On nights like tonight, it feels like what might have been still could be.
Monta Ellis was terrific in the Bucks' 109-108 win over the Utah Jazz, hitting 15 of his 21 shot attempts for 34 points. He made some huge plays late in the contest to keep Milwaukee alive in regulation and beyond. But it was Brandon Jennings who got some notable airtime after the buzzer sounded.
Jennings is in a weird place right now. He was deemed expendable before the trade deadline and admonished for voicing any sentiment lacking in loyalty. It didn't help that February once again sucked out his soul and talent and general ability to do basketball things. Then he blew up post-deadline and was Man of the Hour despite failing to secure victories. And then he fell apart again, becoming the odd man out in a trio of guards that had only been together for a few days.
Of course, it isn't overly surprising or strange to see Jennings playing well again. The calendar page has turned and the evil month has been left behind, and the guy never seems to be able to keep any streak going longer than 28 days. It is weird to see him completely reinvent himself as a pass-first shot creator, breaking the only unshakable trend one might have come up with. Jennings has professed his desire to be a top assist man in the past, but it was never more than short-lived talk backed up with short-lived play. While two games might not qualify as anything more, it's easy to get swept up in the moment.
It's easy when the timing and context make it plausible that Jennings is adapting his play style to provide precisely what the Bucks need--a creative offensive architect who can assemble something great out of a Bucks team that suddenly finds itself stocked with talented and productive offensive players. The circumstances certainly lend themselves to the same pitfalls that befell fans early in the season when the Bucks' collective hot hand had Jennings looking like an elite distributor. It's especially easy when he follows up orchestrations like tonight's with appearances on ESPN Radio, when host Freddie Coleman heaped praises on him and the team. True, talking points like "The Bucks are being overlooked because of Miami's 15-game winning streak" are mostly just confusing nonsense, but you try talking down attention-starved fans of the small-market Bucks after one of their "star" players gets high-profile press.
It's what so many of us yearn for. A player like Jennings to rise above the fray and snap Milwaukee out of its indefatigable funk, to snag headlines and mentions alongside the Lakers and Celtics and Heat(s) of the world. Oh, and to win games and divisions and championships.
That stuff is a long way away, and Brandon Jennings deserves blame for the failures same as the successes. Two brilliant and unexpected games are hard to overlook and easy to overvalue. Excitement isn't against the rules. There's no right way to go about viewing this stuff, but there is a responsible way to digest it. Brandon Jennings remains a frustrating and wonderful talent, a player bred for the day-to-day emotional swings of fandom. Even if he keeps up this new "pure point guard" style for the rest of the season, what do you make of him? Is he a changed man? A more mature player? That most fans are in love with high assist numbers is one of the few unassailable truths of basketball, so you can be sure a few more helpers will curry favor with the masses. It might be enough to recapture his crown as King Guard, which carries a hefty salary and the ever-present threat of revolting mobs when things go south. He's got a half-season to prove he's worth it, a few weeks to show us something new and prove it was there all along. The truth doesn't change, we just get closer to knowing it. Sometimes, though, it just feels like we're running in circles.