55 and under: Jennings’ pace slows from hot start
Brandon Jennings(notes) walked into Milwaukee’s Carnevore Steakhouse Moderne coming off the game of his young life. He had scored 55 points, just three shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s rookie record set nearly four decades earlier, and the news had apparently spread. As Jennings strolled to his table, the restaurant’s other patrons serenaded him with a standing ovation.
“We’re glad to have him,” said Eric Kaye, the steakhouse’s manager. “We haven’t had much excitement here in a while.”
Jennings has given the Milwaukee Bucks some buzz, if not a few more wins. His remarkable double-nickel performance against the Golden State Warriors on Nov. 14 brought Milwaukee’s NBA franchise a level of attention it hadn’t seen since Ray Allen(notes) and Glenn Robinson were leading the Bucks to the Eastern Conference finals. Slam Magazine put Jennings on its cover. Talk shows wanted him as a guest. The Bucks were even given a pair of national TV appearances.
“I didn’t expect it this fast,” Jennings said.
Nearly two months later, however, with the Bucks set to again play the Warriors, Jennings admits his 55-point game has been both a blessing and a curse. He’s enjoyed the attention, but that also brought increased expectations for the 20-year-old guard.
Defenses are keying on him more, sometimes bringing double-teams, and Jennings says he feels pressure to score big every night to please fans. He hasn’t reached 30 points in a game since his 55-point performance, and his scoring and shooting percentage have steadily dropped. He averaged 22.1 points on 42 percent shooting in November, 16.7 points on 37.6 percent shooting in December and 10.5 points on 26.9 percent shooting in January, so far. The Bucks have suffered, too. After winning eight of their first 11 games, they entered Friday in 10th place in the East with a 15-21 record.
“Everybody is expecting me to score 50,” Jennings said. “If I don’t have like 20 or more everybody’s like, ‘C’mon man, you got to step up your game.’ ‘You’re hitting the rookie wall’ or something like that.”
Jennings points to his assist-to-turnover ratio, which has noticeably improved, as evidence that his game hasn’t dropped off that much. Still, Bucks coach Scott Skiles said he wants to make sure his rookie doesn’t give in to the expectations.
“We don’t want him thinking before-hand, ‘I got to do this. I got to do that,’ ” Skiles said. “The game tells you what to do.”
Jennings said one of the reasons for his scoring drop was that he was less aggressive offensively because of the temporary return of Bucks star Michael Redd(notes). Now that Redd is out for the rest of the season after tearing ligaments in his left knee, Jennings has vowed to return to “The Other Brandon.”
“I got to start taking more shots now,” he said.
The increased attention has brought other stress for Jennings, most of it involving his since-suspended Twitter account. On Dec. 18, the NBA fined him $7,500 for putting out a Twitter message celebrating a win against Portland within 45 minutes after the game. According to the NBA’s social media policy, players cannot tweet after games until they have finished talking to the media.
Jennings also mistakenly thought he was in a tweeting war with Los Angeles Lakers guard Jordan Farmar(notes) this week. The dispute peaked when Jennings wrote, “See you should be worried about your spot. Shannon Brown(notes)??? That’s all imma say.” Jennings eventually learned that he was debating with a Farmar imposter. Jennings deleted his account the following day.
“I just shut it down,” Jennings said. “I know all my fans are mad about it because they really enjoyed my company and I just kept it real with everybody.”
While Jennings has endured his share of struggles over the past two months, he’s not ready to trade in his 55-point game or the rest of his impressive two-week stretch in November when he averaged 31 points over six games. He actually thinks his 32-point, nine-assist performance against the Denver Nuggets on Nov. 11 was his best overall game. But that didn’t bring him nearly the attention as his game against the Warriors.
“It was a special night,” Jennings said. “That was a night I couldn’t miss. I was just in a zone. I just felt like the basket was getting bigger and bigger and I couldn’t miss.”
And Jennings can certainly appreciate the past two months a whole lot more when he remembers that a year ago he was sitting on the bench in Italy. Compare that to now: As the Bucks wrapped up a recent practice at a San Francisco health club, three employees asked if they could take pictures with Jennings.
The 20-year-old rookie smiled. “Just like that,” Jennings said, “all of this is happening after I hit 55.”
Changing of the guard in Sacramento?
The two months that Sacramento Kings guard Kevin Martin(notes) spent on the bench recovering from surgery on his left wrist afforded him a good opportunity to see Tyreke Evans develop into one of the NBA’s top rookies. Along the way, Evans just may have also supplanted Martin as the face of the franchise.
Martin is now ready to return, and even he acknowledges the question everyone around the Kings wants answered: Can Evans and K-Mart not only co-exist, but also make each other better?
Martin thinks so.
“We both have different games,” Martin said. “Mine is moving without the ball and his is dribbling and making things happen. We have the potential to be a great backcourt if we figure it out. I tell people if we can’t figure it out, we’ll still going to be pretty good together.
“We are not two big ego players. I came from being a 15th man my rookie year to today. I respect his game – where work and not getting too bigheaded can take you. That’s just my personality anyway.”
The Kings began the season with Martin starting at shooting guard and Evans at point guard. Evans often deferred to Martin before taking advantage of Martin’s absence to grow into the leading Rookie of the Year candidate. What was forgotten was that Martin averaged 30.6 points through the first five games before he was injured.
The Kings hope Martin’s perimeter shooting will open the lane for Evans. And to make the playoffs, Martin said, the Kings need “two great offensive-ability players.”
“I love that kid,” Martin said of Evans. “I was pushing for him when he got drafted. I liked him then and love him now. I haven’t played beside a player like that who can carry an offense since Ron [Artest]. We are both versatile players when it comes to offense. I don’t think it’s going to be a problem.”
Evans’ emergence has only increased speculation that the Kings could look to trade Martin if the two guards have trouble playing together. Martin, however, has spoken with Kings general manager Geoff Petrie and, for now at least, he doesn’t believe he’s going anywhere.
“You hear them,” Martin said of the trade whispers. “But you just listen to the smart people when it comes to that. And that’s Geoff Petrie. I know that they’re just rumors and I’ll keep it at that.”
Waiting on T-Mac
The Houston Rockets have recently spoken with the New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls and Philadelphia 76ers about Tracy McGrady(notes), but one league source said a deal didn’t appear imminent. The one constant in the talks, the source said, is the Rockets want to get a young, athletic big man to put alongside center Yao Ming(notes) next season.
The Knicks would gladly part with seldom-used rookie forward Jordan Hill(notes) in a package for McGrady, but the Rockets don’t seem too interested. Houston likes Joakim Noah(notes), but he’s too valuable for the Bulls to give up for McGrady. And the Sixers have scoffed at sending Marreese Speights(notes) or Thaddeus Young(notes) to Houston.
Little man Nate draws interest
The Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers are among the teams who have expressed some interest in New York Knicks guard Nate Robinson(notes), league sources said. Robinson’s base-year status, however, makes it difficult for any trade and the Knicks are said to be reluctant to ship Robinson to an Eastern Conference team, further complicating the Celtics’ efforts to land him.
The Memphis Grizzlies also have shown interest in Robinson, but the feeling, for now, isn’t mutual. Robinson can veto any trade and doesn’t appear eager to move to Memphis.
The loss of rookie forward Blake Griffin(notes) to season-ending knee surgery caught more than a few of his Los Angeles Clippers teammates by surprise. “I know he was looking forward to making a splash with the Clippers this season,” Camby said. “But knowing him, he’s going to make this negative into a positive and come back next season more determined than ever.” Can the Clippers reach the postseason without Griffin? “We’ve been playing the whole season without him, so it won’t be that much of an adjustment for us,” Camby said. “I still feel confident in the guys we still have here now to make a run towards the playoffs.” … After Sunday’s game in Los Angeles against the Clippers, the Cleveland Cavaliers will have only 16 road games remaining. None of their trips are longer than two games, and the farthest west they have to travel is San Antonio. In other words, they could be just about done with the most rugged part of their schedule. “You knew it was going to be tough because we had a lot of games on the road to start the season,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said. “Our guys have responded well to it.” … The Miami Heat are asking fans to donate bottled water, towels, clothing and non-perishable canned goods for the victims of the devastating earthquake in Haiti at home games over the next week. South Florida has the greatest concentration of Haitians in the United States. “The main thing to do is try to figure out what we can do to help,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade(notes) said. “That’s what I’m trying to do now, try to figure out what we can do to help the cause as much as we can.” … An NBA source said the Denver Nuggets made a failed run at acquiring seldom-used center Aaron Gray(notes) from the Bulls. … Toronto Raptors assistant general manager Masai Ujiri could be the next front-office executive to leave his team for Africa. Former Dallas Mavericks director of scouting Amadou Fall, who is from Senegal, recently took a vice president’s job with the NBA to help open the league’s offices in Johannesburg, South Africa. Ujiri, a native of Nigeria, has a contract that runs through June 1 with the Raptors. He is torn about the possibility of leaving a job he loves for a position back in his homeland. … NBA scouts are making time to see New Mexico junior Darington Hobson, who is 6-foot-7 and plays all three perimeter positions. Hobson is averaging 16.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.2 assists through 18 games.