Now that the dust has settled from the Pistons’ sign-and-trade that brought Brandon Jennings from Milwaukee to be our new PG, I think the general consensus is that he’s a step up from Brandon Knight. While some of us had hoped that Knight could become a solid floor general, we didn’t see much evidence of that capability his first 2 years in the NBA. It seems apparent that Joe Dumars came to essentially this same conclusion.
Dumars’ first attempt to get us a true PG was the February trade for Jose Calderon. Many of us were very impressed by that move, and disappointed when we were unable to keep him this summer. The subsequent signings of Chauncey Billups and Will Bynum brought both elation and befuddlement to many, but I assumed our plan was to continue trying to develop Knight into a solid PG. And then, after Dumars had previously denied engaging in talks to obtain him, the Jennings deal went down.
One comment I’ve read since we signed Brandon #2 is that he will be the best PG we’ve had since Billups. (How soon we’ve moved on from Calderon! But I guess it’s understandable for fans to quickly forget a guy who only played 28 games for us.) My first thought was, “Here we go again with the Billups’ comparisons!” Both Rodney Stuckey and Knight suffered from those expectations, so hopefully we know better than to hold Jennings up to that high of a standard.
But since Mr. Big Shot is also back in town, and can serve as a mentor to help our newest PG further elevate his game, I thought it would be interesting to take a “snapshot” comparison (and contrast!) of the new with the old. At first glance I see some similarities between these two, for both men are scoring PGs with 3-point range. But if we look below the surface, what do we see?
To facilitate this comparison, I’ve looked at the stats for Billups’ 2003-04 championship year with Detroit and Jennings 2012-13 season with Milwaukee. Why choose Billups’ second year as a Piston instead of his first? I think it’s a year that best highlights their similarities and their differences. The two tables presented here divide each player’s season into 3 splits – his worst, middle and best games. The first table is for Billups, and the second one is for Jennings.
|CHAUNCEY BILLUPS, 2003-04|
|BRANDON JENNINGS, 2012-13|
So based on these two statistical “snapshots,” how are Billups and Jennings most alike? On both FGs and 3s, they both shot a similar percentage in these respective years. Both were a solid threat from 3-point range. But while Jennings took almost 3 more shots per game, he only averaged a half point more. The reason for this is clear – Billups averaged almost 2 ½ more FTAs per game, and also converted them at a nearly 6% better rate. His average of 5.9 attempts was his best season yet to that point, and he's topped it just 4 times in the 11 years since then. For his 4-year career Jennings has averaged 3.6 FTAs, so it seems unlikely that we’ll see much change in this part of his game. At 6-1, 170, he’s not really built for taking contact in the lane. (In contrast, Billups is a much more solid 6-3, 210.) However, Jennings’ FTA average to date is still superior to Knight’s (career 2.6 FTAs).
Besides our concerns about his defense, the biggest issue with Jennings appears to be his reputation as a “chucker” who takes bad shots. While that view may be deserved, we can see that his worst shooting efforts were comparable to Billups’. For about 1/3 of their games, both guys shot an average of about 25%. And for another 1/3 of their games, both men were on fire – making over 53% of their shots. It seems likely that Jennings will be the best scoring threat at PG that we’ve had since Billups.
When it comes to assists, steals and turnovers, the edge in this comparison goes to Jennings. He dished out 6.5 per game (with 2.5 TOs). That’s nearly 1 more per game than Billups with almost identical TOs. Since this was Brandon’s best season yet, we can reasonably hope that he’ll continue improving as a facilitator. Perhaps one of his most impressive games last season was a March 2nd outing versus Toronto, when he scored just 11 points but posted 19 assists. He followed that effort up two nights later by assisting on 17 scores against Utah. In all, Jennings had 13 games of 10 or more assists. He may never match Billups’ best season in Detroit (8.6 assists with 32 games of 10 or more), but certainly his skills are a step in the right direction. We should also note that up until the 2005-06 season (his 9th in the NBA and 4th as a Piston), Billups had never averaged over 6 assists per game.
Chauncey Billups’ career is already one of the great stories in the history of both the Pistons and the NBA. No matter how long he remains as Detroit’s GM, Dumars may never top his decision to sign Billups to a 6-year/$35M contract in 2002. It’s certainly unlikely that Jennings’ deal will match it for value (though the salary cap back then was only about $40M) or return on our investment. But if our newest Brandon improves his scoring efficiency and defense, and continues developing his gifts as a floor general, he can become the best Pistons’ PG since our beloved #1 - Mr. Big Shot.