Math Time with Brandon Jennings

Tired of talking about Brandon Jennings?

We've talked a lot about the second-year point guard this season, dissecting his poor shooting and his role as the floor leader for the NBA's worst offense. We've talked about some of his improvements (there were a few) and we've talked about his continued struggles. At times this season I've personally thrown rationality out the window in defense of Jennings, but after another year of watching this team, it's time for realism. 

BUT WAIT!

Who says realism can't help the kid out? As much as Jennings can be blamed for the futility Milwaukee often showed with the ball, isn't it possible that the train wreck around him did something to depress his numbers as well? I speak, in this case, of the drop in Brandon's per-game assist numbers. As a rookie, Jennings averaged a none-too-shabby 6.3 assists per-36 minutes, but that number fell to 5.1 this season. What gives? Jennings indicated at the beginning of this year that he had always thought of himself as a pass-first point guard, and said he had every intention of averaging double-digit assists. We've seen him make flashy passes before, and his low turnover numbers back up the claim that he's really an above-average passer. So what happened?

That's what I'm here to find out. What follows is likely to be contrived, but hopefully it won't be invalid. Heck, it might not even work out in Jennings' favor. But here we go: IT'S MATH TIME!

At first glance, the numbers suggest that Milwaukee's offense didn't rely too extensively on assisted field goals. That's not always a bad thing--Miami and Oklahoma City were the 3rd and 4th most efficient offenses in the NBA this season, and they ranked 22nd and 25th in assist rate, respectively. But what about the shooting? In a more generalized sense, that's what we're investigating here. Did Milwaukee's dramatically bad shooting rob Jennings of enough assists to superficially damage his numbers?

To investigate, we need to strip down some of the numbers to isolate just those plays that we're looking at. First, we have to make an assumption: namely, that Milwaukee's shot attempts were evenly distributed over time. With this assumption, we can estimate the number of shots Milwaukee attempted during Jennings' time on the court using his minutes percentage, which was about 54%. That approximation gives us:

(6544*.547) = 3579 shot attempts with Jennings on court

Ironically, 82games.com's choice to use the more telling effective field goal stat in their on/off court data actually frustrates our calculations here, because it is difficult to know exactly how many shots were made by the Bucks during Jennings' court time. We can instead approximate that number with a little work. During Jennings' court time, the Bucks recorded an eFG% of .458. Using this number along with the shot attempt figure we calculated above, we can estimate the numerator of the eFG% expression. Then we can use a factor relating 3PM to FGM as a team, do a little magic, and we wind up with this:

FGM+(.5*3PM)/3579 = .458
FGM+(.5*3PM) = 1639
Shot factor: as a team, 3PM/FGM = .172
FGM+(.5*(.172*FGM)) = 1639
FGM = 1510 total shots made with Jennings on the court Unadjusted FG% with Jennings on court = 1510/3579 = .424

Again, this is just an estimation, and it is very likely that the shot factor I've calculated here varies depending on whether or not Jennings is on the court. With the data available (and that I'm aware of) though, this is the best approximation I can come up with.

Now we want to take out Jennings' own shots to isolate the shooting numbers for his teammates:

3579-926 = 2653 shot attempts by teammates
1510-361 = 1149 shots made by teammates
1149/2653 = teammate FG% = .433

At this point, we can check our approximations by using Basketball-Reference's AST% stat for Jennings. BR states that Jennings assisted on 25.9% of his teammates made field goals during his time on the court, from which we can work out his assist numbers like this:

1149*.259 = 298 assists (actual value: 305 assists)

So we're not too far off! That's comforting. Now things get interesting. While the Bucks shoot a little better as a unit sans Jennings, they're still pretty atrocious. So what if Brandon's teammates shot exactly league average (45.9%) as a whole? That bumps their total made shots up as follows:

2653*.459 = 1218 made shots by teammates

If we then apply Jennings' 25.9 AST%, his new assist total comes out as:

1218*.259 = 316 assists

316 assists. It would probably work out to around 320-325 considering the way our approximation shorted him a bit. But that's it. I'll admit, it's not what I was expecting, but I've spent a good deal of time looking over the methodology and the math used here and it seems sound. Relatively speaking.

So what have we learned? Well, it's difficult to say. These findings do suggest that Milwaukee's poor shooting cost Jennings a few assists, but the difference appears so small that it's essentially a non-element. Instead, it's more likely that a simple shift in offensive philosophy has resulted in his lower assist numbers. Last year, 57% of Milwaukee's made field goals were assisted, so that shift probably cost Jennings a few dimes. The half-percent jump in ISO plays--and comparable drop in spot-up jumpers--from last season to this one also likely reduced the potential for players to earn assists.

A bit anti-climactic, huh? I guess that was the risk in this endeavor. But in truth, even knowledge that something isn't happening is valuable. I think I can safely conclude two things: First, Jennings is a long way off from averaging 10 assists a game, but it's not necessarily something he can remedy by himself. Second, he's a good enough passer that choosing to dish off a few of his own shots to teammates, combined with a bit better shooting from those guys on the whole, could seriously help the Bucks' offense.

Note: All statistics courtesy of 82gamesBasketball-ReferenceHoopdata, and Synergy Sports Technology

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