Brandon Jennings making the wrong decisions at PG

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Jennings possesses the skills to lead this team into the playoffs. He creates shots off the dribble and dishes out assists at a high rate while minimizing turnovers. But as the floor general, his decisions have the offense struggling mightily at times. After his fourth game, David Mayo of MLive had the following Jennings quote:

If the shot's there, I'm going to take it. If not, then I'm going to pass it

Brandon's statement doesn't bode well for his teammates. He declared himself option number one and is putting up the shots to prove it. He's leading Detroit in FGA per game and eighth in the league among starting PGs, while converting at a considerably lower rate. The table lists the top eight, the league average for starting PGs, and a few former players added for reference (all data includes games through 1/24/14 unless otherwise specified).

Starting PGs Leading League in FGA/gm

PG Rank Team Player FGA/gm Team Rank FG%
1 CLE K.Irving 18.4 1 42.9%
2 OKC R.Westbrook 17.9 2 42.4%
3 GSW S.Curry 17.9 1 44.2%
4 WAS J.Wall 16.8 1 42.6%
5 CHA K.Walker 16.3 2 42.1%
6 POR D.Lillard 15.8 2 42.4%
7 PHI M.Carter-Williams 15.7 2 40.8%
8 DET B.Jennings 15.2 1 37.3%
14 MIL B.Knight 13.8 1 41.0%
24 DAL J.Calderon 9.5 5 45.7%
--League Avg-- 12.9 2.7 42.8%
DET '04 C.Billups 12.8 3 39.4%
DET '05 C.Billups 11.4 4 44.2%
DET '89 I.Thomas 15.3 1 46.4%
DET '90 I.Thomas 16.3 1 43.8%

Only three PGs are taking more FGA per game while leading their respective teams: Irving, Curry, and Wall. Of Detroit's eight-man rotation, Jennings has the lowest FG%. So for him to lead the team in shots is an unconscionable decision.

To make matters worse, many of Brandon's shots aren't within the flow of the offense. Having a look at the percentage of field goals made that were assisted (FGM%A) for each player, what do the numbers reveal? A low percentage could suggest too many shots being created individually, which is what we're seeing from our PG position. Again, this poor decision is exacerbated by his low FG%. I'll acknowledge that shooting within the offense doesn't preclude you from being a chucker though (Charlie).

Percent Field Goals Made That were Assisted (Pistons Players)

Player FGM%A FG%
W.Bynum 22.6% 44.0%
B.Jennings 27.9% 37.3%
R.Stuckey 41.9% 45.9%
P.Siva 50.0% 25.0%
C.Billups 52.2% 30.7%
G.Monroe 54.7% 50.5%
J.Smith 55.7% 40.9%
A.Drummond 61.0% 60.1%
J.Harrellson 63.9% 50.0%
G.Datome 66.7% 36.5%
T.Mitchell 66.7% 60.0%
K.Singler 72.6% 45.6%
K.Caldwell-Pope 78.2% 39.9%
C.Villanueva 79.2% 38.7%
J.Jerebko 79.4% 52.3%

Since the point guard usually starts the possession, it's natural for them to have fewer assisted buckets. So let's see how Jennings compares to other starting PGs...

Percent Field Goals Made That Were Assisted (Starting PGs)

PG Rank Team Player FGM%A FG%
1 PHO E.Bledsoe 14.6% 48.6%
2 NOL J.Holiday 20.7% 44.7%
3 LAC C.Paul 21.5% 46.4%
4 DEN T.Lawson 22.2% 42.3%
5 CLE K.Irving 27.8% 42.9%
6 DET B.Jennings 27.9% 37.3%
19 MIL B.Knight 37.5% 41.0%
30 DAL J.Calderon 65.3% 45.7%
--League Avg-- 36.9% 42.8%
DET '04 C.Billups 45.7% 39.4%
DET '05 C.Billups 49.8% 44.2%

Some quality players are showing the ability to get their own. But once again, they have the FG% to justify it.

Another responsibility of the PG is to get the ball to your best scoring options. To critique this area of his game, I'll use assists to each player per 36 minutes of shared playing time. This doesn't factor in FG% or a player's tendencies to work within the offense. I thought about taking those into consideration, but the table tells the story accurately enough. An even distribution rate was created using Brandon's AST/36 divided by four to account for all players on the court.

Jennings Assist Distribution

Player AST/36 FG% Min. w/Jennings
J.Jerebko 4.35 52.3% 91
C.Villanueva 3.76 38.7% 67
T.Mitchell 3.60 60.0% 10
J.Harrellson 2.96 50.0% 134
J.Smith 2.33 40.9% 1204
G.Datome 2.12 36.5% 51
--Even Distribution-- 2.06
G.Monroe 2.05 50.5% 1122
K.Singler 2.00 45.6% 611
A.Drummond 1.96 60.1% 1045
K.Caldwell-Pope 1.89 39.9% 763
R.Stuckey 1.75 45.9% 556
W.Bynum 0.80 44.0% 90
C.Billups 0.28 30.7% 129
P.Siva -- 25.0% 0

Of the main rotation, Smith appears to be the favorite target and the only one above the even distribution rate. Yet he is one of the least efficient scoring options. The smaller sample size lineups have a much larger variation. But after seeing Brandon pass over Chauncey for a wide open three twice this season (to take his own shot), I'm not surprised to see him so low. In fact, of Chauncey's 60 shot attempts since Brandon started the season, only 1 resulted in a Jennings assist. Reviewing the play-by-play videos, I found only one more potential assist had the shot gone in. If you're not going to feed Billups an open three, why's he even playing? That's just another example of poor offensive management from the PG position.

When Brandon's not facilitating ball movement to get good looks, it can result in a disjointed offense. Rather than being involved, players are left to stand and watch "hero ball" take over. And it may be logical to assume that assisted shots are higher quality attempts. Until the NBA starts providing "assisted FGA," we won't know for sure. Despite Brandon's impressive AST total, nearly half of Detroit's FGs are unassisted. The following table illustrates team play of the top 7 rotation players using their FGM%A. The '05 season is a fine example of firing on all cylinders.

Percent Field Goals Made That Were Assisted (Pistons Teams' Main Rotation Players)

2014 Player FGM%A 2004 Player FGM%A 2005 Player FGM%A
B.Jennings 27.9% C.Billups 45.7% C.Billups 49.8%
J.Smith 55.7% T.Prince 64.8% T.Prince 62.5%
A.Drummond 61.0% B.Wallace 61.9% B.Wallace 63.4%
G.Monroe 54.7% R.Wallace 86.0% R.Wallace 66.2%
K.Caldwell-Pope 78.2% R.Hamilton 59.1% R.Hamilton 66.2%
K.Singler 72.6% M.Okur 58.6% A.McDyess 77.5%
R.Stuckey 41.9% C.Williamson 71.1% L.Hunter 61.1%

Comparing the Pistons to the rest of the league (using more recent data through 1/28/14), we fall right near the bottom.

Percent Field Goals Made That Were Assisted (All Teams)

NBA Rank Team FGM%A
1 ATL 66.7%
2 CHI 64.9%
3 LAC 62.0%
4 SAN 61.8%
5 WAS 61.0%
6 MIN 60.9%
7 LAL 60.7%
8 POR 60.6%
9 MIA 60.4%
10 MIL 60.0%
11 DAL 59.4%
12 BKY 59.1%
13 GSW 59.0%
14 DEN 58.6%
15 PHI 57.9%
16 CHA 57.9%
17 MEM 57.4%
18 TOR 56.9%
19 NOL 56.5%
20 IND 56.4%
21 UTA 56.2%
22 ORL 56.2%
23 NYK 55.8%
24 OKC 55.0%
25 BOS 54.5%
26 HOU 54.4%
27 CLE 54.3%
28 DET 52.9%
29 SAC 52.9%
30 PHO 49.7%
--League Avg-- 58.0%
DET '04 62.0%
DET '05 62.6%
DET '89 59.7%
DET '90 59.9%

I believe Detroit could make a significant improvement with some better decision making by Brandon. He's got the tools and seems to be surrounded by the right people, but he hasn't yet learned the right way to play. Shawn Windsor of the Detroit Free Press had this to say 16 games into the season:

Cheeks knew where everyone on the floor was supposed to be - or supposed to be going. When they weren't, he told them. Jennings is trying to learn that now, after a life of seeking out space to shoot.

"It takes a certain amount of time for a guy to do that if that if they haven't been doing it that way their whole career," Cheeks said. "I don't think it's just an overnight thing, I think Brandon is learning a little of that."

"It's very important to figure out where a (teammate) should be and direct him where to go," Cheeks said. "It's not an overnight thing where you learn how to play with Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, Josh Smith."

Halfway through the season, he's still learning.

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