It's easy to see what the Milwaukee Bucks saw in Brandon Jennings, both for better and worse. Through his first two months in Detroit, we've already seen flashes across the entire cross section that have highlighted the young point guard's career.
In fact, the highs and lows have been somewhat incredible. We'll review each, but the executive summary for the Jennings is that the deal looks like a success so far.
Let's start with the subjective. The offensive change for the Pistons as a team has been rather remarkable. After years of searching for a legitimate point guard after Chauncey Billups was traded, Joe Dumars finally found one in Jennings. Whatever his faults, there is no doubt in his credentials as a point guard.
His ball-handling, talent as a playmaker, and ability to run an offense are readily apparent from the moment he steps on the floor. One area this has translated to the numbers are the team's pace, 94.2 possessions per 48 minutes. While this is good for only 15th in the league, it's the highest for the Pistons since the turn of the century. Mo Cheeks emphasized the desire to play at an increased pace, something Pistons coaches have done for quite some time. Yet annually, their pace is in the bottom five in the league. Jennings finally has brought the skill level to make that desire a reality.
Where he lacks, however, is in his decision-making and shot selection, two major areas of concern when he signed with the team. His frustrating tendency to take over the team's offense or take heat checking shots has crippled the offense at times, often during critical turning points in a game. At the same time, there are moments when he steps up to bail out a stagnant offense with a difficult shot or get to the line and calmly knock them down that have saved wins for the team.
The variation seems to have to do with savvy. Right now, Jennings has SWAG and plenty of it. If he takes advantage of his time with the Pistons, gleaning as much of Billups' savvy as possible, his weaknesses as a player could be greatly minimized.
The first month of the season, Jennings really struggled. There were some silver linings with exciting games and big numbers, but in all the hopes of an improved player alongside an improved lineup looked unfounded. But in December, he has been quite a player.
To the Geekmobile!
In November, Jennings averaged 15.6 points on 46.6 percent true shooting and in December increased those numbers to 19.5 points and 53.8 percent true shooting. His scoring increase was a significant one, and it actually came with a drop in his usage rate. The miracles of efficient offense!
Driving his improvement as a scorer has been his three point shooting and trips to the line. He's taking 6 three point attempts in December and converting at 39 percent, up from 4.4 attempts and 32 percent in the previous month. At the line it's 5.1 attempts per game on 79 percent shooting, up from 3.6 attempts on 74 percent shooting.
While these numbers are orthodox for what makes a perimeter scorer efficient, the way he gets them is anything but orthodox. His three point shots thrive off the in transition and off pick and roll, where he's shooting 38.5 percent according to Synergy. He's incredibly talented as a pull up shooter, currently second in the league in points scored off the dribble according to NBA stats. He's scored 10.8 points per game off pull ups - with averaging 17.6 points per game total and 3.4 of them coming from free throws, it's clear how reliant he is on this aspect of his game.
His shot chart also quite interesting from an efficiency perspective. With Jennings, a long two really isn't a terrible option. He's connected on them at a rate comparable to his percentage inside 15 feet. If he were to make a change in his scoring, these shots off the dribble probably would not be the ones to eliminate - rather the attempts near the paint, instead focusing on drawing contact to get to the line. Especially considering so much of his ability to score is at the mercy of his jumper falling, practicing his "HEY!" would go a long way toward evening out shooting slumps.
While his scoring has ebbed and flowed, his passing has actually remained remarkably consistent. In both months, he's averaging 8 assists with just a handful more turnovers in December. Right now, the Pistons have a player challenging for the top 5 in the league in assists with a 2.5 assist to turnover ratio. And he's only 24 years old. Things have been worse in the passing department.
I won't delve too deeply into the defensive story. It's been clear that on this end of the floor Jennings is a sub-par player. According to his Synergy numbers, he's not been devastatingly bad - funnily enough, they're actually comparable to Peyton Siva. One of those cases where the context is important for the numbers. He shows the athleticism and ability to be a strong defensive player, but the mentality isn't there at this point. Perhaps one day.
He was criticized for his maturity in Milwaukee, and questions have already surfaced here as well - in fact, they started even before he put on the jersey. First Jennings managed to get into a scuffle with Mike Taylor during the summer, then was punched by rapper The Game at his own birthday party. He also managed Twitter fights with Larry Sanders and J.R. Smith. He ticked Caron Butler off with some end of the game showboating, putting his number of punches to the face and/or wanting to punch him in the face per 36 into prolific territory. None really impacted the team until last Saturday in a blowout with the Houston Rockets, where he picked up a pair of technical fouls to get an early trip to the locker room.
Jennings has been no stranger to CONTROVERSY, but is it really all that bad? He didn't seem to be cruising for trouble in his conflicts with any of the above, except for the techs. And the chip on his shoulder has seemed to be helpful at times in games - sauce1977 pointed out his steal on LeBron James to seal the game in the comments recently as an example. Personally, I kind of like his ability to get under peoples' skin. Chris Ryan of Grantland said, "When you watch an NBA game, you see a lot of dudes who have been playing games against and with each other for most of their lives - in high school, AAU, summer camps, and college. There's just a lot of camaraderie and friendship on display. We need a bad boy. We need Brandon Jennings creating chaos in every arena he visits, pissing off All-Stars, and getting punched by rappers."
Brandon Jennings may, in fact, have born to be a Detroit Bad Boy.
There's reason to be excited for what we've seen so far out of Jennings. He needs to play better in some aspects of the game, certainly. But if the season ended today, the 17 points and 8 assists average that Jennings has compiled would put him among only two Pistons with such seasons in franchise history: Chauncey Billups and Isiah Thomas.