it excessively during certain stretches and making phenomenal plays in others, showcasing his outstanding athleticism and talent level, but also making some of the people in attendance grumble about his somewhat selfish style of play.
Quick shots early in possessions, a little mano a mano with the pesky Kemba Walker (who went right at him), and some incredible flurries of imagination all typified the high-usage, high-octane play of Jennings. He was awesome splitting the defense and finding cutters with his lightning quick bounce passes, incredibly flashy with his ball-handling skills, and also played absolutely zero defense on the other end of the floor.
The problem with Jennings is that he seems more concerned with looking good than playing winning basketball. This is not something that we came up with from watching him in the all-star game setting, but also very much evident when we went out to watch him play with Oak Hill back in December. He only seems interested in passing the ball if he will definitely get an assist, which causes a lot of standing around from his teammates and probably doesn’t make him the most fun guy to play with. It’s way too early to make any definitive conclusions about how he will turn out, but Lute Olsen and Arizona will most certainly have work to do regarding the way he runs a team, because it’s just not a style that is conducive to winning games, despite the incredible amount of talent that Jennings possesses.
Ranked by most analysts as the top point guard in the 2008 class, the burden of expectations was always going to be quite high for Brandon Jennings (#7 Scout, #8 Rivals) going into this game. And although he was named the MVP of his team for his performance, in a winning effort, there were definitely some negatives to take away from today.
Jennings is a slightly undersized point guard with an average frame, solid length and excellent athletic ability. He has a terrific first step, and is an extremely fluid all-around player, the type who everything comes easy for on the court.
Known as more of a pass-first playmaker, Jennings looked more focused on showing off his scoring ability in this game. He shot the ball 24 times in 32 minutes, seven times from behind the arc, and only hit 11 of his field goal attempts. His shot selection looked extremely questionable at times, to say the least. He’s relying more heavily on his perimeter jumper than we remember, looking to create space from the perimeter and then pulling up constantly off the dribble, with mostly mixed results. He seemed to settle too often, before anyone else on his team got the touch the ball. On one particular play, the 30-second shot-clock expired with the ball in his hands without him having passed it by that point even once.
Looking beyond just today’s performance, though, you can definitely say that he’s got nice potential as a perimeter shooter down the road, both from mid-range (especially on his pull-up) and behind the arc. It would just be a shame for him to fall in love with it and forget the rest of his game.
A superb ball-handler with either hand, Jennings has terrific quickness, an assortment of crossovers and hesitation moves, and the added benefit of being left-handed, which most defenders just aren’t used to. He likes to push the ball up the floor, and is especially effective in transition, which should suit him quite well next year at Arizona. He didn’t finish particularly well around the rim, though, as his lack of size and strength appears to be a bit of a hindrance at this level already. He also doesn’t seem to be the most contact-loving player either, which resulted in some blown layups.
As a playmaker, Jennings has outstanding court vision, and the ability to make extremely flashy passes at high speeds while on the move. His decision making isn’t bad, but at times you feel like he’s more concerned with getting on to a highlight reel than making the right play. It seems like he may have played in just one too many AAU tournaments. Oak Hill looked fairly disorganized in their half-court sets, and we missed a little bit of leadership coming from Jennings’ direction. The team seems to be struggling all season long, and after what we saw today, it’s not too hard to tell why. Jennings just doesn’t look like he cares that much while on the court, or at least that’s what his laid back body language would lead you to believe. He’s a very dominant point guard who dribbles the ball excessively and is obviously much better setting up players off the bounce than he is directing traffic from the perimeter, showing lots of style but not enough substance.
Defensively, Jennings was extremely average, not putting too much effort in, and gambling excessively for steals and blocks, jumping wildly trying to contest shots from behind the arc. Oak Hill often had him defending the other team’s worst player, possibly to conserve his energy. He does have very nice ability to come up with steals, though, both coming up in the passing lanes and picking his man’s pocket clean playing on the ball. He was able to do exactly that on the last possession of the game with his team up by one point, stealing the ball, but then foolishly decided to lay it in and give the opposing team a chance to tie the game with a three rather than run out the entire clock on his own. Not a smart play at all.
All in all, there is very little question that Jennings has a great deal of potential. After watching him play here, though, we have some question marks about how quickly he will reach that potential. He should have a chance to step in and contribute right away at Arizona, which should help him.
Jennings continued his torrid camp by throwing up a camp high 28 points in the morning session before settling for 15 in Team A.I.'s afternoon game. While he did put up impressive numbers, he was forcing up a lot of bad shots and struggled to hit from outside, going just 3-of-12 from deep in his first two games. To be great on the next level, Jennings really has to concentrate on balancing himself on his jump shot, because he has all the ability in the world. Many of his shots are of the step back or off-balance variety, and they really affect his shooting percentage.
First, we'll start with the best performance of the game, and maybe the day, by Brandon Jennings (Team Iverson/Oak Hill/Los Angeles/2008). After a mediocre first game, Jennings exploded in his second game, finishing with a game high 21. You name it, Jennings did it. He hit 3 threes, scored at will in the lane, got to the line with ease, pick-pocketed UCLA commit Malcom Lee's pocket twice, and served up a beautiful through the legs bounce pass to Rednardo Sidney for a jam. But the moment that everyone in attendance was talking about was the dunk Jennings had in the fourth quarter. Cutting from the wing with a little over 3 minutes left to play, Jennings left his feet outside of the lane and finished off an incredible left handed jam in traffic. He clearly used all of his 40' vertical. I must say visions of Baron Davis went running through my head. Jennings played with a confidence in his second game that just wasn't there in the first.
After a good summer of AAU basketball, and a solid performance on national tv earlier this year, Brandon Jennings struggled against Simeon on Thursday night. Jennings ranks 6th in the country among juniors, and rates as the top point guard in his class. Over the summer, he ran the point on the So Cal All-Stars, which also featured Kevin Love, Renardo Sidney, and Taylor King. As good as his Oak Hill team is this season, the team he ran over the summer in AAU was that much better. With this team, Jennings did an outstanding job creating for teammates both in the half court and full court.
Thursday night Jennings struggled for much of the game, and didn’t look nearly as polished as he did over the summer. He did make a few flashy passes early in the game, including a cross court no-look pass in transition. Jennings couldn’t find his shot, however, and airballed a three early in the game. In the half court, he struggled to create many plays for his teammates, and spent a lot of the time sitting back and watching Alex Legion create. His play improved a little bit in the fourth quarter, but he took a number of bad three point shots off the dribble trying to get his team back into the game. At the end of the game Jennings sat on the bench crying on the sideline, but this game isn’t much a reflection on the talent that he possesses.
At this point in time, Brandon Jennings’ main strength is the ability he has to create shots for his teammates. He displayed flashes of this against Simeon, but he can usually do this throughout the game, and much more effectively in the half court. Jennings gets to the basket as well, and can finish pretty well, though he is improving in this area. As a shooter, he has a lot of room for improvement, but can make some long range shots from time to time. He will have to make some improvements to his ability to hit shots off the dribble, but this should develop more as he becomes more experienced. Another main weakness for Jennings is the fact that he always goes for the flashy play, and this leads to unnecessary turnovers.
Jennings is a player who’s not use to failing on the basketball court. The loss was the first of the season for Oak Hill, and he usually had comparable success in the AAU circuit with the So Cal All-Stars. He will have plenty of chances for redemption in the future, and one bad game shouldn’t effect the perception on Brandon Jennings as a player.
Las Vegas AAU Summer Tournaments: Thoughts from Day Two
July 25, 2006
Jennings is a very talented point guard, who has been impressive throughout the tournament. He is very athletic, as he displayed on a fast break dunk where he exploded off the ground to catch an alley-oop pass. He is very quick with the ball, and has an explosive first step which allows great dribble penetration. He possesses a very good handle on the ball, but he is very left handed, and needs to go right more often in order to mix things up. Jennings has very good court vision, as he proved many times both in transition, and half court sets. He also showed some shooting ability, and even made a fall-away jumper from 17 feet. His shooting stroke is inconsistent at this point, but he does have good mechanics. Jennings is a good scorer inside, and uses his athleticism near the hoop, but he doesn’t always convert on his drives.
Jennings biggest weakness at this point is his tendency to try and be too flashy. He turns the ball over too much for a point guard with great court vision, and that is a direct result of him trying to be too fancy with his passes. On one occasion Jennings created dribble penatration and had an open teammate inside, but rather than throw a simple pass to his teammate’s hand, he tried a no-look pass which went right into the hands of the defender. Jennings also tends to be a little wild while running a half court offense, and needs to work on being more patient at times. Down the road he will need to work on developing a mid-range game.
In his first game of the day, Jennings scored 8 points against the Michigan Hurricanes, while dishing out 8 assists and turning the ball over 4 times. Against the D1 Greyhounds, he scored 14 points, and handed out 8 assists with 3 turnovers. He has looked like a very promising point guard, and his combination of athleticism, court vision, and scoring. He will have to become more disciplined when running an offense, but he has a very bright future ahead of him.
Las Vegas AAU Summer Tournaments: Thoughts from Day One
July 23, 2006
Jennings is worthy of his lofty ranking, that much is for sure. He is a fantastic athlete and he showed that right away by attempting a spectacular put-back dunk off an offensive rebound. He’s a creative point guard who enjoys finding the open man and has a great imagination to make flashy passes, but he sometimes gets a little too caught up in making a spectacular move. So-Cal did a great job utilizing his strengths and not forcing him to create excessively off the dribble. He also didn’t settle for his perimeter shot either, which is good considering that this isn’t one of his strong points. Instead he pushed the tempo and made a series of terrific passes through traffic, both in transition and in the half-court. Jennings is only a 2008 prospect and has plenty of room to continue to develop, but appears to be on the right track so far. Jim Calhoun and the rest of the UConn staff was watching him intently from the sidelines today.