Starting Brand New
Despite his and the Pistons’ ups and downs, Brandon Jennings isn’t giving up.
by Peter Walsh / @Peter_M_Walsh
Though he’s used to sunny California after growing up in Compton, Detroit Pistons point guard Brandon Jennings can’t escape the frigid Midwest. Jennings, who was drafted 10th overall by the Bucks in 2009, left the sub-zero tundra of Milwaukee for the equally cold Motown to become the team’s franchise point guard. “I can’t get away from the cold,” says Jennings with a chuckle.
Following a promising rookie year with the Bucks, Young Money was viewed by the team’s front office as the cornerstone of the franchise—a role that a player of his skillset and ability was simply unsuited for. For the final two seasons of his stint in Milwaukee, Jennings was seen trading bad shots with Monta Ellis and, even though he posted modest numbers, was no longer viewed as the marquee point guard many thought he would become after his first year in the NBA. With his welcome in Milwaukee worn out, Jennings was granted a fresh start in Detroit thanks to a sign-and-trade deal that sent him to the Motor City and the duo of Brandon Knight and Kris Middleton to Wisconsin.
Jennings seemed to be a nice fit for the Pistons upon his signing. After Chauncey Billups was traded to the Nuggets in ‘08, Detroit has searched for a consistent floor general. Brandon Knight was thought to be the answer but with Joe Dumars’ job on the line, he couldn’t afford to wait any longer for him to develop and decided he needed an experienced guy for the job. With Jennings joining Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and the newly-signed Josh Smith, he finally had the chance to move from necessary scoring threat to a more natural and comfortable role as facilitator.
The season got off to a slow start as Jennings was sidelined due to an impacted wisdom tooth and was passive in his new role trying to adjust to the talent around him. He openly admitted that he had no confidence in his shot and that he was trying to do too much instead of letting the game come to him. During November, he averaged 15.6 points, 8.1 assists and 2.9 turnovers while shooting 38 percent from the field and 32 percent from three as the Pistons stumbled out of the gate with a 6-10 record. Not the start Pistons fans expected with four borderline All-Stars in their favorite team’s starting five.
But as November turned to December, Jennings and the Pistons began to string wins together—including a 10-point victory over the Heat—and Detroit finished the final month of December at 8-9. During that 17-game stretch, Doo-Be-Doo played some of the best ball of his career. For the month of December, he averaged 18.9 points, 8.4 assists, and 3.8 turnovers while shooting 40.4 percent from the field and 37.8 percent from three.
“I’m [still] finding my role, it’s definitely a new situation for me,” says Jennings. “I don’t have to do a lot of scoring here, I can just run the team. I’m way more comfortable in that role. I still take shots when I’m open or when I think I’m open but I’m not trying to force anything or do anything extra anymore. I’m finding guys and making sure they get shots.”
His shooting percentage remains very low and he still reverts back to some of the bad habits he developed in Milwaukee (long 2-point attempts, taking heat-check shots at inopportune times) but, at 24 years old, he is transitioning into the pass-first point guard he vowed to become when he signed with the Pistons. For the season, he is averaging 16.7 points, 8.2 assists (sixth in the league), and 3.3 turnovers per game while shooting a poor 38.1 percent from the field. His PER of 16.2 puts him in the same efficiency ballpark as Jeff Teague (16.6), Ricky Rubio (16.2), Jrue Holiday (17.8), Mike Conley (17.3), and Tony Parker (16.6)*. If he continues at this pace, he will join Billups and Isiah Thomas as the only three point guards in Pistons history to average 17 points and 8 assists per game for a season.
Going along on their up and down season, the Pistons have hit another rough patch—the talent is there, but the consistency is not. Detroit has dropped five in a row and sit at 14-21, good enough for eighth in the East. Though they are on a skid right now, the East is in complete disarray, and Detroit will be competing for a Playoff spot all season. Jennings is determined to get back to the playoffs and make good on his deal with the Pistons and is doing all he can to help the team win.
“We just gotta keep sticking with it. We can’t give up.”
*All stats via NBA.com/stats.