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Cheeks expects Jennings to man up on defense

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His coach thinks the Pistons’ starting point guard can be ‘very good’ on defense. But clearly he is not there yet.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport
Brandon Jennings’ defense – or lack thereof – has not escaped the attention of Coach Maurice Cheeks. In a post on NBA.com by Fran Blinebury, the Pistons’ defense was described thusly:

The Pistons have now lost three consecutive games and went down on back-to-back nights in large part because the middle of their defense might as well be a landing strip.

Much of the problem begins at the top where opposing guards are usually able to run as free as colts in a meadow.

Blinebury specifically cited Jennings for failing to stop “dribble penetration,” “relying on his big men to cover up for his mistakes” and for lacking “commitment on defense.”

According to the post, Cheeks was asked if Detroit’s defensive effort in some upcoming games might be improved by “hiding” Jennings and using rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to cover top point guards. “Yeah he’d be up for the challenge,” his coach said, revealing his high regard for the rookie. “But if you’re going to be good, and I’m going to say this again, a good point guard, I don’t like the word ‘hide’. I want the guy who’s guarding the ball, who’s running my team, to guard that guy, if you’re going to be good … You don’t become elite by having someone else guard your guy.”

Offensively, Jennings has been very productive. In seven December games, he has averaged 21.3 points (shooting .448 on field goals and .413 on three-pointers) with 7.1 assists per game. He has nabbed 2.6 steals per game, too, but his average of 5.3 turnovers in those outings has also hurt our defensive efforts.

Over that same time span, opposing point guards have averaged 11.1 ppg and 5.7 apg, shooting .384 from the field. However, several of those players (Mario Chalmers, Kirk Hinrich, Brandon Knight) are not top-drawer, and one was a rookie (Michael Carter-Williams). In the two recent losses to Minnesota and New Orleans, Ricky Rubio and Jrue Holiday averaged 17 ppg on .565 shooting with 8.5 apg.

“I think Jennings has a chance to be very good,” Cheeks said. “I keep talking about steps. You take steps, you get better at defending your position. That’s how you become one of those elite players.”

So his coach apparently expects Jennings to become a “very good” defender. His steal totals would seem to indicate that he has the quickness and reactions to be much better. Whether he has the commitment and work ethic to improve significantly remains to be seen.