Statistics can tell us a lot about a game: who played well, who played poorly, and which team won. But they can't tell us how these numbers came about. That's why we're going inside the box score and finding out the story behind the stats.
Today's subject: Brandon Jennings and his 4/11 night from deep against Chicago
We all know that Jennings' value on offense will live or die by the three-point shot. He's quick enough to get to the basket, but hasn't proven able to get quality looks and/or draw fouls consistently. He's smart enough to use screens and space alike, but his frame is so slight that contact sends him off-course. Thankfully, the most valuable shot in basketball is one that has been good to him so far, but is it good for the Bucks?
He's an able scorer, clocking in at 20.4 points per game, good for 11th in the NBA. His percentages are up from last year, too, leading us all to believe (hope?) that he's making that third-year jump that we've seen other young guards make. But his long-range shooting against Chicago was, according to the normal box score, less than thrilling. Despite a hot start that saw him score 16 in the opening quarter, Jennings' 4/11 showing against the Bulls turns out to be 36.3%, or just 0.9% above his career average.
We will now dissect each of Jennings' three-point attempts to see exactly what kind of shots they were.
1st quarter, 11:23 - Jennings makes 25-foot three-point shot (assist from Shaun Livingston)
Jennings pulls up from the attempted fast break and gives the ball up to Livingston. There's some nice half-court weave action between Jennings, Livingston, and Carlos Delfino. The interior of the Chicago defense stays strong, however, and Jennings ends up with the ball at the top of the key with 9 seconds left on the shot clock. He's a few feet behind the arc, and Derrick Rose is a few feet in front of it, so the shot is definitely open. He puts in the right amount of force under his shot, and the ball swishes through without even touching the rim.
1st quarter, 9:33 - Jennings misses 26-foot three-point shot
At this point in the game, Jennings has made a three, a nifty reverse layup, and a loooong baseline 2 pointer. Having accounted for 100% of Milwaukee's points, I'm going to go ahead and call this a "heat check" before I even watch the replay. He runs a quick P&R with Gooden, probing the lane twice before pulling out to the right wing. Joakim Noah gets switched onto him, and is giving him more than enough space to defend against the drive. But Noah's height is enough to make Jennings fade back a bit, taking some force off of the shot and making it bounce off the front of the rim.
1st quarter, 3:00 - Jennings makes 26-foot three-point shot
Running a quick P&R with Larry Sanders this time, Jennings probes the lane once before backing out to the left wing. C.J. Watson is giving him too much space for his jumper, so Jennings decides to let it fly. He fades back more than he should have, but compensated by putting more arm into his shot. The adjustment works, as the ball hits back-iron and through the hoop.
1st quarter, 2:30 - Jennings makes 24-foot three-point shot
Jennings runs the same look with Larry Sanders the very next trip down the court. Watson tries to body Jennings up as the screen arrives, and Jennings throws a little forearm shiver to knock Watson back into Sanders. A quick dribble left gives Jennings a huge window to launch up his shot, which he does not hesitate to do. The mechanics are sound from the waist up, but he never squared his feet off to the hoop, making his body rotate clockwise mid-air. The release was so fast it didn't matter, as Jennings makes his third three-pointer of the quarter.
2nd quarter, 5:07 - Jennings makes 25-foot three-point shot
This shot had absolutely no business going in. Jennings receives the inbound pass on the right wing with about 4 seconds left on the shot clock. He frantically dribbles along the arc, trying to find a seam to get some clearance for a shot. When he doesn't find any, he just kind of flings the ball towards the hoop, and it manages to bounce through.
2nd quarter, 3:56 - Jennings misses 25-foot three-point shot
Jennings brings the ball up on the right side and tries to get free with some double-screen action with Livingston and Drew Gooden. He's clearly feeling hot, showing some quick handles to try and keep Rose grounded. The base of this shot is AWFUL; his feet are parallel to the sidelines of the court when they (and the rest of him) should be rotated about 15 degrees to the left. His release is rushed too, and because his lower body wasn't right, he has to launch the ball with his elbow, which takes a lot of elevation off the arc of the ball. He even kicks his leg out to draw contact (which he does, but refs apparently never call that anymore, even when the player ends up on the ground), but the shot is wild and bounces harmlessly off the back of the rim and backboard.
2nd quarter, 0:00 - Jennings misses 28-foot three-point shot
Jennings gets the ball from the sideline with 3.3 seconds left. Everyone stands around and watches him dribble towards the arc, including Drew Gooden, who is right next to him. Nobody really defended this shot, because this shot almost never connects. This is no exception.
3rd quarter, 5:39 - Jennings misses 28-foot three-point shot
Off an offensive rebound, Jennings gets a high screen from Stephen Jackson. Rose goes under the screen, but is quickly closing out. Jennings decides that this is within his range and launches the shot. His mechanics are actually much better; his feet were set better and he didn't seem to rush his shot. But he compensated for the extra distance with more arm and less leg, causing the ball to careen off the rim.
3rd quarter, 1:23 - Jennings misses 24-foot three-point shot
I could watch this replay a thousand times and still not understand what the hell happened. Larry Sanders launches up an ill-advised spin jumper, which is short. Omer Asik gets the defensive rebound, but Jennings comes from behind him and just takes the ball away. Mind you, the rebound and subsequent turnover happened right below the basket. Jennings leaves Asik at the left block (where he doesn't move), and retreats to the left corner. Derrick Rose sprints from past the left elbow to close out on the shot, which hits the front rim and out.
Let me repeat myself: JENNINGS HAD THE BALL UNDER THE BASKET. All he had to do was take a dribble (even a left-handed one!) down the baseline and go up for a quick layup. Asik wasn't going anywhere, frozen in shock as he was. The three-point shot itself was fine: a good look, a clean release. But it never should have happened, and might not have if the Bucks were not down 77-68.
3rd quarter, 0:00 - Jennings misses 25-foot three-point shot
Jennings gets the ball inbounded to him with 3.3 left on the clock (yes, again). Jon Leuer sets a nice screen for him, but Jennings simply slips as he works around the screen. With no time left and falling to the ground, Jennings shotputs the ball towards the hoop, but it's not even close. At least he's always going for the score without worrying about his shooting stats, no matter how unlikely the make may be.
4th quarter, 6:54 - Jennings misses 25-foot three-point shot
Beno Udrih comes up with a nice steal from an errant pass, and gets the ball to Jennings who pushes it in transition. Jennings tries to slow his momentum at the three-point line, but barely succeeds. He launches up the three because a) he doesn't have a numbers advantage and b) the Bucks are down 88-76. Because he never came to a complete stop, his body is actually leaning into the shot by a good 10-15 degrees as he releases the ball. This causes the arc to flatten and the trajectory to lead it right into the backboard.
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So, of Jennings' 11 shots, I would classify three of them as end-of-posession desperation heaves. Another three were bad decisions (off the Asik steal, the 4th quarter transition attempt, and off the Jackson high screen), leaving five quality attempts. Of those five quality attempts, Jennings made three of them.
As the only player able to create his own shot on a regular basis, I can forgive the shots he puts up with the clock running to zero. What I can't forgive are the heat checks and the brain farts. Jennings' ability alone could have him near the top of the league in three point percentage, but he makes so many questionable calls as to when to shoot and when not to that it drags his percentages down. He's not one to care about stats, which is great, but the ones he does care about (wins) are harder to come by if he gives away possessions with bad shots.
This is, if anything, further evidence that Jennings would be a wonderful second option on offense, but currently struggles with the responsibility that comes with being a first option. Furthermore, when he finds some early success, he's more likely to look for his own shot, even when he's looking in places he won't find anything. I admire his attitude, but his offensive decision-making could still use some work.
If only we had another guard who could reliably create some offense...wait a minute...