Brandon Jennings went through a tumultuous offseason. A restricted free agent, Jennings had the idea that he should be a $12 million a year player.
That … ummm … didn’t happen. Instead, Jennings wound up moving from the Milwaukee Bucks to the Detroit Pistons in a sign-and-trade deal, signing an offer sheet from the Pistons for four years and $32 million.
That was a blow to the ego.
On the other hand, it might have been a dose of reality for a guy who in four years with the Bucks shot 39.4 percent from the floor while averaging 17 points and 5.7 assists a game as an erstwhile point guard for a team that missed the playoffs in two of his four seasons there.
He saved his best postseason showcasing of his talents for last: After declaring his eighth-seeded Bucks would take out the Miami Heat in six games, Jennings averaged 13.3 points and four assists a game on 29.7 percent shooting in a four-game Miami sweep.
So there was that.
He came to Detroit saying the right things, telling the Associated Press that he would be more of a facilitator than he was in Milwaukee.
His debut with Detroit was delayed a bit by an impacted wisdom tooth that fractured his jaw. He missed the first two games, came off the bench in his debut and then joined the starting unit. The whole facilitator thing didn’t last long, either. After the Pistons lost in Portland, though, Jennings said (h/t USA Today) he was going to play to his strength, which he thinks is shooting. Lots and lots of shooting.
In his six games with Detroit, his usage rate is a career-high 27.7 percent. He’s hoisted 101 shots and made them at a 38.6 percent clip. He’s attempted 31 3s and made eight, a 25.8 percent pace. A career 81.3 percent free throw shooter in Milwaukee, he’s not even making those this year—he’s 19-for-28 at the line, just 67.9 percent. He’s taking 16.8 shots a game, averaging the same 17.5 points he did in his final season for the Bucks and his 6.2 assists a game are slightly down from a year ago.
So what about his effect on the rest of the offense?
There’s no kind way to put this. Brandon Jennings chokes the life out of the Detroit Pistons offense. Completely kills it. Beats it to death until it drops dead from being beaten to death.
Redundant? Sure it is. But also accurate.
Jennings on/off stats read like a horror novel to a fan of Detroit basketball. Per 82games.com, the Pistons score at a rate of 100.8 points per 100 possessions when Jennings is on the floor.
They score at a rate of 109.8 points per 100 possessions without him. Even factoring in the small uptick (0.2 points per 100 possessions) in defensive efficiency the Pistons get with Jennings, they are a whopping 8.9 points better without him than they are with him.
I can hear the screams now: “Small sample size!”
Well, there is a player who can be a bit of a “Jennings barometer,” as it were. Andre Drummond, the second-year center who is a first-year starter for a huge frontcourt assembled by Joe Dumars, put up these per-game numbers in the three games Jennings didn’t start:
–13 points, 12 rebounds, 11 shots.
Now add Jennings to the starting unit.
–11.4 points, 12 rebounds, 8 shots.
Because, you know, the absolute best thing for this offense is to take touches away from the guy who is making 64.4 percent of his shots and give them to the guy who makes 38.6 percent.
To be fair to Jennings, there is one stat where the Pistons get better when he’s on the floor: The Pistons hit the offensive glass at a 32.3 percent clip without Jennings and improve to 34.2 percent with him.
I’m not going to come right out and say his contribution to that stat is providing more opportunities for offensive rebounds because so often when he shoots, the ball doesn’t go into the little round orange thingy hanging off the backboard, except … well, whatta ya know, I just did.
The best point guards in the game today are hybrids, players who can score and distribute at high rates of efficiency.
Chris Paul does this. He scores 20.4 points a game for the Clippers this year, while also averaging 12.8 assists. He has a usage rate of 24.8 percent (meaning that percentage of the team’s plays are called for him) and he has a 52.9 percent assist rate—best in the NBA. Even though his shooting has slumped a bit (44.7 percent, down from 48.1 last year), he has a true shooting percentage of 57.9 percent.
Eric Bledsoe of the Phoenix Suns, Paul’s former understudy, does this. He scores 20.4 points a game for the Suns this year, while also averaging 6.8 assists. He has a usage rate of 26.5 percent and he has a 34.1 assist rate. His true shooting percentage is 61.2 percent.
Now let’s look at Brandon Jennings, just for fun.
Jennings scores 17.5 points, averaged 6.2 assists and does it with a usage rate of 27.7 percent, an assist rate of 31.3 percent and a true shooting percentage of 46.3 percent.
Under the tutelage of former All-Star point guard Maurice Cheeks, there may still be hope for Jennings. In a league increasingly dominated by smaller lineups, the Pistons flew in the face of that, putting together an old-school frontcourt that is big, huge by today’s standards.
But what a frontcourt like that needs is someone who can be a little bit more old-school pass-first at the point, rather than a volume shooter who misses more than 60 percent of the time.
The numbers show that Brandon Jennings might belong on a wanted poster … because he’s killing the Detroit Pistons offense.