Friday, November 27, 2009

Brandon Jennings: Trend Setter

Upon graduating high school in 2008 Brandon Jennings made an unusual move. Although he had a scholarship to the University of Arizona, Jennings decided to skip college and sign a contract to play professional basketball in Italy. Skeptics criticized the move when it was announced and after 43 games of European basketball, it looked like the skeptics were right. During those 43 games Jennings averaged less than seven points per game and his shooting efficiency was well below average.

Despite this performance, the Milwaukee Bucks invested the 10th pick in the 2009 NBA draft in Jennings. Again, there was skepticism. How could a player who couldn't even excel in the meager Italian league make a significant contribution to an NBA team?

Well, it looks as if the skeptics were wrong.Earlier this month Jennings scored 55 points in a game, setting an NBA record for youngest player to ever pass the 50 point mark in a game. This game wasn't an aberration either as Jennings has played very well throughout the first month of the season. After 13 games, Jennings is averaging 23.4 points per game; and both his shooting efficiency and rebounding are above average.

So how good is Brandon Jennings? About 18 months ago Jennings was in high school. Now at 20 years of age - before the age he can start drinking (legally) - he's averaging 34 minutes a night for the Milwaukee Bucks. Since 1977-78, there have only been 24 guards to average more than 20 minutes per game before they reached their 21st birthday so the playing time Jennings is getting is fairly unusual.

His productivity, though, is even more unique. NBA fans (and coaches and sports writers) tend to focus on scoring in evaluating an NBA player yet obviously there are other factors that matter. Factors like poise, leadership, basketball IQ and decision making are all crucial when evaluating players. Jennings has showed that he has all of these traits and has led the Bucks to an 8-5 start which is actually pretty impressive considering their roster is slightly on par with a WNBA team.

When we think about a player's production of wins - or Wins Produced - we see that what Jennings is doing is truly amazing. After 13 games Jennings has produced 0.181 Wins per 48 minutes [WP48]. An average player will post a WP48 of 0.100; so Jennings is well above average.

Now let's put this in perspective. Here is a list of guards who - like Jennings -- have seen significant court time before the age of 21: Isiah Thomas, Mike Bibby, Stephon Marbury, Kobe Bryant, Tony Parker, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and Eric Gordon. What do all these players have in common? Although all of these players got to play at the age of 20, none managed to be above average performers. Yes, at 20 years of age, Jennings is doing more than Kobe, Isiah, and last year's Rookie of the Year, Derrick Rose.

Across the past three decades, only three players have been as productive at Jennings at this age. In 1979-80, Magic Johnson posted a 0.353 WP48 and produced 20.6 wins and in 2005-2006 Chris Paul produced 17.9 wins with a 0.305 WP48. The following season Rajon Rondo - playing only 23.5 minutes per game - produced 7.0 wins and posted a 0.184 WP48. If Jennings keeps playing 34 minutes per game - and he maintains the level of production we are currently seeing - he will finish the season with 10.6 Wins Produced.

What makes Jennings so special is his ability to score from anywhere on the floor. He possesses great speed allowing him to drive the lane with ease but he also has a great outside shot which allows him to rain 3s on people all day.

Yes it's early. But it looks like the skeptics were wrong. Jennings has proven that he is a legit player and that going over to Europe didn't hurt him. He has already inspired others to skip college and play overseas and I am sure more will do the same. His continued success in the NBA will only further prove that kids can skip college and still prosper in the NBA.

Personally I feel like kids should have to go to college for a minimum of 2 years but I won't get into that now. The point is that Jennings is proving himself to be a solid player and one of the more exciting players in the league. He is single handedly making the Milwaukee Bucks relevant again and seems to be a lock for Rookie of the Year. Can he continue to play at such a high level for so many minutes? Probably not as his body isn't use to such a huge workload but only time will tell. For now he is the talk of the NBA and the future of his franchise.

Random YouTube Video

No comments: