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Will Brandon Jennings be a better player with the Detroit Pistons?

Brandon Jennings played well at times during his career with the Milwaukee Bucks, and it’s fair to wonder whether he will perform better with the Detroit Pistons.

The Pistons’ new point guard spoke about altering his game in an effort to better fit with his new team. Via Dan Feldman at ProBasketballTalk:

“You’re going to see a whole different player,” Jennings said. “…I definitely have to change my game.”

“The things that I was doing in Milwaukee, I won’t have to do here, take all the bad shots,” Jennings said. “Now, I can just actually be myself and be who I was five years ago when I was in high school, playing AAU basketball.”

That is an intriguing quote from Jennings. It suggests he had the latitude to operate in whichever manner suited him.

It is easy to mention Jennings lacked talent with his previous team, which could justify some of the horrendous decisions he made as the team’s lead guard. But, quite frankly, that’s a bit of a cop out. Attempting low-percentage shots late in the shot clock is one thing, but simply firing ill-advised jumpers with plenty of time left on the clock is practically self-sabotage.

For example look at this step-back jump shot Jennings attempted during the 2013 playoffs against the Miami Heat:

It would be difficult to argue such a poor decision came as a result need. That type of shot attempt offers very low rewards.

Before Pistons fans get into an uproar, Jennings attempted this kind of shot only once per game. It’s a terrible look, but not one that occurred with high frequency. According to MySynergySports, the point guard attempted 61 shots from downtown in  isolation situations last season.

Given his ineffectiveness in this setting, Milwaukee was fortunate that he kept those shots to a minimum. During the 2012-13 campaign, Jennings attempted 128 isolation shots and converted 28.5 percent of them, per Synergy.

Clearly, this was not his forte. He attempted a little under two such field goals per game. The conversion rate is terrible, but the amounts were minimal. As a reference point, Monta Ellis attempted 221 isolation shots and hit 38 percent of them whilst playing next to Jennings.

Jennings had two issues in 2012-13 that contributed to his shooting woes: excessive dribbling and an inability to convert shots at the rim.

When the offense breaks down, Jennings has a habit of endlessly dribbling the ball in an effort to set himself up for a shot. The problem with that is his predictability. He’s a big fan of the step-back jumper, and thus, defenders play him for it.

In addition, Jennings can blow by defenders with relative ease but struggles to finish against length at the hoop. According to NBA.com, the left-handed guard converted a mere 47.3 percent of his shots in the restricted area in 2012-13. For context, Chris Paul and Steve Nash both made over 60 percent of those same looks during the same season.

Furthermore, Jennings will avoid going all the way to the rim if he feels there is too much resistance in his path. Instead, he will pull up for a floater from inside the paint but outside the restricted area. The new Detroit floor general hit 34.8 percent of his shots from that part of the court in 2012-13.

Put it all together, and we have the makings of a sub-40 percent shooter from the field.

Had Joe Dumars simply stopped at this analysis, he would have been terrified at the idea of signing Jennings. However, he clearly dug deeper.

Since the 2010-11 campaign, the Bucks have been better statistically with their lefty on the bench according to NBA.com’s advanced stats tool. The difference lies in the team’s defense. They simply have not been as stout on that side of the ball with Jennings on the court.

Offensively, though, there has been some fluctuation from year-to-year. Part of that is Jennings’ shot selection, but the other part his overall decision-making.

Jennings is a good pick-and-roll player. Synergy Sports tells us he converted 39.8 percent of his treys in 2012-13 in those situations. Indeed, hitting 3-pointers off the dribble is a difficult proposition, but Jennings is very good in this setting, especially when rises up with balance.

His jumper is a constant threat in the pick-and-roll, which is why he forces defenses to account for him with both the guard defending the play and the big man. The second defender has to stay within proximity to make sure he does not get an open look but must also retreat just enough to remove driving lanes.

Jennings can deliver very good passes to open players under these conditions. He sees the floor well enough and can make passes under duress even with opponents clouding his passing lanes.

Look at the pass he delivers to Gustavo Ayon here:

Switch the players in the video and the recipient is perhaps Andre Drummond catching the ball from Jennings and turning the play into a highlight.

Indeed, when Jennings is not busy firing off-balance fade-away jumpers, he is a good setup man. The sporadic poor shot selection comes with some counterintuitive benefits though.

Defenders are well aware that the guard can be coaxed into taking some difficult shots. Mind you, it is still important to contest these attempts to ensure the end result is a miss. This is where Jennings plays cat and mouse with opponents.

He will trick defenders into thinking one of his off-balance shots is on its way by using a herky-jerky hesitation dribble after faking his patented step-back jumper.

His other magic trick involves coming off the pick-and-roll and driving towards the paint where he acts as if he is about to put up a floater or off-balance jumper. Once the second defender comes out to challenge the shot, he will find his big rolling to the basket.

He does this here with Larry Sanders:

This is where the Pistons are going to need their new acquisition. His playmaking will be essential in Detroit given the lack of floor spacing. Greg Monroe and Josh Smith should be able to complement each other while Drummond will thrive off catches near the rim for finishes.

This group of players will need someone to create lanes and passing angles for them and that will be Jennings’ job. He will be one of the few floor spacers in the starting rotation, and it will be important for him to play to his strengths.

Detroit needs him to be aggressive coming off screen-and-rolls to force secondary defenders to commit to him. Also, he will have to minimize his dribbles and attack rapidly instead of toying with his man and allowing the defense to load up on him.

Watch how he catches the ball here and explodes off the bounce for an easy layup:

This obviously will not happen with much regularity, but catching defenses asleep is a must for a team that rated as a bottom-third NBA offense in 2012-13.

Maurice Cheeks will be tasked with incorporating the skills of his new point guard with those of the team and that should be interesting. Jennings will be the floor general, but will not need to systematically orchestrate the offense.

He will get opportunities to play off the ball while Monroe and Smith act as facilitators. This means Jennings will get catch-and shoot opportunities as well as chances to attack rotating defenders.

There is no way to predict whether Jennings* will completely cut out the low-percentage shots from his game, but his comments certainly suggest that he will try. He should still see a fair amount of isolation shots and struggle a little on that front given that his skillset is not conducive for these types of field-goal attempts.

*By the way,my choices for Jennings’ nickname: B-Jen, Bran-Done, Bran-J, Bran-Jen, or my personal favorite, Jen Shots.

However, he should thrive in the pick-and-roll and even get a few easy looks at the rim after exhibiting his passing ability. The Pistons offense will be entertaining in 2013-14 and Jennings is certainly part of that.

More than just entertaining, though, the Pistons need Jennings to live up to the stated proposed changes in his game. If he does, he’ll be more efficient, and the Pistons will be on their way to the playoffs.

24 Comments

  • Aug 15, 20135:19 pm
    by Matt

    Reply

    Zach Lowe, is that you?
     
    I really liked this post. Informative without being overwhelming. And, above all, interesting.
     
    Well done.

    • Aug 15, 20135:51 pm
      by labatts

      Reply

      +1.  I love that pass to Gustavo Ayon.

    • Aug 15, 20137:54 pm
      by Crispus

      Reply

      Yeah hats off, this is the kind of analysis I could get used to. There’s just enough statistics to ground things, but the human touch and visuals are prominent and persuasive.

  • Aug 15, 20135:48 pm
    by Geof

    Reply

    I agree with Matt, great article. But Jen Shots for a nickname . . . That sounds like a bad porn actress name.

  • Aug 15, 20137:35 pm
    by sloppy joe

    Reply

    I like the simple, immature yet still pretty funny nickname of BJ.

  • Aug 15, 20137:52 pm
    by CityofKlompton

    Reply

    his is an excellent post. 

    I am glad to see Jennings is going to be making a concerted effort to play differently here. His quote about his AAU years concerns me a little, though.  I have never watched Jennings in his AAU days so this could be a completely moot point, but I would think his talent level and athleticism at the time was probably much higher than the level of most of his opponents so he was probably able to get away with this same style of game much easier.  Against NBA competition, maybe we have seen the flaws come to light, and he has yet to realize where he needs to alter his game.

    Either way, I’m excited to see how this works out, and whether it does or not, I am expecting to see some fun basketball this season.

    • Aug 16, 20139:57 am
      by Huddy

      Reply

      He played with Kevin Love on an extremely talented aau team…he could just mean he wont have to do everything.

      • Aug 16, 20134:22 pm
        by CityofKlompton

        Reply

        If this is the case then this is good news.

  • Aug 15, 20138:28 pm
    by Domnick

    Reply

    nickname: B***JOB

  • Aug 15, 20138:44 pm
    by CityofKlompton

    Reply

    Since we’ve already got “Mr. Big Shot” on the roster, Jennings can be “Mr. Bad Shot”?

    • Aug 16, 20139:15 am
      by oats

      Reply

      Not if Josh Smith has anything to say about it.

      • Aug 16, 20134:23 pm
        by CityofKlompton

        Reply

        Haha, touché, sir.

  • Aug 15, 20139:05 pm
    by Vic

    Reply

     I sure hope so

  • Aug 15, 201311:36 pm
    by mega

    Reply

    It was hard watchin bj this year. I think he is best being a backup.  Bj never break down the  off the dribble because he has a hard time at the rim. Also Jennings never required a double team.  Milwaukee might not have had all stars but we some of the best catch an shoot players in the nba in jj reddick, mike dunlavy an erson ill. But since bj can’t penetrate at will these players were never open unless they came off a screen.  Ull soon see what I’m talking about. Also did anybody watch mil an det olay last yr. Bk killed bj. An so did every other pg in the league . Youtube it

    • Aug 16, 20139:14 am
      by oats

      Reply

      Detroit and Milwaukee played 3 games with the Brandons both starting at the PG spot. Jennings had 54 points, 10 assists, and 3 turnovers. Knight meanwhile put up 41 points, 11 assists, and 8 turnovers. Yeah, Jennings won that match up. Knight did win the match up once, with a 20 point and 5 assist game. Jennings had his best game against Detroit in the next match up, putting up 30 points and 6 assists. Yeah, Jennings clearly won the head to head match up against Knight over their 3 games.
       
      Looking at how a guy plays against another single player is kind of a terrible way to evaluate players though. The sample size is just too small to come to definitive conclusions on, and that leaves far too much room for error due to random fluctuation. It is far more useful to look at them over the course of a season to figure out how good they are. Jennings is clearly a starting caliber PG. His defense sucks, and his shooting efficiency is merely average. He still put up 17.5 points, 6.5 assists, and 2.5 turnovers a game. That gives him a turnover ratio of 2.6 assists per turnover. That ranks him as the 23rd best PG in assist to turnover ratio, and some of the guys in front of him are backups that clearly belong below him in a PG ranking. If I was to rank all the PGs in the league, Jennings probably comes in somewhere around 25th. That’s not good, but it is enough for him to be a starter. To compare him to Knight, I’d place Knight right around 40th at PG.
       
      I don’t think many people are of the mistaken belief that Jennings is a good PG. That doesn’t change the fact that he is an upgrade, that he is already a starting caliber PG, and he is young enough to get better. Unlike New Orleans, the Pistons didn’t give up much in the way of assets to acquire him despite the fact that Jennings and Holliday are pretty similar prospects (Holliday gets a few more assists and plays better defense but not actually good defense, but he also turns it over a lot more and is a slightly less efficient shooter). He’s also priced at about what you’d expect of a guy like him. He’s making about $8 million a year. Holiday is making a bit over $10 million. Jeff Teague is also on an $8 million a year deal. Rodney Stuckey is ending a deal that paid him $8.5 million a year. Mike Conley got $8 million a year and wasn’t any better at the time he got his contract than Jennings is now. Jeremy Lin got a little bit more than Jennings for his deal too. The market has clearly stated that roughly $8 million a year is the rate for a low end starter that is young enough to become a solid starter by the time his deal ends. This was clearly a good move for Detroit.

  • Aug 16, 201312:38 am
    by Pat

    Reply

    I would like to think that he’s going to make a Chauncey type transformation from a scoring combo guard to a floor leader facilitator.  But Cheeks is no Larry Brown and Jennings is no Billups in his prime.  The best case scenario is we use him as a trade chip to get a pure point guard or we get one in another way and we shift him to a Jamal Crawford like 6th man.  That is his destiny in the NBA.  8 Million a year is a lot to pay for a bench player but if he’s playing 30 minutes a game and scoring 20 ppg, it’s worth it.  

    • Aug 16, 20139:36 am
      by oats

      Reply

      He is a pretty average shooter, with a true shooting percentage of .510. I do not want him concentrating on shooting because he might get his 20 points, but he’ll take too many shots for it to be worth it. Thankfully, he’s a better passer than you seem to be suggesting. He was the 15th best PGs in assists per game, 20th in assists per minute, and 23rd in assist to turnover ratio. It seems pretty obvious to me that Jennings is best off as a PG and not a ball dominant SG. He just isn’t an efficient enough scorer to give him a green light to take any shot he wants. I’d rather scale back his scoring and having him focus on improved shot selection and passing. He also needs to improve his defense a lot.
       
      The idea that this team needs a pure point guard seems off to me. This team has 2 really good front court passers in Monroe and Smith, and they can help carry some of the facilitating duties. I think competently running the pick and roll is a must for a PG playing with this lineup, but Jennings is actually quite good at running that play. His passing seems perfectly adequate for this team. On the other hand, his shooting and defense are pretty problematic.

  • Aug 16, 201310:45 am
    by I HATE FRANK

    Reply

    interesting article …. From 2008 … I just pulled a few lines out, but its amazing how it going with this current article.

    http://www.maxpreps.com/news/4FZN_9auZkaaUfaCEk7kWw/maxpreps-national-poy—brandon-jennings.htm

    “My goal was to win the national championship,” he pointed out. “Steve Smith just let me run the show and gave me the green light. We were like the big team in the country and had to be ready to play every day. Having Oak Hill on your chest means everybody is out to get you. I wasn’t really worried about my individual stats. I just wanted to win games.”
     
    And win games they did. The Warriors rolled to an outstanding 40-1 record – losing only to Simeon (Chicago, Ill.) and its star guard, Derrick Rose – and were crowned national champions by USA Today. Jennings averaged 15.2 points and an eye-popping 11.5 assists (No. 2 in school history). In one game he dished out 21 assists. He also averaged 4.1 rebounds and 3.5 steals. He shot 38.6 percent from three-point range and 49.8 percent overall. He shot 74.6 percent from the free throw line.
     
    Entering his senior year, Jennings expected more of the same. He wanted to average 14 points and 18 assists. However, standouts Willie Warren and Malik Story left the team early and Jennings was thrust into a role he had not expected. He would have to score at least 30 points a game (some said 40) for the Warriors to win against what annually has been the nation’s toughest schedule. In addition, he still would have to be the quarterback and leader for a very young, inexperienced team.
     
    Even though it was by design, Smith warned Jennings that he probably would be criticized for not being a “pass-first” point guard. Saddled with a depleted bench, Smith admitted, “I always worried … if he gets really shut down. We saw box-and-one, triangle-and-two, etc. He obviously made plays that were exciting. The only fault I had offensively with him all year was that he would take about two shots a game that he shouldn’t take. But some times he would make those shots.”

    That articles says alot

    Jennings by nature is flashy, but also by nature he is a pass-first player, A guy that never really looked to score big points, until forced to be put in that roll. He is the opposite of Brandon Knight who was always a big time scorer, who was later asked to be a pass-first PG.

    Im excited, because I feel like Jenning is going to try to lead the league in ast, and that will motivate him, to prove to people that he is one of the best floor generals in the league

    • Aug 16, 201312:04 pm
      by Derek AKA Redeemed

      Reply

      Thanks for sharing this.  I hope he can rekindle that desire to be a pass first pg.  The current structure of our team provides him with the weapons he needs to pilot us to the team success we’ve lacked.

    • Aug 16, 20135:14 pm
      by CityofKlompton

      Reply

      I was not too thrilled about landing Jennings at first (aside from getting n upgrade over BK), but the more I learn about him the more optimistic I’ve become.

  • Aug 16, 201311:48 am
    by DasMark

    Reply

    Jennings nickname should be Dr Drain. 

     http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vkusKEeDDqs

  • Aug 18, 201310:09 pm
    by swish22

    Reply

    Excellent article.  I really enjoyed this.  Bravo!

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