Will Brandon Jennings be a better player with the Detroit Pistons?

Brandon Jennings played well at times during his career with the Milwaukee Bucks, and it’s fair to wonder whether he will perform better with the Detroit Pistons.

The Pistons’ new point guard spoke about altering his game in an effort to better fit with his new team. Via Dan Feldman at ProBasketballTalk:

“You’re going to see a whole different player,” Jennings said. “…I definitely have to change my game.”

“The things that I was doing in Milwaukee, I won’t have to do here, take all the bad shots,” Jennings said. “Now, I can just actually be myself and be who I was five years ago when I was in high school, playing AAU basketball.”

That is an intriguing quote from Jennings. It suggests he had the latitude to operate in whichever manner suited him.

It is easy to mention Jennings lacked talent with his previous team, which could justify some of the horrendous decisions he made as the team’s lead guard. But, quite frankly, that’s a bit of a cop out. Attempting low-percentage shots late in the shot clock is one thing, but simply firing ill-advised jumpers with plenty of time left on the clock is practically self-sabotage.

For example look at this step-back jump shot Jennings attempted during the 2013 playoffs against the Miami Heat:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKFdd1_Nk-w&hl=en&hd=1]

It would be difficult to argue such a poor decision came as a result need. That type of shot attempt offers very low rewards.

Before Pistons fans get into an uproar, Jennings attempted this kind of shot only once per game. It’s a terrible look, but not one that occurred with high frequency. According to MySynergySports, the point guard attempted 61 shots from downtown in  isolation situations last season.

Given his ineffectiveness in this setting, Milwaukee was fortunate that he kept those shots to a minimum. During the 2012-13 campaign, Jennings attempted 128 isolation shots and converted 28.5 percent of them, per Synergy.

Clearly, this was not his forte. He attempted a little under two such field goals per game. The conversion rate is terrible, but the amounts were minimal. As a reference point, Monta Ellis attempted 221 isolation shots and hit 38 percent of them whilst playing next to Jennings.

Jennings had two issues in 2012-13 that contributed to his shooting woes: excessive dribbling and an inability to convert shots at the rim.

When the offense breaks down, Jennings has a habit of endlessly dribbling the ball in an effort to set himself up for a shot. The problem with that is his predictability. He’s a big fan of the step-back jumper, and thus, defenders play him for it.

In addition, Jennings can blow by defenders with relative ease but struggles to finish against length at the hoop. According to NBA.com, the left-handed guard converted a mere 47.3 percent of his shots in the restricted area in 2012-13. For context, Chris Paul and Steve Nash both made over 60 percent of those same looks during the same season.

Furthermore, Jennings will avoid going all the way to the rim if he feels there is too much resistance in his path. Instead, he will pull up for a floater from inside the paint but outside the restricted area. The new Detroit floor general hit 34.8 percent of his shots from that part of the court in 2012-13.

Put it all together, and we have the makings of a sub-40 percent shooter from the field.

Had Joe Dumars simply stopped at this analysis, he would have been terrified at the idea of signing Jennings. However, he clearly dug deeper.

Since the 2010-11 campaign, the Bucks have been better statistically with their lefty on the bench according to NBA.com’s advanced stats tool. The difference lies in the team’s defense. They simply have not been as stout on that side of the ball with Jennings on the court.

Offensively, though, there has been some fluctuation from year-to-year. Part of that is Jennings’ shot selection, but the other part his overall decision-making.

Jennings is a good pick-and-roll player. Synergy Sports tells us he converted 39.8 percent of his treys in 2012-13 in those situations. Indeed, hitting 3-pointers off the dribble is a difficult proposition, but Jennings is very good in this setting, especially when rises up with balance.

His jumper is a constant threat in the pick-and-roll, which is why he forces defenses to account for him with both the guard defending the play and the big man. The second defender has to stay within proximity to make sure he does not get an open look but must also retreat just enough to remove driving lanes.

Jennings can deliver very good passes to open players under these conditions. He sees the floor well enough and can make passes under duress even with opponents clouding his passing lanes.

Look at the pass he delivers to Gustavo Ayon here:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3HL__jXbZa8?rel=0]

Switch the players in the video and the recipient is perhaps Andre Drummond catching the ball from Jennings and turning the play into a highlight.

Indeed, when Jennings is not busy firing off-balance fade-away jumpers, he is a good setup man. The sporadic poor shot selection comes with some counterintuitive benefits though.

Defenders are well aware that the guard can be coaxed into taking some difficult shots. Mind you, it is still important to contest these attempts to ensure the end result is a miss. This is where Jennings plays cat and mouse with opponents.

He will trick defenders into thinking one of his off-balance shots is on its way by using a herky-jerky hesitation dribble after faking his patented step-back jumper.

His other magic trick involves coming off the pick-and-roll and driving towards the paint where he acts as if he is about to put up a floater or off-balance jumper. Once the second defender comes out to challenge the shot, he will find his big rolling to the basket.

He does this here with Larry Sanders:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_8CCgOLAz4?rel=0]

This is where the Pistons are going to need their new acquisition. His playmaking will be essential in Detroit given the lack of floor spacing. Greg Monroe and Josh Smith should be able to complement each other while Drummond will thrive off catches near the rim for finishes.

This group of players will need someone to create lanes and passing angles for them and that will be Jennings’ job. He will be one of the few floor spacers in the starting rotation, and it will be important for him to play to his strengths.

Detroit needs him to be aggressive coming off screen-and-rolls to force secondary defenders to commit to him. Also, he will have to minimize his dribbles and attack rapidly instead of toying with his man and allowing the defense to load up on him.

Watch how he catches the ball here and explodes off the bounce for an easy layup:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vegO5LPnrAQ?rel=0]

This obviously will not happen with much regularity, but catching defenses asleep is a must for a team that rated as a bottom-third NBA offense in 2012-13.

Maurice Cheeks will be tasked with incorporating the skills of his new point guard with those of the team and that should be interesting. Jennings will be the floor general, but will not need to systematically orchestrate the offense.

He will get opportunities to play off the ball while Monroe and Smith act as facilitators. This means Jennings will get catch-and shoot opportunities as well as chances to attack rotating defenders.

There is no way to predict whether Jennings* will completely cut out the low-percentage shots from his game, but his comments certainly suggest that he will try. He should still see a fair amount of isolation shots and struggle a little on that front given that his skillset is not conducive for these types of field-goal attempts.

*By the way,my choices for Jennings’ nickname: B-Jen, Bran-Done, Bran-J, Bran-Jen, or my personal favorite, Jen Shots.

However, he should thrive in the pick-and-roll and even get a few easy looks at the rim after exhibiting his passing ability. The Pistons offense will be entertaining in 2013-14 and Jennings is certainly part of that.

More than just entertaining, though, the Pistons need Jennings to live up to the stated proposed changes in his game. If he does, he’ll be more efficient, and the Pistons will be on their way to the playoffs.

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Tags: Andre Drummond Brandon Jennings Greg Monroe Josh Smith Maurice Cheeks Milwaukee Bucks THN-MIL

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