I've written a lot about Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings. You can find links to just about everything I've written about Jennings in the essay piece I published back in August. The cliff notes version goes like this: he's an intriguing talent that lured me (and most fans) in with some exciting play and surprisingly solid three-point shooting during his rookie season, but he's been far too inefficient to justify his role as a lead player in the offense. He's simply not a core player on a highly competitive team, at least based on his current baseline levels of production.
Potential Is Potential, Until It Isn't
I haven't been swayed by the "potential" argument. After a couple hundred games and a couple thousand shots, I'd like to think we know more about a player than what we thought we knew at the time of the draft. Does Darko Milicic still have the potential to live up to his status as a No. 2 draft pick? Does Michael Beasley still have the potential to become a multiple All-Star performer? If not, why?
Potential is a word used in the NBA when there is a gap between production and performance that people think can still be bridged, but the concept is fundamentally anchored to some point in the past where everyone knew less about the player in question. We look beyond the horizon and think our happiest thoughts. Potential is constructed during the infant stages of a player's career. When the gap is not bridged by production over time, less people talk about the player in terms of potential. Darko and Beasley have very few supporters left -- and for good reason: their identity has been re-shaped by their actual play on an NBA court.
What We Know Now About Brandon Jennings
We know a lot more about Brandon Jennings than we did during the initial stages of his rookie season. He's great at taking care of the basketball (avoiding turnovers). He isn't very good at making final decisions with the ball he protects so well (questionable shot selection, poor creation for teammates, scoring inefficiency). He's too small to score well at the rim, and he's too inaccurate/streaky to ever be a top three-point shooter.
All this doesn't mean it's impossible for him to improve upon weaknesses in his game and refine his skills; it's just been difficult for me to indulge supporters who say "yeah, but what if he just makes more shots and becomes efficient...then he'd be really good!" That's cheating. It's skipping an important step. HOW is he supposed to do this? Jumping from point A to point C is easy in theory, but it's point B that actually matters in practice. I've been searching for point B with Brandon Jennings this summer, and I think I might have found something...
What Brandon Jennings Can Do
Beno Udrih helped me find point B. During the offseason I wrote several articles breaking down scoring splits and other shooting numbers for the top-100 NBA guards according to minutes played in the 2011-12 season (Part 1) (Part 2). In Part 2, I discovered that Beno Udrih shot better in the non-restricted paint area (51.2%) than he did directly at the rim (50.6%) last season. That stat fascinated me, so I took a closer look and eventually came away with something Brandon Jennings can start doing tomorrow to improve his game.
Udrih is slower and less athletic than Jennings, but it was Udrih who ranked No. 6 overall and shot 13 percent above the top-100 average in the non-restricted area. As I noted in Part 2, "[h]e may not have a signature move or a flashy floater, but Udrih knows how to get the most out of his opportunities in the paint." Here are the stats:
I thought it might be a one-year statistical blip that propelled Udrih to the top of the list, but it wasn't. In 2009-10 he shot 50.8% from the same range and in 2010-11 that number sat at 47.4%. During the same span Jennings converted 34.0% and 35.4% from the non-restricted area.
The Tweet (And Article From Preston Schmitt) That Suggests Brandon Jennings Knows He Has To Improve In The Non-Restricted Area
I love the concept of borrowing things from Steve Nash, but I saw what Brandon tried in the preseason and it isn't exactly what he needs to do. Too many of his "Nash" attempts have come off-balance. Jennings likes to lean back a bit, but I don't think he should. One look at how Beno Udrih has boosted his efficiency in the non-restricted area should be enough to make you agree with me.
The Video That Explains How Brandon Jennings Can Instantly Improve
As for how the change can be implemented, I present to you some suggestions from our own Mitchell Maurer:
My question is less empirical and more touchy-feely: How do you teach someone to follow a plan when their entire career has been a product of their considerable natural talent? How does a world-class athlete bring himself down (up?) to the level of the demonstratively-less impressive Beno Udrih?
My solution, as outdated as it might be, would be to weigh him down. 5 lbs per ankle, 1 lb per wrist (if you can find a removable weight that doesn't restrict movement, which I have not), and at least a 10 lb vest. Let him play a quick 3-v-3 without any instruction and see what happens. If he tries to do what he's always done (which he probably will), you can show him that there's a better way. The Beno way.