Who is Brandon Jennings Now, After All These Years?
[original photo via Detroit Free Press]
So, the Wizards are expected to sign Brandon Jennings after he was waived by the Knicks and no team chose to claim him, along with his $5 million salary, on the wire. Jennings is making a painful transition from young starter with star potential to veteran with a serious injury history, a transition and career trend that may or may not be reversible.
What can Jennings do, along with recent trade pickup Bojan Bogdanovic, to mitigate the foibles of a weak Washington bench? TAI’s Conor Dirks and Rashad Mobley discuss, below.
Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks)
The Wizards ain’t the type of team to chase players in an early-March scramble to upgrade before the playoffs. Or at least they don’t typically chase players that are being chased down by other teams. For reference, the last few late-winter or early-spring signings by the Wizards have been: Drew Gooden in February 2014; Touré Murry and Will Bynum in March 2015; J.J. Hickson in February 2016; and Marcus Thornton in March 2016. By any measure, none of these players were drawing interest from contending teams. Drew Gooden was jacking up 3-pointers in an Bethesda LA Fitness before signing with the Wizards.
But what had happened was: The Knicks waived Brandon Jennings, a former lottery pick who was averaging 15.4 points and 6.6 assists for the Pistons back in early 2015 when he tore his ACL, and many immediately believed the Wizards would pursue the sudden free agent. Jennings’ waiver was unusual. The Knicks are not a good team, have little point guard depth behind what remains of Derrick Rose, and struggle to score. Jennings, a first-year Knick, didn’t click with the Zen Doofus, Phil Jackson. Jackson is an all-time great coach who has systematically alienated almost every important player on New York’s roster in his role as president of basketball operations, seemingly building towards nothing. At this point, Jackson’s rejection of Jennings should be seen as a badge of quality.
But lest we become blinded by Jennings’ name, it’s important to note that Jennings is not having a good year. He’s shooting 38 percent overall, and 34 percent on 3-pointers (down from career-highs of 41.8% and 37.5% in 2011-12 and 2012-13, respectively), while sporting a career-worst turnover percentage on a career-low usage rate.
Still, there’s a good basketball player in there. Maybe. And the Wizards can’t afford to care, either way. Washington is boxed in by an offseason that was utterly wasted on flop free agent signings (Nicholson, Thornton, Burke), the hard luck of a big-money signing that has barely played (Mahinmi), and Trey Burke, who isn’t any better this season than he’s been in any other season since college. The Wizards needed to secure some semblance of quality backup point guard minutes. Wall can’t play every minute of every game.
But let me tell you what I remember about Brandon Jennings. I remember that he played for Lottomatica Virtus Roma in Italy instead of working for free for one of our great American universities. I remember a fantastic article that described how Jennings actively chose to drive a $26,000 Ford Edge rather than a car more befitting his station as an NBA lottery pick (while then-teammate Michael Redd opted for a Ferrari). I remember him banking 55 points in one game during his rookie season. I remember him falling out with Milwaukee after a pretty good year in which he tallied a 2.1 on the enigmatic VORP (Value over Replacement Player) rating, a rating higher than Bradley Beal (1.9) is scoring in this—his best—season. I remember that he kept up his above-average play in Detroit despite an awkward fit, and that he bounced from Detroit to Orlando to New York after a brutal ACL injury. He hasn’t been the same.
That’s a wealth of experience, and Jennings lived through the tyranny of the triangle in New York. I’m cautiously optimistic. What say you, Rashad?
Rashad Mobley (@rashad20)
First, let us take the time to acknowledge that we live in a world where Brandon Jennings begs off the New York f-ing Knicks, says he wants to play for a contender, and is now on the cusp of wearing a Washington Wizards uniform. It isn’t quite the Sally Field moment Paul Pierce gave us two years ago when he chose the Wizards, but it is significant (to me, at least) that the words “contender” and “Wizards” seem to be synonyms. Yes, even after two lackluster post-All-Star game losses that preceded last night’s impressive win against the Golden State Warriors (sans KD).
Second, I think Ernie Grunfeld deserves some slight commendation for his moves in the past week. Two mistakes of his (Andrew Nicholson and Marcus Thornton) are gone, and another mistake/disappointment (Trey Burke) will be benched, moved down in the rotation, or perhaps even cut. In return, Grunfeld received Chris McCullough, who could pay dividends later, Bojan Bogdanovic, who already has played well in a limited sample size, and now Brandon Jennings.
There are certainly reasons to be nervous about Jennings. If he sees his first two shots go down on any given night, he morphs into a 5-foot-11 shooting guard and he ceases to get other players involved. There are also times when he over-dribbles to and from the basket without having any real plan of action with the basketball. During his tenure as a Knick, there were rumblings that he gets under the skin of his teammates by calling them out via the media—something I saw firsthand when the Knicks visited the Verizon Center this past November. Jennings was less than thrilled at the effort of his teammates, as well as their inability to carry out Coach Jeff Hornacek’s instructions. To be fair, Jennings also called out his own play earlier this season, which means he’s not afraid to hold himself accountable. But this is not a new development: Jennings put Coach Jim Boylan on blast when they both were members of the Milwaukee Bucks. Apparently there’s vocal, and then there’s Brandon Jennings.
This type of vocal spiriting would not faze a team like the Warriors or the Cleveland Cavaliers, because the incumbent leaders on those teams (Draymond Green, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and LeBron James, et al) are comfortable with who they are as players and the hierarchy of talent. The Wizards have been winning at an impressive clip since December, and that good-smelling deodorant has smothered whiffs Wall and Beal allegedly not getting along or Marcin Gortat criticizing the bench. Should the Wizards struggle on one or both of their upcoming road trips, perhaps some internal strife emerges and perhaps Jennings speaks out of turn and louder than Wall, Beal, or Gortat. That could create the very locker room tension that a young(ish), playoff-bound, Paul Pierce-less team may not be able to overcome.
But let’s not kid ourselves here: Jennings is an upgrade over not only Tomas Satoransky (sorry, Rubin), but also the point guard formerly known as Trey Burke . . . and maybe even former Wizards guard Ramon Sessions. For all his wild tendencies with the basketball, there are two things Jennings brings that are comparable to John Wall: pace and space
Last night against the Warriors, when Coach Brooks was experimenting with Beal at the point guard, there were at least three or four possessions when Beal came to Bogdanovic’s side of the floor for a little two-man action. Bogdanovic did score on a contested 3-pointer during one possession but during the others there was little space for either player to operate, and it was quite easy for the Warriors to defend them. This is not a knock on Beal’s ability to facilitate, but when he does—which he frequently was asked to do during the Wittman era—Beal is a shooter first. Attention paid to Beal off the ball serves to free Bogdanovic, Oubre, or even Porter to hit an open shot on the other side of the floor. Now, if Jennings is running the point, the defense has to respect his ability to score off the dribble, get to the basket (something no current Wizards backup point guard can do consistently), or find the open man. This keeps defenses honest, and it will allow Brooks to run the second-team offense more like the starters, which theoretically should lead to a more seamless and productive bench.
Given poor performances by the Wizards’ bench in two out of the last three games, and given that the Wizards either tried, failed or didn’t pursue viable options like Deron Willliams, Jarrett Jack, Mario Chalmers, and Jose Calderon, Brandon Jennings was the option they had to take. I’m optimistic that this is an upgrade. I know the risks involved, but this feels like a winning combination.
All Recent Posts
- Wall Controls Midrange, Wizards Dominate Cavs Before West Coast Trip March 28, 2017
- Wizards Clinch Playoff Berth, What’s Next? March 25, 2017
- From The Other Side: The Anatomy of Brooklyn’s Blowout Loss in Washington March 25, 2017
- Washington Gets Woke Late, Edges Atlanta March 24, 2017
- Wednesday Wizards Win In Unconventional Fashion March 23, 2017
- Where, Oh Where, Have The Tough Wizards Gone? March 22, 2017
- 6 Reasons Why The Wizards Did Not Peak Too Early March 21, 2017
- The Wiz Hold Off The Charging Bulls, Thanks To Wall’s Career Night March 18, 2017
- Collapse Against Big D — Mavericks Outlast Wizards March 17, 2017
- The Washington Wizards Could Use A Good Therapist March 16, 2017
- Wizards Left Panting in Minnesota, Finish Road Trip Just Shy of Perfection March 14, 2017
- The Cardiac Wiz Kids Steal An Overtime Win In Portland March 12, 2017
- Wizards Get Memo Just In Time For Comeback Win Over Kings March 11, 2017