Tag Archives: brandon jennings

Hi! How Was Your Summer: Detroit Pistons

Photo Credit: Juliana/Flickr

2012-’13 Record: 29-53

New Faces: Maurice Cheeks (Head Coach), Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, Chauncey Billups,  Luigi Datome

New Places: Lawrence Frank (Now Brooklyn assistant coach), Jose Calderon (Dallas), Brandon Knight (Milwaukee), Viktor Kravstov (Milwaukee), Khris Middleton (Milwaukee), Jason Maxiell (Orlando)

Draft: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (8), Tony Mitchell (37), Peyton Siva (56)

The Detroit Pistons definitely did something this offseason. No one knows for sure exactly just what they did yet, but depending on how you see the glass, it’s either half-empty or half-full. General manager Joe Dumars told Grantland’s Zach Lowe that he feels as if they’ve added talent, which he isn’t necessarily wrong about, but there are legitimate questions about the fit among the team’s additions and their young players. I mean, there’s definitely a glass here; you just have to turn your head to the side and squint a bit to see if it’s half-full or half-empty.

First, they added forward Josh Smith to a frontcourt that already includes Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. Smith is infamously a poor shooter from distance, but Monroe shot .486 from the field on the season, which is below average for a center. However, the two big men were both above average at the rim, .771 for Smith and .614 for Monroe, but that presents a potential spacing problem. Same goes for Drummond who attempted just 63 shots from further than 10-feet from the basket, in which he made just 15 of those attempts. Dumars, in the same Grantland interview, mentioned that their basketball IQ’s and ability to make plays for others will mitigate some of these negative effects. Which really has to happen if Detroit hopes to return to the playoffs along Smith, Monroe, and Drummond being able to play together.

There other big move was, of course, dealing Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton and Victor Kravstov for the Bucks’ Brandon Jennings. Which, again, doesn’t improve a team that was 18th in three point percentage last season, nor does it help their probable spacing issues. Jennings, like Knight before him, also struggles as a shooter, even finishing below the league average of .608 percent for point guards at the rim having shot .492 percent last season. Sure, Jennings can make plays for others, but who is he passing to? Austin Daye, Jose Calderon and Tayshaun Prince — their top three players in three-point percentage last season — are all gone. The return of Chauncey Billups won’t help this, either, being an average shooter at best last season. Same goes for rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who may go on to be more than an average shooter from distance, but that likely won’t happen this year.

Dumars did succeed in upgrading his roster from a sheer talent perspective but there are legitimate questions about how well these pieces fit together and if you can have success in the NBA today without being able to stretch the floor. Yes, talent and smart players do tend to figure it out, but usually that’s when they’re surround by other pieces that complement their strengths. We’ll find out if these Pistons have that ability or not.

Statistical support provided by Basketball-Reference.com and Hoopdata.com

 

Brandon Jennings’ Renewed Freedom Of Imagination

Photo from ~ Marjolein ~ via Flickr

Even a week later, the sign-and-trade bringing Brandon Jennings just feels weird.

Maybe it was how it came about. The NBA has, over the past few years, taught us to expect little-to-nothing from restricted free agency. Most applicants fall into one of three major camps – swift, immediate re-uppings, such as Tiago Splitter this year; matched offer sheets, such as Jeff Teague; or a withdrawn qualifying offer, such as with Tyler Hansbrough.

Neither of these is a major source of drama. Occasionally, members of the second group whose agents have neglected to teach them how restricted free agency works are “insulted” that their initial team hasn’t offered them a contract, let everybody know that they’d rather leave, and are then even more “insulted” when the sheet is matched (this is also known as “The Eric Gordon”, and it’s incredibly annoying). On even rarer occasions, we might get major news that exceeds the realm of gossip and hurt feelings, such as last offseasons’ dual-poison-pilling by the Houston Rockets, or Anderson Varejao and Sasha Pavlovic holding out on the 2007 Cavs.

Usually, though, a restricted free agent eventually finds himself back where he started, be it on a fair deal struck early in July, or at a discount a few weeks later. So it was somewhat out of place to see Jennings, a major free agent by name if not by production than by name, make news in a manner so unrepresentative of his restricted status. Which caught me off guard, because, four years in, I’ve stopped expecting surprises out of Brandon Jennings.

It’s an odd thing to say, given how unexpected the start to his career was. From the decision to spend a year in Rome as opposed to donning an NCAA-sanctioned uniform, to showing up late to the NBA draft in which the Bucks picked him 10th, to those damn 55 points, all the way to his Bucks nearly advancing to the second round to end a rookie year of which nothing was initially expected, Jennings had established himself as an out-of-the-blue extraordinaire. His game inherently flashy, swagger oozing from every pore, he was a refresher through and through.

Of course, the problem with Jennings’ entire career has been just how high the standards were set after jos scorching start. That premise was explored in impressive detail and excruciating pain by some very smart Bucks bloggers following his ultimate departure, but even without Bucks rooting interests, the deterioration was depressing. Brandon Jennings, former breath of fresh air, turned into Brandon Jennings, living embodiment of a franchise with stagnation etched upon its flag. There were still flashes of unique happenings – every now and then he would play that game or hit that shot, and every now and then his team would trade for Monta Ellis or draft John Henson – but those were minutiae. The Jennings season recap would always tell the story of a sub-40% shooting, high usage pick and roll initiator, who is technichally a borderline all-star, but is only in consideration because he plays in a guard-bereft East. Similarly, the Bucks season recap would always tell of a team ultimately relegated to yet another narrowly missed playoff berth, or a narrowly hit playoff berth that might as well have been missed.

If nothing else, the move to Detroit offers Jennings, and those who are watching him, a chance to break out of that rut. Yes, it’s looking like a lower Eastern playoff spot (How U), but it’ll be a different lower Eastern playoff spot. One without Scott Skiles running the show (or Jim Boylan, who might as well be Scott Skiles). One without Ersan Ilyasova (bless his soul) as the primary pick-and-pop weapon of choice. One with a different jersey and a different mascot and different League Pass broadcasters. Brandon Jennings might just be who he is, at this point, but if he was ever going to be somebody else, sheer inertia meant that Milwaukee was no longer a fit screen upon which he could project that sequel.

In that sense, Jennings is very much like his new teammate, Josh Smith. Not just because both have maddening shot selection and a seemingly squandered skill set, but because Smith, like Jennings, has been who he is and where he is for so long that he’s become almost imperceptible. Josh Smith, the player has become Josh Smith, The Idea. The versatile freak athlete has been replaced with that familiar #5 Hawks jersey, taking yet another jumper as the half-empty arena screams “NOOOOOOOOOO” all the way to a first round playoff bounce, even if he happens to do something else every now and again.

We might see the same things in Detroit, but just by seeing them in new surroundings, we leave the possibility of something new open. Whether it’s individual success, a surprising team run, or just some fun pick and roll synergy with Andre Drummond – himself a once-future-star whose slip in the draft was offset by a tantalizing rookie season – Brandon Jennings once again offers us some freedom of imagination. Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton and Slava Kravtsov seem like a small price to pay for that.

A Little Bit of Everything

Photo: Flickr/Nicholas Noyes

Life is full of choices. Some small like what to have for lunch and others far more consequential. I mean, when is the last time a turkey sandwich ruined your day? Probably never, I’m guessing. Typically, you would be just as happy with the ham or roast beef as you would with the turkey. It’s nothing on par with signing a lease, changing careers, buying a car or anything else that takes serious consideration. And you also typically have multiple choices to make with big decisions, which is not always easy.

Same goes for NBA teams and the route they choose to take after evaluating their team following a season. If you think you’re missing the few essential pieces to making a championship run or feel you still have another shot at it, you acquire players past their rookie contracts that can help you immediately. On the other hand, if you feel your glory days are behind you and it’s time to look towards the future, you identify your franchise cornerstones, add picks, expend the long-term veteran contracts you need to and add additional vets on short-term deals to maintain your salary cap flexibility.

The cold hard truth: even if you select either of those routes, there is still no guarantee that you will be successful. You need luck. You need the proper personnel in place. You also need to put the right combinations of players together. And when you do all that you need to get favorable matchups in the playoffs and hope the ligaments in your star player’s knee holds up.

In short, building a good basketball team is hard. It would be so much easier if you could just throw a bunch of money at an assortment of talented players and just skip right ahead to the parade planning, but that’s just not how it works.

Since it’s such a difficult decision, it’s hard to fault a team like the Bucks for the decisions they’ve made this offseason. They won 38 games this past season, good enough for a four game “Thanks for Coming!” sweep at the hands of the Miami Heat in the first round. Sure, they still made the playoffs but they were facing a crossroads with prominent rotation players like Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis expiring with several young players on the roster as well. When you consider general manager John Hammonds’ Bucks teams have won 34-46-35-31-38 games  in his tenure that should have been an indicator that it may be time to focus on player development rather than winning and first round exits.

Aside from the draft, the Bucks appeared to be headed into July looking to finally blow it all up after years as a fringe playoff team. Not only did they select two projects in addition to having John Henson, Ersan Ilyasova, Ekpe Udoh and Larry Sanders on the roster, but they moved JJ Redick in a three-team trade for two 2nd round picks and a trade exception. Shortly after that they dealt for the expiring contract of Luke Ridnour to boost their point guard depth and we thought we had the Bucks all figured out.

Following the Bucks’ trade of Luc Mbah a Moute for a second round pick, it really seemed that the Bucks were collecting assets in the form of draft picks (a form of currency in today’s NBA that is ever-growing in it’s value because of the new CBA) and promising young players. Despite a brief flirtation with Jeff Teague, Milwaukee seemed to be focusing on player development and maintaining cap flexibility for the future.

Then things got interesting. They brought in OJ Mayo  in free agency. A few days later they brought in veterans Carlos Delfino and Zaza Pachulia. Finally, they added San Antonio free agent Gary Neal and the team that once looked like they were rebuilding looked as if they were looking to make another exhilarating run to the 8th seed. At least these players they signed were all veteran guards whose minutes wouldn’t stifle a developing player’s growth because the Bucks don’t have any. The same can’t be said for Pachulia who will be sharing frontcourt minutes in the frontcourt with Henson, Udoh, Ilyasova and Sanders.

Still, this wasn’t the end of the world and a very manageable situation. These moves seemed to make it unlikely that they would bring Jennings back, which is fine because his fit next to Mayo doesn’t seem like a great one on paper. With Pachulia, they have a solid rotation, and even though he may cut into some of the young players’ minutes, having a veteran could help the Bucks through their young frontcourt’s growing pains. Besides, waiving Gustavo Ayon a few days prior made this less of a cluster-you-know-what than it was before.

Alright, so the Bucks had added a few veterans in addition to their blossoming former lottery picks while gaining a few extra picks along the way. They weren’t totally bottoming out despite the strong draft coming next June but they will still likely receive a good pick nonetheless, and the veterans they added are on short-term contracts that will allow that to maintain cap flexibility. They just had to get the Brandon Jennings situation resolved and they’re all set.

Well, unless you sign and trade him to the Pistons for Brandon Knight (another combo guard and recent lottery pick) and 2013 rookies Khris Middleton and Viachevslav Kravstov. Don’t get me wrong — Knight is a great get in exchange for Jennings — but now they have all of these prospects surrounding these established players for a team that would be lucky to win 40 games next season.

You can’t rebuild and win at the same time when you’re a team like the Bucks. This isn’t like the Spurs where they retool on the fly by plugging in different role players next to their stars and win 50 games every year because they already have stars. It’s not just the fact that this is the way it’s always done: it’s done that way because it doesn’t work any other way. And winning 40 games this season does the Bucks very few favors in the near future since, despite their cap space, aren’t a prime free agent destination. Teams like the Bucks need that cap space to use on their own draft picks once their rookie contracts expire.

Now they have the 15th overall pick in last June’s draft, Giannis Antetokounmpo,  and Middleton on the roster for next season. They will have to figure out how to disperse the minutes at power forward and center between Pachulia-Henson-Sanders-Ilyasova-Udoh-Kravstov.

As for the guards, they have Ridnour and Neal at point guard, but where does that leave Knight?  If he can’t hit shots well enough as a shooting guard do they move Ridnour over into the role he played in Minnesota and have Knight take point guard minutes? Will he or should he start? If he starts, do you try to get Mayo to come off of the bench and play Knight as the off-guard?

I know that positions aren’t the most important thing, but the roles of a shooting guard and point guard require different skill sets to help the team, and these are the questions the Bucks will now have to ask after adding several developing players. In fact, having Neal, Ridnour, Delfino and Mayo all on the roster wasn’t a big deal until they brought Knight on board. Furthermore, their unique veteran-backcourt/young-frontcourt dynamic worked before the Jennings trade.

This offseason, John Hammond has proven just how hard it is to make the decision to rebuild or continue trying to win in the present. Yet, when you begin a rebuild, you can’t stop halfway through once you realize just how bad you are going to be and abruptly change course. You have to be patient, which is something that is hard to find in today’s NBA culture because teams want results sooner rather than later. At the end of the day you have to ask yourself if another year of 35 wins as a middling team is better for your job security than a 25 win season and a chance at eventual long-term success.

What are the Detroit Pistons?

Daniel Y. Go | Flickr

The Detroit Pistons have probably had the most mesmerizing offseason in the NBA this year. And by no means are you to make the mistake of assuming that mesmerizing has a positive connotation in this case. Almost every move that Joe Dumars has made has been met with either “LOL PISTONS” or “What the f*ck are the Pistons doing??” Detroit signed Josh Smith to a huge 4 year, $54 million contract. On Tuesday afternoon, they completed a sign and trade with the Milwaukee Bucks to bring Brandon Jennings to the team on a 3 year, $24 million contract. In a vacuum, both of those moves are pretty sensible. The Pistons got two very talented players on fairly reasonable contracts without giving up much more than Brandon Knight and some cap space. But as components of a larger Detroit Pistons organism, they are head-scratching moves to say the least. Now, I’m not about to write 2500 words about why these moves make perfect sense and why the Pistons are now destined for greatness with Jennings and Smith complementing a young core of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. But I will write roughly half that many words to explain why Detroit’s offseason leans more towards “sensible” than “head-scratching.”

The question that immediately comes to mind when we consider Detroit’s offseason move is: how does it all fit? They figure to have young studs at power forward and center in Monroe and Drummond. So why the hell are they spending $54m on Josh Smith to further complicate the situation in the frontcourt? Well, that’s a really good question. And it’s a question that has a couple of potential answers. The easiest solution to the problem of the crowded frontcourt is that the Pistons think Josh Smith can play small forward. Defensively, Smoove can certainly guard most NBA small forwards, but it’s the offensive end that gets messy. How do you possibly play those three players at the same time and have an effective offense? That’s another really good question and I don’t think I have any easy answers to that one. But Josh Smith is a really talented player (yes, even on offense) and when all else fails, adding more talent to your roster is usually a pretty good strategy. Even if you’re losing some value due to Drummond, Monroe, and Smith overlapping offensively, the Pistons still figure to get a net gain from the addition. Whether or not it’s cost effective or the best allocation of their resources are different issues that deal with a host of hypotheticals that I don’t feel the need to get into at the moment. Instead, let’s stay focused on what we do know (or can at least reasonably project).

Another explanation for bringing in Josh Smith when you already have a talented frontcourt is that it’s possible we are all overestimating the short-term impact that Detroit intends for Andre Drummond to have. Drummond has all of the tools to be an elite NBA player in the future. He’s extremely young, has a tremendous physical profile, and has produced phenomenal per-36 minutes numbers in his brief time in the NBA. But that first trait might be the most important: Drummond is extremely young. He’ll turn 20 years old on August 10th and despite his impressive numbers in the NBA thus far, his skill level still leaves a lot to be desired. He’s just a kid; he’s very raw. He played just over 20 minutes per game in his rookie year and missed several weeks due to a lower back stress fracture. For all of those reasons, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Pistons bring Drummond along very slowly. As much as the basketball blogosphere would like to #FreeDrummond, it seems unlikely that the Pistons will suddenly thrust Drummond into the starting role and let him play 35 minutes every night. If you’re only planning on playing Drummond 25ish minute per game, it shouldn’t be that hard to mix and match the lineups with Drummond/Monroe/Smith to minimize the overlap.

I think the move to get Brandon Jennings is easier to make sense of than the Josh Smith signing. First off, the dollar amount on the contract is very reasonable. According to the NBA free agency market, the Pistons seem to be paying roughly the right amount for a player of Josh Smith’s caliber, but they might be getting a relative bargain in Jennings at just $8 million per year. He’s not the most efficient player, but his shot-creating ability (for himself and others) is valuable. He’s still quite young (will turn 24 just before the NBA season starts) and he likely has some remaining upside on both sides of the ball. $8 million seems to be roughly the going rate for an average starting point guard in the NBA and there’s a pretty decent chance that Jennings ends up being better than that.

Of course, the addition of Jennings is viewed as questionable because you have another guy that struggles with efficiency and doesn’t exactly solve the spacing issues that you’ve created with the Drummond/Monroe/Smith combo up front. And these concerns are legitimate – I’m not trying to pretend they aren’t. But the Pistons have started to address the spacing issues by drafting Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — who projects to be a threat from three-point range even if he isn’t an elite shooter right away – and by signing Chauncey Billups. They also signed Italian League MVP, Luigi “Gigi” Datome (his name is Luigi and he shot 42% from three in Italy, your argument is invalid). Maybe this roster will end up being totally dysfunctional and the talent will go to waste. But I’m willing to wait and see it in action before declaring it a disaster (or even really worrying about it, then again I’m not a Pistons fan).

Smoove and Jennings are guys who have developed reputations as shameless chuckers who are at best ambivalent (or perhaps just unaware) about the concept of efficiency. But is that reputation a life sentence? Is it possible for Smith and Jennings to change their ways on their new team? Some people around basketball will say that they are who they are. Personally, I’m more hesitant to write them off. Jennings and Smith are both obviously very talented and have the ability to be far more efficient than they have been recently. Will a simple change of scenery be enough for them to adjust their shot selections and lead to an uptick in efficiency? I have no idea, but I think there’s a non-zero chance that there is a coach, player, or mentor in Detroit that these guys lacked in Milwaukee and Atlanta. Any NBA fan has seen Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith do tremendous things on the basketball court. If somebody is able to harness their overwhelming potential and skills into consistent efficiency, then all of the questions of fit and cost can likely take a backseat.

More often than not, the NBA team with the more talented roster wins out. There are certain cases where scheme, chemistry, and coaching allow a lesser roster to overcome a significant gap in talent, but usually talent reigns supreme. And while you can question all of the specifics regarding the additions of Jennings and Smith, I don’t think you can sincerely question that they increase the overall talent on the Pistons’ roster. Again, I’m not about to simply dismiss any questions about the future direction of the Pistons’ franchise (what’s the endgame here??) or about what how the heck Mo Cheeks is going to make this roster work. But at a certain point you want to start winning games. It could have been pressure from ownership to put more fans in the Palace or the front office may truly believe that a Drummond/Monroe/Jennings/Smith core can be a title contender in the future. But more likely, the Pistons saw an opportunity to improve their roster by adding two very talented players – and they did so without sacrificing much more than some newfound cap space (sorry, Brandon Knight). That seems pretty sensible to me.

Statistical Anomaly: Bucks @ Pacers

Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

Statistical Anomaly is a series where we explore all the mathematical nuances you may not have noticed watching the game the first time. Today, Kyle waxes Euclidian on the Pacers blowout victory over the Bucks.

Tyler Hansbrough did some of his best work in March as a collegiate and his fourth professional season is following a similar path. Psycho T registered his three double doubles in as many games after notching just two double doubles in his first 66 games of this season. Is he a star player who will is capable of willing Indiana to wins the way he did North Carolina? No. But he is a nice piece for a competitive team who is capable of starting if Danny Granger never returns to form. Hansbrough wouldn’t be a great fit for many teams, but his grit and tenacity fit perfectly with the Pacers persona, making his increase in minutes this month a trend that should continue.

How do we typically define a good team? Usually, we want the better teams in the NBA (or any sport for that matter) to take care of business against inferior competition and compete against the elite teams. The Pacers last 12 wins against teams who are currently .500 or worse have come by an average 21.92 points. They also have the second best winning percentage against .500+ teams in the Eastern Conference. The knock on Indiana is typically that they can’t score enough to keep up with high-powered star-led offenses, but the Pacers are quietly averaging over 100 points since the ASB.

Pacers

The six Pacers that scored in double figures combined to miss a mere 25 shots and score 83 points. Brandon Jennings and JJ Redick missed 24 shots on their way to a pitiful six total points. Indiana’s depth is crucial to their success and increases their offensive consistency while Milwaukee’s dependence on a few select players results in a team that can score 100+ points (did so in eight of their first 11 games this month) or struggle to eclipse the 80 point plateau as this did against Indiana. Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings are elite scorers, but can a team win with a volume scorer being their best single player, let alone their best two players? Neither player is in the “Kobe-system” as far as talent is concerned, and the second level of star volume scorer (think Carmelo Anthony in today’s game or Gilbert Arenas in the early 2000’s) has had little success at putting a team on his back.

Speaking of Brandon Jennings, the Pacers have made it an area of focus to offer a strong contest when the flashy guard pulls the trigger from distance. This was the fifth time his last six games against the Pacers in which Jennings made 33.3% or fewer of his three pointers. The issue with Jennings isn’t the Pacers defense, it is the fact that he continues to take the hotly contested deep jumpers. In the Bucks 34 losses this season, Jennings is shooting 32.3% from distance as compared to a 43.6% mark in victories. He is attempting 5.7 triples per game (win or lose) and struggles to adapt his style based on the flow of the game. Jennings is a nice talent, but his ceiling will be limited until he learns to take what the defense gives him as opposed to forcing the action.

Monta Ellis had a game high 22 points and six assists, but that the Bucks dropped their second game in ten days when he leads all players in points and assists. Milwaukee had lost just one such game, prior to this stretch, in their first 81 games with Ellis on the roster. Ellis can fill it up offensively, but is he the type of well rounded player that can lead a team? He says he is a carbon copy of Dwayne Wade but would the Heat be this good with Ellis and the Bucks this bad with Wade? Furthermore, which roster would you prefer? The 2006 Heat team that got Wade one of his rings or this year’s Bucks squad? Ellis was right, ring count/wins is a difference between the he and Wade, but there are many differences as to why that difference occurred.

The physical tools of Milwaukee are at least comparable to those of Indiana, but the Pacers play as a team and are greater than the sum of its parts. Indiana has progressed from a nice playoff team that didn’t have a star to a team that has a developing star (Paul George) and enough pieces around him to make a serious run in the postseason.

Have a favorite team that you’d like to see featured in this post? I do it twice a week, once for the Wednesday slate and once for Friday. Here is Wednesday’s schedule. Tweet me @unSOPable23 if you want your team to be a part of the next Statistical Anomaly.

Atlanta @ Toronto, Milwaukee @ Philadelphia, Orlando @ Charlotte, Boston @ Cleveland, Boston @ New York, Miami @ Chicago, Los Angeles Clippers @ New Orleans, Indiana @ Houston, Washington @ Oklahoma City, Los Angeles Lakers @Minnesota, Denver @ San Antonio, Phoenix @ Utah, Sacramento @ Golden State, Brooklyn @ Portland

This is why the NBA is the best: Milwaukee Bucks edition

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From time to time, I’ll get emails from NBA PR contacts about league-wide stuff that is usually relevant to wide audiences. Since HP’s a little more niche-y, not all of the stuff fits here. But you know what? That’s OK. I still like being in the loop, and other blogs and sites that do use those PR posts do a great job with them.

But today, they sent one right smack dab in HP’s wheelhouse. Presenting the NBA’s final installment of its BIG campaign: Monta & Brandon.

Ahem,

“1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!

OUR WAY! YES, OUR WAY! MAKE ALL OUR DREAMS COME TRUE!

AND WE’LL DO IT OUR WAY! YES , OUR WAY! MAKE ALL OUR DREAMS! COME TRUE!

FOR ME AND YOUUUUUUUUUUU!

Basically, the NBA has created the best video in the universe. It hits particularly close to home for me because it has two things integral to my childhood: a Midwestern NBA team and a Happy Days spinoff.

From the NBA’s PR:

“Brandon & Monta” is the fourth and final spot of the 2012–2013 “BIG” Regular Season campaign. A new exciting duo has emerged within the Milwaukee Bucks – the backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. When you think of famous Milwaukee duos, ’80s TV icons Laverne & Shirley definitely come to mind. These two guys have teamed up for some amazing action this season, the spot highlights some of their spectacular moments—all set to the tune of the Laverne & Shirley theme song, “Make Our Dreams Come True.” They embody the hard work and team spirit that has come to define the city of Milwaukee and the Bucks style of basketball. TOGETHER Is BIG!

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God, I’m so happy right now!

Beware Brandon Jennings’ Nickels And Dimes

Via Flickr – atomicshark

“Brandon Jennings is breaking through! Finally…”

-Milwaukee Bucks fans

Whoa, pump the brakes, check the rotors and calipers, and the blinker fluid while you’re under there. It’s not as if this is the first time Jennings has fooled our inner-mechanic. Never forget…

 

While this was a glorious moment that raised much fanfare for the future of the first NBA player to skip college entirely, opting to play in Europe until he reached the mandatory age limit of 19 required by the league, and few, if any, expected it after his less-than-pedestrian Italian career, it’s hardly indicative of the 203 games in between the three-game stretch where Jennings averaged 37.3 points per game beginning six games into his inaugural season as a rookie in Milwaukee. So, there is precedent for the current kind of explosion from Jennings, with three full seasons of mediocrity in between.

Don’t get me wrong, his career-second-best 17.0 PPG, and by far career leaps of 13.0 assists and 4.0 steals –over career marks of 5.5 and 1.5 — per game thus far this season is an historic leap. But hardly sustainable if your name isn’t Nash, Rondo or Paul.  Indeed, while the overall average this year is impressive, it is all by itself skewed by the first game alone.

Jennings had “one of those nights” that he’s quite capable of on occasion against the Boston Celtics in the Bucks’ opener, scoring a crazy-efficient 21 points on .529 shooting, handing out 13 assists, and taking away six steals from the C’s on the way to a comfortable win over the Boston Centrum Silvers.

He followed that up with another victory, this one at the buzzer at home versus Cleveland, courtesy his very own self, but not after once again dishing 13 dimes. Jennings is doing the unthinkable: Leading the NBA in assists. This is not who we thought he was, the swag-y shoot-first mentality that has made his reputation tarnished as a point guard. Has he really turned it around, changed the essence of his game, the essence of who he is?

Let’s delve deeper into the reality of what has truly transpired.

The Bucks’ field goal percentage leaders — Sam Dalembert aside, who has taken a grand total of one shot, and made it — are Larry Sanders, Tobias Harris, and Mike Dunleavy, shooting a combined .744 from the floor on 7.8 attempts a game, an astounding percentage of made field goals. It’s also one that, like Jennings, is not sustainable. Sanders is a solid .455 FG% for his career, Dunleavy .445, and Harris made .467 of his 169 tries as a rookie last year.

Furthermore, of Jennings’ 26 assists this season, half of them have been on made jumpers outside the paint, six of them three-pointers. So, 13 assists have been garnered on lower percentage shots. The Bucks are simply one huge hot hand right now, shooting .491, to the league average of .443 (as of the current clock). The above hot hand players, and entire team, is destined to regress to the mean once the gloves are off and sample sizes progress to more meaningful measurements.

The good news is, that with increased movement, 13 of those assists have come from eight feet on in to the rim. Sanders in particular, 13-16 field goals on the season, has taken only a single shot outside eight feet, and made it. But if you think Dunleavy is going to continue to blister the arc for .875, and Tobias Harris .667, you’re quite insane.

While Jennings’ overall assist numbers should rise this year, likely from the career 5.5 to around 7.0, his line from the second game of this 2012-13 campaign is much more Brandon-esque, when we remove the hot hands from the equation: 13 points on .385 field goals, with two steals.

So don’t start investing in nickels and dimes just yet.

 

Trade Deadline: Bucks, Warriors Trade For Each Other’s Shadows

Photo from Vít Hassan via Flickr

Trade deadline season finally took off late Tuesday, with an intriguing Golden State-Milwaukee swap. From the gentlemen that brought you Corey Maggette for Dan Gadzuric and Charlie Bell:

The Milwaukee Bucks traded Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson to the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night for a three-player package headed by high-scoring guard Monta Ellis.The Bucks also receive forward Ekpe Udoh and center Kwame Brown in the deal

via Milwaukee Bucks trade Andrew Bogut, Stephen Jackson to Golden State Warriors for Monta Ellis – ESPN.

There is sense to be made here, from both sides. The Bucks clear up loads of cap space by bringing in Kwame Brown’s expiring deal and sending out the poisonous fumes of the burning pile of feces that is Stephen Jackson, and bring in a talented scorer to boot. The Warriors finally pick a side in the 32-month saga that is the Stephen Curry/Monta Ellis backcourt, get their elite defensive center, and now have the legitimacy to play horrible basketball for the rest of the season so they can sneak back in to the lottery in one of the deepest drafts in years.

The basketball intricacies are fascinating. Bogut and Lee is a frontcourt match made in heaven: Lee is the high-post presence that Bogut never had in Milwaukee, enabling him to make the logical move from the overmatched only option to just one other crucial part. Both are elite passers with deft touches around the basket, a combination of big man that pretty much can’t be rivaled in today’s NBA outside of Los Angeles and Memphis. Conversely, Bogut very nearly league-best interior defense is just the security blanket that Lee has always lacked. Add in the fact that both have career defensive rebound rates over 24%, and Golden State looks very, very scary long term, ankles and elbows notwithstanding. Curry-Thompson-Dorell Wright-Lee-Bogut lineup, with Jackson and hopefully that top 7 pick helping out is a good NBA lineup, if not a great one.

Milwaukee loses that presence as part of a complete makeover from a defensive squad to an offensive squad, albeit one that specializes in quantity over quality. The Bucks will never have trouble creating a shot again. Making them is another matter – here’s hoping that Ersan Ilyasova, instead of wilting and crying in the corner, continues to grab every offensive rebound in sight – but the previous Bucks were bad at both. Meanwhile, they get what could possibly be the biggest steal of the deal in Ekpe Udoh, a +/- deity who may or may not become an all-NBA defender given the minutes.

Adding the cap space, and remembering that both Jackson and Bogut were giving the Bucks nothing this year, and it’s possible to argue that this both vaults Milwaukee into the playoffs over the Knicks (sheesh, the Knicks, let’s not even go there), and are better in the long-term. In fact, if Milwaukee finds a team willing to take on Beno Udrih’s 2012-2013 salary (the Lakers? The Blazers? The Rubio-less Wolves? People need point guards) and amnesties Drew Gooden next summer, they could be looking at 28 million dollars of cap space. Re-sign Ghostface Illa, AND GO BANANAS.

More than anything, though, this trade is striking from a grass is greener perspective. The Bucks have been in “if only Andrew comes back” mode for two years now, the prospect of the Aussie’s rehab going well hanging over the franchise like a noose. It’s unfortunate – that 09-10 squad meant quite a bit to me, as I’ve written here before, and this is the final nail in its coffin – but it’s true. A franchise can only go on for so long before the what-ifs sink it, and Milwaukee’s nose was barely above water levels as is.

The same went for Golden State. Ellis is wildly overrated, but he’s just as talented, and Stephen Curry is a bum wheel away from being an elite NBA player, but the fit wasn’t there, and wasn’t going to be. As Ethan Sherwood Strauss noted a few weeks ago, making an actual pick was always more important than what the pick would eventually be. Well, the pick has been made, and even if it comes at the price of Stephen Jackson, even if it is dependent on how Bogut can come back, even if we’re still not sure what a Klay Thompson is (though we’re less pessimistic than last month), even if it just reminds us how ridiculously stupid it was to amnesty Charlie Bell’s expiring contract instead of Andris Biedrins (you could have had Bogut, Lee, Curry AND CAP SPACE, you fools!) – it is commendable.

Of course, these problems aren’t over – they were just shifted. Stephen Jackson’s contract is still as bad as it ever was, even though it makes all the karmic sense in the world that the original offending front office is the one that must pay it.The Andrew Bogut Comeback Train is now parked in the Bay area instead of Wisconsin, but it will still suffocate an entire franchise until Bogut is either back in full form or retired. The Monta Ellis Quandary will live on as well, even if it involves a different ill-fated backcourt companion. The fears are all the same, it’s just another franchise trying to overcome them.

Which is why it’s so fascinating.

Trade Deadline: What Bogut-For-Monta Means

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/#!/WojYahooNBA/status/179725446101999616"]

Ask, NBA blogosphere, and ye shall receive. After a few days of intensifying speculation and rumors, the first real trade of the 2012 deadline went through on Tuesday evening, and it’s a doozy. Let’s unpack:

  • If Andrew Bogut can stay healthy (kind of a big if, but it’s not at all out of the realm of possibility), he and David Lee will make up one of the better 4-5 combos in the league. Bogut isn’t expected back for a while, but the back end of the Western Conference playoff race is close enough that Golden State has a shot at sneaking in, and if they do, his presence could make them a tough first-round matchup for one of the top seeds.
  • As unlikely and questionable as Stephen Jackson’s return to Golden State seems on the surface, perimeter D is a need that he fills. There are risks involved with bringing him back, but getting a center as talented as Bogut makes it worth the gamble. Worst-case scenario, they can negotiate a buyout.
  • If the Warriors do decide to buy Jackson out (which isn’t the plan as of now, according to Yahoo!’s Marc Spears), he instantly becomes the most intriguing candidate to be picked up for cheap by a contender.
  • The biggest downside to this trade for the Dubs: the future of their franchise now depends entirely on the health of Bogut and Stephen Curry, the very definition of a high-risk/high-reward proposition.
  • The second-biggest downside to this deal for Golden State is losing Epke Udoh. But if the Warriors are in win-now mode, it’s worth giving up an unpolished prospect for a known quantity like Bogut.
  • The Bucks save some money by unloading Jackson’s contract and getting back Kwame Brown’s expiring deal.
  • Think about the prospect of a Brandon Jennings/Monta Ellis backcourt for a second. Has any guard combo ever posted a usage rate over 100? Will they combine for 70 shots per game? Is this the black-holiest backcourt since Marbury and Francis? The Bucks just became everyone’s favorite League Pass team for the final third of the season, purely from a morbid entertainment standpoint.
  • Of course, though they deny it now, there’s always the chance this deal could foreshadow a Jennings trade. I wrote about his future in a post yesterday, and now the Bucks may have to answer the question sooner than we thought. If it doesn’t happen before Thursday, we’ll definitely be hearing increased talk about moving the third-year guard this summer, when he becomes eligible to sign an extension.
  • In the grand scheme of things, this trade will probably become a footnote to whatever does or doesn’t happen with Dwight Howard in the next 36 hours. However, if Howard does get traded, this could be viewed as the first domino. The Magic had been making a hard push for Ellis in the past few days, in hopes that it would placate him. Now that that’s off the table, who else can they target to try and keep Dwight happy? Even if Phoenix has a change of heart at the last minute and decides to move Steve Nash, Orlando doesn’t have great assets. The Ellis/Bogut trade might be the thing that finally convinces Otis Smith to pull the trigger on a Howard deal, in which case the Bucks and Warriors can claim a small piece of the credit in helping to end the tiredest story of this season.

The trade deadline is fun, isn’t it?

Trade Deadline: Brandon Jennings’ Self-Positioning

Photo via EnoNarYam on Flickr.

Sources said Milwaukee has made third-year point guard Brandon Jennings available “for the right price,” as one executive who has spoken to the Bucks put it. Jennings, who was drafted 10th overall in 2009 and has been considered the team’s future franchise player, irked Bucks officials with his comments to ESPN.com in early February about a possible departure.

“I’m going to keep my options open, knowing that the time is coming up,” he wrote in an e-mail to the Web site. “I’m doing my homework on big-market teams.”

via Trade Notebook: Smith, Howard in similar situations; Bucks available | SI.com

In a recent post about the new reality that the desire to play in a bigger market has become an accepted prerequisite for NBA superstardom, I looked at Dwight Howard’s absurd, confused diva act and wondered whether he had fully thought through his decision to jump ship from the Magic. Lately, this mentality has spread beyond the league’s A-listers and evolved into a sinister form of leverage that lesser players can use to convince their teams and the rest of the league that their on-court value is greater than it is in reality. How the next 18 months play out for Brandon Jennings and the Bucks could be telling, in terms of the willingness of small-market teams to attempt to placate supposed franchise players, regardless of whether they truly are franchise players.

Jennings made headlines a few weeks ago by hinting that he had designs on leaving Milwaukee for a flashier locale. This could have been pure ego talking (and probably was), but it was also a savvy bit of PR. Jennings is a very good player who will undoubtedly have suitors if and when he does hit free agency. But he’s also plainly not a superstar on the level of LeBron James, Howard, Chris Paul, or most of the other players leading the mass small-market exodus. What his threatened departure from the Bucks does is connect him in the minds of the general public with those players. It’s a little like how private colleges jack up tuition rates in order to appear more prestigious than they actually are. Behaving like an entitled, spotlight-seeking “global icon” is now a way up the ladder, not just something a player can do once he gets there. The school of thought goes that an almost-star’s leveraging their way onto greener pastures will transform them into a superstar, even if they haven’t earned that leverage on the court.

Jennings’ trade value currently occupies the untenable middle. He’s good enough and far enough away from free agency (the earliest he can hit the open market is 2014, and that’s only if he accepts the qualifying offer following the 2012-13 season) that the Bucks won’t benefit in the short term from moving him for picks and cap relief. But he’s also far too inconsistent and incomplete a player to command the CP3/Deron Williams/Carmelo Anthony-sized haul they will undoubtedly be seeking.

It’s the same predicament that the Warriors are currently facing with Monta Ellis, and one which may greet the Kings in the coming years as they are forced to decide whether or not their future will include Tyreke Evans. Shoot-first point guards are the hardest players to price accurately in the trade market or in free agency—the gaudy scoring averages demand figures and assets that other deficiencies in their games are just glaring enough to make teams regret forking over. And as the Bucks gear up to be the next team to have to negotiate a deal for a new arena, Jennings’ saga puts them in a tough spot. He’s the closest thing they have to a marketable star, and as a small-market team, they must decide whether that’s enough to acquiesce to giving him a contract that could hurt the franchise down the line.

It’s not much of a surprise that a player who took an early sabbatical in Italy to circumvent the NBA’s age limit is attempting to take a shortcut to elite status in the league. What will be worth watching is how the Bucks handle the years leading up to when they have to make a decision. If he’s able to leverage his way onto a big-market team by declaring himself worthy of that right, it could set a precedent that badly skews the priorities of a whole generation of players on the bubble of superstardom.