The Milwaukee Bucks are suddenly winning close games, Brandon Jennings is suddenly transforming into a distributor on offense and Monta Ellis is suddenly clutch. Is any of this sustainable? Where do the Bucks stand? These are the questions on the mind of every serious Bucks fan, because it's been tough to buy in so far this season.
Brandon Jennings deserves the first mention, because he's doing things we've never really seen from him before.
So Jennings did it: 2 straight games with more assists than shots after doing it ZERO times in first 56 games.— Frank Madden (@brewhoop) March 5, 2013
Jennings racked up 19 assists against the Raptors and then followed it up with 17 dimes in a win over the Jazz to go with 20 points on 8-14 shooting. In those two games he has posted a mind-blowing 6:1 assist-to-turnover ratio -- 36 assists to just six turnovers.
Brandon spoke with Freddie Coleman on ESPN radio after the win over Utah, and to my delight he made it sound as if his recent spike in assists was both deliberate and team-oriented:
Right now I'm changing my game for the best [sic] of the team. I'm being more passive [sic]. I'm out there looking for guys more than I was ever, and it's actually helping us. Guys are playing with a lot of confidence. Ersan Ilyasova, he's hitting some big shots, and also J.J. Redick.
I placed the [sic] next to passive, because I don't usually associate passivity with anything positive on the court. Clearly Jennings has been actively looking to set up his teammates and create new opportunities by reshaping the defense with swift passes and pointed penetration.
In any case, I like the vibe. I can dig it, Brandon. I can dig it. He certainly didn't leave people with anything to complain about on Monday night.
The team is still struggling to find its way, but things have been going better lately. Who knows what it means. Milwaukee has oscillated between 'aggravatingly un-clutch' and 'just clutch enough' this season, and their resume is speckled with big comebacks and soul-crushing blown leads. It's true .500 team type stuff (hint: don't buy into any 'clutch' narratives).
Yet here we are, with a playoff spot all but clinched in March and a string of strong games in the immediate past. It's a crazy situation for a team that's been pretty crazy all year. Our guy Alex Boeder covered the unpredictability of the Bucks over at the team website:
We're all left to ponder whether it's time to buy in on this group or not. Can Jennings keep up his recent surge with assists? Will some of those tough shots from Monta finally start to fall at the right time? Can Jim Boylan find a way to maximize the value of J.J. Redick AND Mike Dunleavy while still finding minutes for the swag twins?
Dan Sinclair tackled Brandon's sudden and unexpected transformation in a piece on Monday night:
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.
Frank and I discussed all of these issues in the immediate aftermath of the win over the Jazz as well. Enjoy.