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The NBA, A-through-Z: Brandon Jennings

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Brandon Jennings does everything with his left hand (Getty Images)

The free agents have just about all been signed up. The NBA is down to a series of Instagram photos from moving yachts and crossed fingers from worried teams hoping their players stay safe in the summer off. There’s nothing going on, save for that clock on the wall that is ticking down to the 2013-14 season.

And it’s moving SO SLOWLY.

This is why we’ve decided to pick 26 things we’re looking forward to in 2013-14. Or, at the very least, 26 things that intrigue us as we wait out an offseason that feels like it has thousands of miles left to cross before we can get to Halloween and opening week. Because there are 26 letters in the alphabet – you guessed, NBA A-through-Z.

We continue with Brandon Jennings.

The idea that a stagnant basketball culture and playbook could get in the way of a player’s development really lets the player off the hook, but it’s not an idea that should be dismissed entirely. New Detroit Piston Brandon Jennings has only known the Scott Skiles’ system since entering the NBA in 2009, but that doesn’t completely explain away what appears to be surprisingly limited growth in the years since he shocked the league by dropping 55 points on the Golden State Warriors in the seventh game of his NBA career. Jennings averaged 25.5 points per game in the first eight games of that season, and while nobody should have expected that to hold up, most surely didn’t expect the (relative) stagnation that followed from year to year.

In 2012-13, Jennings’ per-minute points, assists, and turnovers per minute were almost identical to the marks he put up in his rookie season. His shooting percentage improved, but he still missed just over 60 percent of his shots from the field for the third time in his career. This could possibly be offset by a strong three-point touch, but Jennings remains average in that area (37.5 percent last year, 35 percent on his career), and his free throw rate is alarmingly low for someone with his quickness – Jennings managed just 3.5 free throws per 36 minutes last year.

And if you think any of this was directly affected by the presence of Monta Ellis? Check his lines from year to year, with and without Monta – Ellis’ low-efficiency presence didn’t really tip the scales for Brandon. Jennings hasn’t tailed off, but he hasn’t taken off either.

The optimist hopes that this can be traced back to former Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles’ system, one that even managed to make the Jason Kidd-led Phoenix Suns a dull watch over a decade ago. Skiles’ overreliance on mid-range shooting has long been a bugaboo, and because Jennings doesn’t seem to mind pulling up for those casual 19-footers, his numbers (the efficiency ticks, not the raw ones) suffered mightily.

The Bucks earned this. Instead of making the smart move and bringing in an anti-Skiles with Scott rumbling about wanting to leave the Bucks a full year before the team and coach parted ways, the Bucks instead kept his assistant staff in place and hired Skiles Lite coach Jim Boylan to finish out the year. Because that had worked out so well before.

As it stands, heading into 2013-14, Jennings is entering the second real program of his NBA career under new Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks. That’s where the optimism comes in. Because in building a roster that will feature two of the NBA’s most laughed-at shot selectors in Jennings and Josh Smith, the Pistons will be completely relying on a change in scenery to do all the work for them.

Jennings, in meeting with local media for the first time on Tuesday, is sort of bankin’ on the same thing. From Detroit Bad Boys:

"It's my first year actually playing with a frontcourt like this, with (Andre) Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh (Smith)," Jennings said. "We have the two top big men in the league, two young guys that have a lot of potential. They're going to take my game to the next level and I'll help take their game to the next level."

[…]

"I definitely have to change my game for this team," Jennings said. "The things I was doing in Milwaukee, I won't have to do here. You know, take all those bad shots, because we have so many pieces."

It’s true that, in Monroe and Smith, Jennings will be working with front court contributors that can create their own shots. And in Drummond, he’ll have a lob partner to work with provided that Drummond can stay on the floor for significant stretches of time.

Jennings’ terrible shot selection in Milwaukee wasn’t just influenced by Skiles’ sets or his lack of helpers up top. The guy truly made bad decisions with the ball, and with his team’s offense. A career 39.4 percent mark from the field and just 3.7 free throws attempted per 36 minutes of career play cannot be fully or even mostly blamed on those mitigating influences. Jennings has to change his game. He has to COMPLETELY change his game. The 2013-14 season, which starts just a month after he turns 24, has to work as his rookie year.

That could be a fun thing. Because, for eight games or so all the way back in 2009, his Bucks turn was a pretty fun rookie year. Now he’s got Andre Drummond and a whole pack of lefties to throw in there. We’ll be watching.

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