One of Joe Dumars’ last moves was a risky one, trading a young but turnover-prone point guard in Brandon Knight and a promising Khris Middleton to the Milwaukee Bucks for an inconsistent and mercurial Brandon Jennings. Many applauded the move, but almost as many feared that the Pistons had just been fleeced by a struggling Bucks squad.
A year and a half removed from that moment finds us in a wholly different situation, the team has started a new era in Detroit Basketball, cutting ties with a hallowed General Manager who brought the city much joy, as well as the highest paid-player in team history in a move that took the Association by surprise. However, the player many were doubtful of, has blossomed into one of the better floor generals in the NBA, and has become the leader of an energetic and fun team intent on surprising the league with its highlights and explosive gameplay.
His coach and teammates trust his decision making in crunch time, and Jennings has thrived in his new environment. Through the month of January, the twenty-five year old California native has played the best basketball of his career, averaging 22.3 PPG on a shooting line of .450/.443/.851 completed with 6.4 APG across 1.7 TOs. However it isn’t his stats, or even his play that have lifted eyebrows across the League, but his decision making.
Over the past two years in Piston blue, Jennings has averaged 7.3 APG, with last year’s assist average (7.6) a career high, but this year sports his highest Assist-to-Turnover ratio of 3.03, good for thirteenth in the League, behind players the like of Kemba Walker & Ty Lawson, and ahead of heralded Points like Dallas’ Rajon Rondo, Golden State’s Stephen Curry or Washington’s John Wall.
Slowly, but surely, Brandon Jennings is maturing before our eyes. A player who had once been considered selfish, a poor decision maker, even a potential head-case, has transformed into a different player, and what a transformation it has been! Brandon is no longer looking for his shot every time he brings the ball over half-court, he is looking to facilitate his teammates, and looking to make "the right play". He now has a better understanding of basketball dynamics, teamwork is everything, and he intends to prove that point. Whether he is celebrating on the bench, scoring game winning layups, giving pep talks in the locker room or setting up his teammates for easy baskets, Jennings has learned to play within himself, and even more importantly, within the team’s offensive structure.
Stan Van Gundy has heaped praise on him, Drummond has on more than one occasion declared him an All-Star, and the team as a whole have given him their trust. Surprisingly enough, all he needed to mature into the player he exhibits on the court was exactly that: trust.
Van Gundy hasn’t reigned him in, but encouraged him, his teammates have supported him, and his confidence has grown, evident in his courtside antics and flashy displays of talent. Brandon is having fun, Brandon is maturing, and more importantly, Brandon is evolving. His game has improved drastically, although it remains to be seen whether or not he can keep playing at this level, there is much premise for the future considering his recent achievements. After all, Jennings is only twenty-five, he still has some untouched potential, quite a lot of gas left in the tank and an entire organization – from the owner to the fans – who support him; the sky is the limit – a far cry from the player many described as an immature ball hog.
Jennings is willing to put the team’s needs in front of his own, on off nights, he doesn’t hang his head in disappointment, but animates the bench with his dancing and encourages his teammates. He now recognizes the hot hand on the team, and actively searches to feed it; he looks for opportunities for his teammates before his own and fights for every possession he is on the floor. He is sick of losing. As is his team. They’ve decided it’s time to win, and who better to lead them but Jennings.
Before every game, NBA veteran Caron Butler pulls his point guard aside and shares words of wisdom:
"You have star talent and star capability. Lead us."
Lead us, Brandon. Lead us.