Detroit Basketball and the Brandon Jennings Experiment

Brandon Jennings after joining the Pistons.

Brandon Jennings after joining the Pistons.

It has been a few years since the Pistons last made the playoffs.  That season, they made a bold move and trading fan-favorite Chauncey Billups for future HOFer Allen Iverson.  The result was a first round exit.  Since then, the Pistons, far from being perennial contenders and making consecutive appearances in the NBA finals, have been crossing their fingers in hopes of landing a high lottery spot, without much luck.  They have passed up on a couple of talented players, namely Klay Thompson, but have also brought in a strong and promising core of young players: Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, Jonas Jerebko and Kyle Singler.  This offseason, the Pistons made two acquisitions: Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings.  Jennings, though, missed the start of the season.  The Pistons, however, responded positively and jumped out to a 2-1 record, with their only loss coming in overtime.  Since then, Jennings has made his presence felt and the results have not been positive.

 

 

Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond are playing well, but their efforts are being diluted by Jennings and Smith.

Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond are playing well, but their efforts are being diluted by Jennings and Smith.

The first game Jennings played in, a home game against the Boston Celtics, Jennings came off the bench.  He was 5-12 from the floor.  The Pistons overcame this mildly woeful shooting night.  Jennings then entered the starting line-up and the next four contests saw the Pistons fail to win a single game.  In Jennings’s first game as a starter he was 6-20, leading the Pistons in field goals attempted, and missed, while committing 4 turnovers and only handing out 6 assists. The Pistons lost by 7 points.  Jennings was 7-17 in his next game: a 9-point loss to the Thunder.  His third game in the starting line-up saw the Pistons lose by 6 points whilst Jennings missed 13 shots, going 11-24 from the field.  In his 4th game as a starter, Jennings turned the ball over 3 times and only managed 2 assists and shot 5-14 from the field (though he didn’t lead the team in field goals that night). The Pistons were thoroughly defeated that night: 113-95.  Against the Kings, Jennings took 14 shots and missed 9 of them, but did manage to hand out 9 assists.  His low field goal total meant that he missed far less shots and the Pistons managed to pull out a win over the Kings that game, but reprieve was short-lived as Jennings jacked up 22 shots in the next game, missing 13 of them.  The Pistons lost to the Lakers by a wide margin: 114-99.  Jennings, though, did post some excellent assist numbers that game.  Against the Knicks, Jennings was not feeling well and left part-way through the game, though he did return.  His shots totalled 3 and his missed 2 of those. The team, though, with Jennings not dominating the ball, manage a win over the Knicks.  Jennings was back to jacking up 20+ shots and missing more field goals than he hit, going 9-21 in Detroit next contest.  The Pistons, of course, lost 93-85.  Jennings posted 6 assists, but handed out 4 turnovers.  Last night Jennings lead the Pistons in field goals attempted again, going 4-16 from the field.  He did post 14 assists, but the Pistons lost again.  The Pistons have not lost a game in regulation with Jennings out or coming off the bench.  With Jennings shooting more than 14 shots the Pistons are 0-8, and with Jennings shooting 14 or less shots, the Pistons have only lost a single game in regulation.

 

 

Jennings is not the only new addition whose field goal percentage is less than stellar.

Jennings is not the only new addition whose field goal percentage is less than stellar.

This is not to suggest the Pistons’ only problem is Jennings.  Josh Smith is far too confident in his 3-point shot.  Smith is averaging 5.5 3pt shots a game whilst only hitting 1.6.  Despite this atrocious percentage, Smith still has a higher field goal percentage than Jennings.  Jennings is currently leading the Pistons in shots-per-game, despite the fact that nine of his teammates have higher field goal percentages, most of them significantly higher.  But again, this record isn’t entirely on Jennings.  The four straight losses were admittedly against teams that are doing very well this season, but the fact that some of the loses were single digit loses and could have been turned into wins had Jennings shot a percentage equal to other options on the team (Drummond and Monroe), indicated that there is something with Jennings being the first option.  The Pistons’ second option isn’t much better.  Smith and Jennings are barely shooting a combined .400 from the floor and are taking over 30 shots a game between the two of them, but Jennings is also dominating the ball and creating more than his share of turnovers whilst preventing other players from getting involved, while Smith is at least a strong defensive presence who can rebound.  Last year Monroe was averaging 13.2 shots per games, was posting more points per game than Jennings is this year, and was one of the top playmaking big men in the game.  Considering that his game has been improving, it seems logical that giving him more time with the ball would have been the next logical step, but instead, the Pistons are taking shots away from Monroe and giving them to Smith and Jennings.  Monroe isn’t even being allowed to make plays now as Jennings is dominating the ball.

 

When playing with the Bucks, Monta Ellis posted his worst shooting percentages alongside Jennings.

When playing with the Bucks, Monta Ellis posted his worst shooting percentages alongside Jennings.

This regression in the performance of a teammate is a pattern of behaviour with Jennings.  In Milwaukee, Jennings claimed that there was simply nobody to pass to, so he took a bulk of the shots.  He was of course playing with Monta Ellis at the time. Ellis, in his first full season alongside Jennings, shot a career-low .416 from the floor. Less than a year removed from his pairing with Jennings, Ellis is shooting a career best .489.  Whereas a great point guard makes the players around him more efficient, Jennings seems to have the adverse impact on his teammates.  Smith is also shooting a career low alongside Jennings, and J.J. Riddick, who has made a career off of his ability to shoot, posted career lows whilst playing alongside Jennings.  Aside from not making players better, Jennings isn’t even the best option on the floor.  Jennings is averaging 6.1 field goals made on 16.3 shots.  Monroe is averaging 6.0 field goals made and is taking almost 5 fewer shots per game.  Drummond is making only 0.2 fewer shots than Jennings, but he is taking more than 7 fewer field goal attempts, and it’s not like Jennings at least has the ability to draw fouls the way John Wall does.  His points-per-shot is one of the worst on his team.

In his first three season, Greg Monroe showed significant improvement: the arrival of Jennings, though, has meant a decreased role for Monroe.

In his first three season, Greg Monroe showed significant improvement: the arrival of Jennings, though, has meant a decreased role for Monroe.

Admittedly, the options are limited.  Rodney Stuckey has proven that, though he is a talented player, he is not an All-Star.  With Smith, Drummond and Monroe comprising what may very well be the best starting front court in the league, the Pistons need a point guard that can facilitate their growth together.  Smith does need to take less shots and shoot 3’s only when he is open, but every team has a player like Smith whose field goal percentage is a little lower than it ought to be.  Jennings, though, is an entirely different story.  His defense is not stellar, is play making, for a point guard, is average at best, and his shot is atrocious.  He is a score-first point guard who simply is not very good at scoring.  Steve Francis and Stephon Marbury were both better scorers and better play makers, than Jennings, and neither was able to lead a team to a deep playoff run.  Jennings is less capable than either of those players.  As long as Detroit has Jennings for their starting point guard, and as long as he’s leading the team in field goals attempted, the Pistons, like the Bucks these past three seasons, will struggle to break .500, regardless of how talented their other players might be.  The Pistons may have hopes of using Jennings in a trade to secure a more talented point guard, and if that is the case, the Pistons may have to continue to let Jennings dominate the ball, otherwise his trade value me plummet.  Letting him dominate the ball, however, may have the same effect. If the Pistons are serious about winning now, the Jennings experiment needs to stop as soon as possible.  With point guards like Jameer Nelson on the trading block, there may be better options than Jennings out there.  Who knows, perhaps the Knicks will be willing to move Raymond Felton.  If the Pistons are waiting for Boston to put Rajon Rondo on the trading block, their season may end up being destroyed by Jennings should Boston maintain their current stance on moving Rondo.

 

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