The Bucks were going to have a hard enough time making it through the next three weeks with most of their key pieces healthy, but the degree of difficulty just went up considerably with news that Brandon Jennings will be out for at least a month. Two days after looking out of sorts against Utah, Jennings will go under the knife today to repair the fifth metatarsal in his left foot, an injury that is expected to shelve him for 4-6 weeks.
Jennings suffered the fracture near the end of the first half in San Antonio last Wednesday, but returned to help lead a second half rally that nearly upset the Spurs. He then took just seven shots in Saturday night's loss against Utah, complaining afterward of continued pain in his leg. Needless to say the injury will severely challenge the Bucks' depth at point guard, where Keyon Dooling--last seen starting at SG--will take over with help off the bench from Earl Boykins.
All told it puts the Bucks in rather uncharted territory, as the slightly-built Jennings had started the first 107 games of his NBA career, only further affirming his surprising toughness by playing through a fractured foot over the past two games. Ramon Sessions was the last Buck point guard other than Jennings to start a regular season game (4/15/2009), and Keyon Dooling has been uneven (to be rather generous) since assuming the highly productive Luke Ridnour's backup role this season. All that raises the interesting question of how the league's worst offense will change now that its leading scorer is out.
Jennings' critics would quickly point out that he's one of the league's least efficient scorers and lacks the sort of vision required to make his teammates better, which ironically provides a ray of hope that the Bucks might actually be able to weather his absence. Then again, Jennings apologists would respond that the 21-year-old can only take so much blame for the chronic inability of his teammates to make open jumpers or finish around the hoop, and removing a dynamic, streaky scorer from the Bucks' lineup will hardly help when Dooling and Boykins have been even less effective over the season thus far.
Statistically there is some reason to think the Bucks might not be as doomed as they would seem on the surface. Through 25 games, the Bucks have been better both offensively and defensively with Jennings on the bench, which is a rather curious result given Dooling's poor shooting and Boykins being...well, Boykins. By an adjusted plus/minus metric Jennings looks better (+2.63), but you also wouldn't want to put too much stock in a statistic that ranks Dooling as the fifth best player in all of basketball, trailing only Nash, Nowitzki, Bosh and Chris Paul. The bottom line is that the Bucks have done surprisingly well when Dooling is on the court, which could be attributed to some combination of good defending, the quality of the Bucks' bench, and the fact that the Bucks' ball movement is generally better when their point guard isn't your primary scorer. But I think that speaks more to Dooling not being as harmful as you'd expect--maybe that "Drooling" nickname was a bit premature. Still, to say that the Bucks are actually going to be better without Jennings seems a separate and rather enormous leap. They won't be.
Of immediate concern is that the Bucks are now perilously thin at point guard and have no roster spot available to sign a third stringer, though they could opt to cut Brian Skinner in favor of another point guard or make a trade to acquire greater PG depth. The challenge for John Hammond is deciding how much of a price he's willing to pay--or alternatively, whether he's willing to sit back and hope for the best. He has some depth at the PF position with Drew Gooden, Ersan Ilyasova, Larry Sanders, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jon Brockman, but which of those guys is worth a backup PG who may not play much once Jennings returns? Gooden probably makes too much money, while Sanders, Ilyasova and Mbah a Moute aren't the types of guys you'd want to lose unless you were getting some good talent in return. Going after the apparently unsettled Andre Miller would be the most intriguing option if Hammond looks for more than a fill-in, though the Bucks would then have to figure out what happens once Jennings is healthy. Whatever the Bucks decide, they'll likely have to figure it out quickly.