Posted August 05, 2013

Pistons accept the challenge of Brandon Jennings, while Bucks elect to move on

Brandon Jennings, Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, Rob Mahoney
Brandon Jennings has worn a Bucks uniform for the last time. (Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)

Will Brandon Jennings rein in his wild style of play with the Pistons? (Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)

Brandon Jennings’ ever-eventful, shot-chucking career in Milwaukee has come to an inauspicious close. According to multiple reports, a deal fell in place on Tuesday for the Bucks to send Jennings to the Pistons — on a new, three-year, $24 million contract — in exchange for Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton, and Slava Kravstov. That might not seem like much of a return for a 23-year-old gunner who puts up some solid raw numbers (17.0 points and 5.7 assists per game for his four-year career), but Jennings torpedoed his own market value with undiscerning shot selection and indifferent defense over his last two seasons in particular.

That said, the terms of Jennings’ new deal are far kinder to the Pistons than they otherwise could have been — likely in part due to Jennings and the Bucks’ mutual interest in ending their working relationship. It was time for both parties to move on, if not long past it. Jennings’ brash game had toppled from charming to unnerving over the course of his four seasons in Milwaukee, to the point that rumors of their split became routine. Both are well served by parting ways, but the Bucks’ leverage and shopping period were infringed by Jennings’ restricted free agent status. Had he not been dealt or extended, Jennings would likely have played out a fifth season for the Bucks on a qualifying offer — a flimsy, one-year arrangement that would position him for unrestricted free agency in 2014. In the meantime, Jennings would be empowered by the collective bargaining agreement with a right of refusal tantamount to a no-trade clause.

The prospect of finding a trade partner interested in Jennings (their ranks are dwindling), navigating his veto privileges, and getting a reasonable return would be an incredible challenge. So Milwaukee pulled the trigger on a deal that would bring back decent pieces in Knight and Middleton while it could, and shipped out its problem-child point guard to Detroit in the process. 

The Pistons, for their part, now pick up the challenge of reining in Jennings’ unruly (and relatively static) game. He’s unquestionably more comfortable with the ball in his hands than his Detroit predecessor, but so comfortable that he tends to hoist up shots he shouldn’t. Jennings has little to no sense of delayed gratification; the first remotely open look is taken as an invitation to shoot on a far too frequent basis, leaving a Jennings-run offense to deal with a steady flow of long, two-point jumpers in spite of his quickness off the bounce and natural playmaking ability. He’s good enough to connect on tough, self-created shots, but too ignorant of his own shooting inefficiency to understand that making long twos at a 37-percent clip bears little value to an NBA offense. That tendency has persisted through his four NBA seasons, as has a troubling inability to convert his attempts around the basket on those rare occasions that he follows through on his drives.

If Jennings could ever mute the volume-shooting devil on his shoulder, he could be a pretty nice offensive player. He can read defenses pretty effectively from within a crowd, and did a fair job last season of setting up teammates both at the rim and beyond the three-point line when he felt so inclined*. But unburdening Jennings of his worst basketball instincts is far more than some minor project, and could be asking a bit much of a new head coach (Maurice Cheeks) already wrestling with an ultra-weird Pistons team fresh off a recent renovation. The newly-signed Josh Smith, for instance, creates a rather hilarious pairing with Jennings, in that Detroit now has two relatively high-usage players who so often need to be saved from themselves. Yet when the Pistons attempt to steer away from Smith on his wilder days, they’ll likely turn to the compulsive Jennings. And when Jennings’ shoot-first game gets to be a bit much, Detroit will probably turn to the reckless Smith. The potential for spiraling madness figures to make the Pistons one of most riveting teams to watch next season, albeit a squad distressing to coach by equal measure.

That’s true before we even begin to consider Jennings’ consistently horrid defense in recent seasons, or the way his matador coverage will crank up the pressure on Cheeks’ schemes, Smith, and Detroit’s young bigs. Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond just aren’t equipped to cover for all the drives that Jennings concedes —  a task that often demanded Larry Sanders’ full rim-protecting talents in Milwaukee. Because of that, the Pistons could very easily pay a price on both ends of the floor if their newly acquired point guard isn’t a markedly better version of his basketball self. He’s shown he can be a sensible shot creator and a committed defender under certain circumstances, but whether Jennings will give a damn in Detroit remains to be seen.

Nevertheless, this is a play for a genuine talent on the Pistons’ part, in which they flipped an underwhelming prospect for a frankly superior player at a position of need. Jennings’ play warrants pessimism, but he’s still a decided upgrade made by a team angling for the postseason. In that regard, they’ve likely bettered their chances, and somewhat mitigated their risk by way of a reasonable deal. I’m just not optimistic that Jennings will ultimately pan out as a core piece for Detroit, even if a career correction isn’t necessarily beyond a once-spurned, spite-motivated player of his noticeable gifts.

*According to Hoopdata, Jennings’ 2.7 assists per game leading to field goals at the rim matched Tony Parker’s mark and and nearly matched that of LeBron James. His 1.5 assists per game leading to three-pointers nearly matched Russell Westbrook and Steve Nash.

***

Milwaukee, on the other hand, is finally free to move on from its disheartening ploys for 8th-seed contention. The three-guard core of Jennings, Monta Ellis, and J.J Redick has been swiftly disassembled, with the Bucks opting for a low payroll in lieu of those cap-filling deals. I find that to be wise, given the circumstances; while each of those three guards could be helpful in a particular role, none makes for a convenient fit with a Bucks team still early in the teambuilding process. There were no first-rate stars in that bunch, nor are there any in Milwaukee’s return package for Jennings. But in avoiding another sizable salary commitment over the next few seasons, the Bucks have tidied up their cap sheet while keeping plenty of rotation-level pieces to work with. Going into next summer, Milwaukee is set to have just $36 million on the books between Knight, Middleton, O.J. Mayo, Ersan Ilyasova, John Henson, Zaza Pachulia, Gary Neal, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Carlos Delfino, with room to account for a possible Larry Sanders extension and some other free agent addition. That’s a nice start toward the kind of asset-driven rebuild Milwaukee needs, all while retaining a decent enough core to save face and meet the franchise’s long-standing edict of vying for a postseason berth.

Knight is a part of all of the above, if in a very different way than Jennings would have been. It’s safe to say that he’ll be a bit less ball-dominant; Knight runs into trouble creating on his own at times, and generally looks to defer to others when in a jam. It’s for that reason that his shot attempts trend much more towards the paint and the three-point line. Knight is no model for shooting efficiency by any means, but tends to attack the basket selectively and play off the ball when he the opportunity isn’t there. That restraint makes him a bit too timid to run an offense on a full-time basis (NBA teams frankly need a dash of the audacity that Jennings has in spades), but also counterintuitively leads to him attempting 42.1 percent of his shots inside the paint relative to Jennings’ 36.8 percent. The thought to challenge the defense — and initiate the kind of possession that might end up in a forced pull-up jumper — just doesn’t occur as often to a player like Knight, for better or worse.

For that reason, we shouldn’t expect Knight to be a great immediate fit at point guard for the patchwork Bucks, though he has the tools as a shooter and defender to float between guard positions and ultimately comes at a bargain price. He’ll need help, though, in initiating even basic, pick-and-roll-style offense as he grows into his role, which Mayo and Neal will aim to provide with mixed results. Such is the way of the new-look Bucks — a team so strapped by obvious limitations, but largely spared from the frustrations of prior seasons. Ellis and Jennings are gone, and with them the guise that all is well with two brazen, incompatible guards pulling the offense in different directions. Those same departures leave Milwaukee light on shot creation and generalized talent, but better prepared all the same in working toward a more stable design.

21 comments
Steve Moore
Steve Moore

The only reason to watch Pistons will be IF Tony Mitchell plays - beast. Everything else is a train wreck, ball hogging guards BJ,RS,WB w/rook KCP. Hi volume, lo % JSmith, foul Andre the giant and watch free throws and let me guess, the only team player JJerbko at the end of bench? Cheeks coaching record ain't exactly steller either. At end of last year CP3 had tuned out Chaunceys nonstop advice/instructions, which is why he ain't back w/Clips. Sheed will prolly be fun to watch though!

dmarino24
dmarino24

I dont see how this is a bad move for the Pistons. Jennings is a better point guard than Knight offensively and probably about the same defensively. Were going to be seeing alot of Jennings to Drummond alley oop dunks all over Ersan Ilyasovas face.

DeanHewitt
DeanHewitt

Knight had nothing but young guys, who were just developing.  That's a tough role.  I would rather have Knight then Jennings in Milwaukee.  Mayo will not be afraid to shoot, Saunders is really good and Ilyasova is a player.  We will have to see how the rookie works out.  

eddie767
eddie767

Jennings and J.Smith on the same team,I see Malice in the Palace pt.deax. Both like to shoot first,second,and third. Assists come fourth. I thought Dumars was trying to build a playoff team,seems like it's just spend and see what fits. This team will implode by Jan.2014.

onemanonthechessboard
onemanonthechessboard

Does anybody think whoever is in charge in Milwaukee has any clue what they're doing? Can anyone explain this?

P0is0nedKoolA1
P0is0nedKoolA1

We all want to play "GM" in our heads & if we have any sense know that there's a lot more to being a GM then who we THINK should go to what team. However............

2 young big men (drummond/monroe) with Josh Smith are BEGGING for some kind of veteran leadership , not a shoot first (& second, third) PG who was never a leader in his first 4 years!! Sure, Billups is there , but he's , at best, a veteran on the bench playing 25 minutes. 

Pistons need to built for their future & a selfish , bratty , obnoxious PG is NOT going to get this team to mature . 


Why the OP of this article suggest that the Pistons will be fun to watch is beyond me. I feel sorry for all Detroit fans as they will suffer through a lot of 1 on 5 ball via Josh or Jennings while two potential great big men stand around helplessly and watch. Reminds me of the Bulls when they had Tyson Chandler & Eddy Curry with no veterans to lead them and guide them

It's so cold in the D

DAJS6
DAJS6

Bad move for Detroit. They had Brandon Knight, had a chance to draft Trey Burke and they end up with Brandon Jennings. Clearly Dumars did not learn from the Billups-Iverson trade. This is exactly the same thing. Trading a solid all around player and a good character guy for a shoot first point guard with a bad reputation. What I don't like about it the most is that I don't believe they gave Knight a fair shake. They used Jose Calderon at the point and Knight as the two because they don't have a solid two guard. Then they say Knight is not a good point guard. Brandon Knight is right up there with the likes of Kyrie Irving and John Wall. If the Bucks give the reigns to Knight he will be an All-Star in a couple of years. While Detroit will be back to where they were 5 years ago. Getting Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith will make the Pistons a playoff team, but not enough to beat the Heat, Pacers, Bulls, Knicks and Nets. Busy off season for the Pistons but all it will achieve is they get to play an extra two weeks at the end of the regular season.  

ADJ
ADJ

Great read.  I see the Bucks as a mini-version of the pre-Harden Rockets in terms of nice young talent and depth.  A solid #8 seeded team.  Sadly, the Bucks cant swap Mayo for an All-Star like Houston did with Martin.  And they wont land the prized FA player next year since Wisconsin doesnt have a warm climate and no state tax.

JeffreyHall1
JeffreyHall1

Getting rid of Jennings is addition by subtraction. Detroit made a huge mistake- even though Knight clearly wasn't the answer for them at point guard. But I'll guarantee that Jennings isn't either. Detroit's strength is inside and Jennings will screw that up.

DAJS6
DAJS6

@dmarino24 This is a bad move for the Pistons in the long term. They gave up on the future by not having the patience to see Monroe, Drummond, Pope and Knight develop together. Having Jennings and Smith will improve the Pistons now and get them in the Playoffs. It will be an exciting brand of basketball with Jennings setting up Drummond and Smith for alley-oops. But at the end of the season all it will get them is the first round of the Playoffs and then they're done. Look at the Clippers, exciting team but out after the first round of the Playoffs.

And Jennings is not better than Knight. Knight is a better shooter and finisher than Jennings, and definitely has better shot selection. Defensively Knight is bigger than Jennings. He has a chance to develop to become a stronger and bigger defender. And Knight definitely has better character than Jennings.

DAJS6
DAJS6

@DeanHewitt I agree, and at least for Brandon Knight he will have a chance to develop as the point guard in Milwaukee. They have Mayo as the two guard which means they won't be experimenting with Knight at the two like the Pistons did. Knight can have a chance to develop as the point guard. If given the chance he can be for the Bucks what Kyrie Irving is for the Cavs and John Wall for the Wizards. The Bucks now have a great backcourt with Knight and Mayo.

DAJS6
DAJS6

@eddie767 I agree, like I said before it will be like when they traded for Iverson before, it will implode. And what confuses me is that for the past years on draft day Dumars always talked about getting good character guys. Then he gets Smith and Jennings? If anything these two will impede the development of Monroe, Drummond and Pope. It would have been nice to see Monroe, Drummond, Pope and Knight develop together and be a serious contender in a couple of years. Instead they changed their philosophy to win now and get in the playoffs even if it is only up to the first round. 

Will10
Will10

Yeah, they're getting rid of a shoot first pg who doesn't play d and doesn't help a team win

21GB
21GB

@DAJS6 - I tend to agree with you. I dont think Knight is a creative playmaker likek Irving, but he could have been an outstanding game manager PG who can defend, shoot and be aggressive when necessary. He had all the tools to be a very good PG, fans overrate what 'pure' PG's value is. That essentially means they dominate the ball and offense and other guys dont get opportunity to create.. that only works when you the PG is incredibly efficient offensively. Your PG doesn't have to be that guy. T. parker isn't that guy, Mario Chalmers isn't that guy, S. Curry isn't that guy, Westbrook isn't even that guy. I'm not so sure Knight isn't a better player simply because he doesn't try to be that guy and is better all around player than Jennings in all other ways. 

21GB
21GB

@JeffreyHall1 -  How do you know Knight wasn't the answer? He was so inexperienced.. you don't need 'pure' PG's to win in the NBA. Knight could have learned to be a game manager like Billups, move the ball, space the court and score if you get it back.. oh yeah and defend and get to the lane when necessary. I think Jennings is a major risk where Knight would have eventually been a guaranteed solid starting PG in a couple yrs. Knight is a good person and all around player, he'd let the offense run. Jennings the risk is he makes the team worse and he's not improved one think since coming in to the league. Knight had better intangibles and physical ability. Jennings is a cream puff 160 lb guy who cant score anywhere near the hoop. He's got way more natural skill, but I worry this was a major mistake. 

JonnyUtahReeves
JonnyUtahReeves

@DAJS6 @dmarino24Knight is 21. Jennings is 23. How is Jennings bad for the Pistons "long-term"? Knight had his shot and clearly wasn't the answer. Jennings had a 3 game stretch of 15-20 assists each game. He shoots the ball from the three at .375 which is great for a pistons team wanting to space the floor. With Chauncey & former PG Mo Cheeks there to guide him/keep him in line, he clearly has the capacity to be an excellent distributor to a Pistons team with ample scoring ability. Jennings throwing lobs to Drummond and Smith will become a regular occurrence. Jennings will be a far superior player at the Pistons than he was with the Bucks, a team that was going nowhere and had no one to keep him in line.

DAJS6
DAJS6

@JonnyUtahReeves @DAJS6 @dmarino24 It would have been good if the Pistons developed their draft picks from the last 4 years together. That would have been a good long term plan. Jennings' style is more like Allen Iverson where he has to be the man and the others are his supporting cast. That situation will impede the development of guys like KCP and Monroe because they will have to develop their game around Jennings. Why would you bring Jennings in for $25 million if you will just try to change his game and not play his style? I wouldn't be surprised if they end up playing Jennings as the two guard with Billups as the point.

DAJS6
DAJS6

@JonnyUtahReeves @DAJS6 @DeanHewitt Just because Jennings has better individual stats than Knight doesn't mean he's a better player than Knight. Why do you think Jennings did not get any other offers until now? Because teams believe he is a selfish player. Knight is a better team player. Knight did not get enough opportunity to play PG. His first year was a lockout season so he really only played half a season that year. His second year they played him at SG half the time because he was their best shooter. So really they only played him at PG for one season.

JonnyUtahReeves
JonnyUtahReeves

@DAJS6 @JonnyUtahReeves @DeanHewitt In the two weeks between March 2nd through March 17th this year Brandon Jennings had more double digit assist games (six) than Brandon Knight has had in his entire NBA career (five). Knight didn't have an opportunity? Are you kidding? Knight was drafted into a team with no established point guard to be the team's next PG and failed. He was increasingly used at SG because he sucked so badly at PG.

DAJS6
DAJS6

@JonnyUtahReeves @DAJS6 @DeanHewitt Knight did not have enough opportunity to play point guard with Detroit. They played him a lot at the two spot because he was the best shooter they had. He's a way better shooter than Rodney Stuckey, then their other guards were Jose Calderon and Will Bynum so he had to play shooting guard. Just because he's a good shooter doesn't mean he can't be a point guard and has to be labelled a combo guard. Just like 21GB explained below about PG's.