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The Day After: Putting Jennings' Monster Night in Context

Fifty-five points later, the best question I can think of is...what does it mean?

To be honest, last night's recap was probably the most challenging I've ever had to write, which might seem like a weird thing to say about the most memorable performance by a Buck in my lifetime.  After all, the tough recaps are generally about the games that I don't feel like reliving.  Really close losses hurt, especially at home or against sub-par teams.  Really big losses hurt in a different kind of way, even if they're less frustrating in some ways.  And particularly in 07/08, there were times when you wondered whether certain players even cared anymore, which probably trumps everything else in terms of demoralizing you as a fan. Can't say I've felt that way since Scott Skiles came to town, though.

The tough part about last night is that, in the grand scheme of the Bucks universe, Brandon Jennings' emergence could mean everything to this franchise.  And even if Jennings has been playing far beyond anyone's expectations anyway, there was something transformative about watching his performance Saturday night.  Rookies have scored 32 points before.  Rookies have almost had triple-doubles before.  But it's been over forty years since any rookie scored 55 points in a game.  No one has ever scored 50 at such a young age or so early in his career.  And when you break records associated with names like LeBron, Wilt, and Earl Monroe, stuff starts to get serious.

What makes this complicated is how Jennings got here.  It would be one thing if we were watching Blake Griffin or Derrick Rose do this.  They were near-consensus first overall picks, selected with every expectation that they should be perennial all-stars and franchise cornerstone.  If we saw them do this it would simply be confirmation of what everyone believed all along.

Meanwhile, Jennings' pro expectations have yo-yoed more in the two years leading up to his selection than any other 19-year old I can think of.   In high school he was a player of the year and next big thing.  Then after a difficult year in Italy he was an unknown: either a poor-shooting streetballer exposed for what he was, or a talented kid reacting as well as he could to a system that didn't know how to use him.

Now we're seven games into the regular season, and it seems you can throw out whatever you thought.  Anyone predicting this from Jennings had to be nuts, and if you were a doubter then how can you explain what we've seen?  The tough part of trying to project forward what Jennings will become is that we've spent the past six months continuously resetting expectations higher and higher. On draft night it only seemed reasonable that he would be a high risk/high reward project following his tough time in Europe.  In Vegas he indeed showed the potential of a star, but against subpar competition and with inconsistent shooting.  Preseason was a positive experience that showed he was ready to start, though Jennings' streaky shooting once again reared its head.  And now?

Honestly, I'm still trying to figure it out.  What we know for sure is that the numbers, the maturity, and the overall impact on the game are things that you see only so often from a barely 20-year old playing his first month of NBA basketball.  Chris Paul is almost impossibly good at this point, but there are some similarities (size, scoring/passing combo).  Allen Iverson is a common comparison (size, quickness, explosive scoring), but has anyone ever claimed AI was a true point (as they frequently do with Jennings)?  AI also got to the line at ridiculous rates, which we haven't see from Jennings yet.   Kenny Anderson looked like Jennings: a lefty listed at the same height/weight.  But Anderson was a massive disappointment as a rookie and only attained modest success after a couple years of seasoning.  In discussing comparisons this afternoon, Alex mentioned Nick Van Exel as well, drawing on the left-handedness and explosively streaky shooting.  Going back further, you could cite Isiah Thomas for his dual roles as a scorer and floor general, and Tiny Archibald was the first guy Skiles cited when asked the question in June.  Needless to say, there's a huge range of quality in the list, and our sample size is far too small to know exactly where on that spectrum he ends up.  But the exciting part is that Jennings' fast start is almost without peer in the annals of NBA point guard history, especially when you factor in his age.

Whatever Jennings becomes, it will be a process.  The Bucks won't need to rely on Jennings' scoring as much when Michael Redd comes back, though it's nice to know he's capable of carrying the team on any given night, isn't it? Moreover, his scoring ability will absolutely impact how the Bucks think about building a team going forward.   Considering Redd's uncertain future, I'm not expecting Jennings' scoring to bottom out anytime soon, but I'm guessing 50+ outings won't be regular events.  At the very least, his insane three point percentage has to come down to vaguely mortal levels, and we should expect him to hit some rough shooting patches (as seen in preseason).

But no matter what you think, let's agree to one thing: Jennings is making basketball relevant in Milwaukee again.  If he and Andrew Bogut can continue to stay healthy, the team's future is decidedly brighter than it has been since the semi-glory days of 2001.  And for once, I actually feel lucky to be a Bucks fan.  

And now, for some additional reaction from our the web:

Pelton: Best quarter ever?
Kevin Pelton, always a must-read, puts Jennings' performance in historical context

To the extent that the scouting report before the draft suggested Jennings' ability to shoot from the perimeter was a weakness, the book has now changed dramatically. (As Bucks broadcasters Jim Paschke and Jon McGlocklin took glee in pointing out during the game.) Still, when Jennings is hitting from the perimeter, he leaves opponents with equally undesirable options. Attempt to hedge against screens and Jennings is liable to blow past his defender on the way to the paint. A quality defensive team might be able to take care of this with its rotations, but Golden State had little hope short of trapping Jennings and forcing him to give the ball up. That might have been my strategy after the first 10 buckets of the third quarter or so.

Yahoo: Short time coming
Adrian Wojnarowski  uses Jennings' relationship with Under Armour executive Kris Stone as a backdrop for Saturday night.  Pretty cool story here:

Three years ago, Jennings had come to New York as a high school junior to play in the Elite 24 all-star game that Stone had started, and he won the MVP over players like Michael Beasley and Kevin Love. The next morning, it was Stone’s job to drive over to the Westin Hotel in Times Square and make sure the kids were awake by 8 a.m. on the way to LaGuardia for flights home. So, Stone walked into the hotel lobby at 6, the elevator doors opened and there was a vision that brought him back to his days growing up in the Bay Area.

"And here comes Brandon walking out with a basketball under his arm, a T-shirt and shorts," Stone said. "He had just achieved his greatest accomplishment as a high school player, and he’s running out the door to go work out with Ben Gordon. That always stuck with me."

Jennings Blog: Staying Humble
Jennings posted a blog earlier today about his big night.

We are on a nice roll right now. The locker room is buzzing with a lot of positive energy. My routine will stay the same, get to the arena on gameday by 3:30 and get my work in with Coach Sampson. We have Dallas tomorrow night so like Coach Skiles said another great challenge for our team.  Lets Build on it… Humble & Hungry!!!!!!

JS: Shot chart
Summary: He made a lot of shots from a lot of different places.

Golden State of Mind: Recap
A view from our buds in Warrior-land.

Bucksketball: Game Recap
Jeremy offers his take on the game...