Just when the NBA was about to slip off into hibernation for the rest of the summer, the Milwaukee Bucks and Detroit Pistons pulled off a trade to once again make the NBA relevant. The Bucks sent lightning-quick point guard Brandon Jennings to the Pistons and received guard Brandon Knight, forward Khris Middleton and center Viacheslav Kravtsov in return.
With the additions of Josh Smith and now Brandon Jennings, the NBA aficionados have already cracked wise about the potential trouble that may lie ahead for the Pistons. Like Brandon Knight was a better option at the point guard spot, hardly. The Pistons were in a precarious situation. They were too good to bottom out, but still not ready to be taking seriously in the suddenly competitive Eastern Conference.
At this point, Brandon Knight is known more for the ferocious dunk put on him by DeAndre Jordan than he is known for his play on the court. Sure, Knight is only 21 years old and has solid averages of 13.1ppg, 3.9apg, to go along with 3.2rpg. The stat geeks will tell you about the bad shots Jennings takes while shooting at an abysmal .39 percent from the field for his career. But what exactly was Detroit going to be with Knight running the show? An eighth seed? Maybe?
Signing Jennings to a three-year, $25 million deal isn’t as bad as some may think. For $8 million a year, the Pistons receive a player who has career averages of 17 ppg, 5.7 apg and 3.4 rebounds per game. Those numbers are nearly identical to the career average of another speedy point guard, Tony Parker. We forget that Parker played with stacked San Antonio teams when he first entered the league, but get this- Parker actually had more turnovers in his first four years (743) than Jennings (695). In fact, if we compared each player’s first four years, Jennings has better numbers than Parker across the board except for field goal percentage. Obviously being the focal point of defenses and a young player with the green light, having a poor shooting percentage from Jennings should be expected. He didn’t exactly have Tim Duncan around to help either.
Let’s try to dig a little deeper into his situation:
Jennings came from a terrible situation, playing overseas for the Lottomatica Roma of the Italian League instead of sticking in the USA to play college ball, and getting time to learn the game. He sat on the bench for Lottomatica, and played very little. He then joined a crappy Bucks team as a rookie and led them to 46 wins, good enough for a sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. Can you name any players on that Bucks team? Yeah, thought so. Unless you are still on that Andrew Bogut bandwagon or still believe in John Salmons, you probably forgot who was on that team.
Following some heady acquisitions like Stephen Jackson (and his budding rap career) and Monta Ellis, coupled with a broken foot suffered by Jennings, the Bucks struggled for the next two seasons before finally making it back to the playoffs this past year. Jennings’ four years with the Bucks was marked with coaching turmoil, roster turnover and very little veteran leadership. Scoring 55 points as a rookie may have been the worst thing for Jennings as it probably gave him the green light to jack up shots whenever he felt the need, which was often.
Back to the Pistons now. Detroit has one of the best young front court tandems in the game with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. The acquisition of Josh Smith and Chauncey Billups pretty much cemented Detroit’s fate of not bottoming out. And everyone knows that in the NBA you either want to be good, or bottom out for a high draft pick. To be an average team in the NBA is the worst spot to be in. Now to Billups- while certainly past his prime, brings a dimension Detroit has lacked probably since he was traded to Denver for Allen Iverson: leadership. You know who else has needed leadership since he’s entered the NBA? Brandon Jennings.
The ages of the Pistons’ core (minus Billups) are as follows: 23, 23, 19, 27. That would be Jennings, Smith, Monroe and Drummond. Meanwhile, teams in the Eastern Conference like the Nets, Knicks and Heat could be drastically different in the next year or two. Jennings is going to be playing with a chip on his shoulder and I’m willing to think Billups could help make him into the next Mike Conley and not Kenny Anderson 2.0. I’m not willing to say coach Maurice Cheeks is the second coming of Phil Jackson, but he’s been around the game long enough to lead a team. Cheeks, who was a good point guard in his own right, should also help the development of Jennings.
The Pistons and their President of Basketball Operations, Joe Dumars (the man who pulled the trigger on the trade), should be applauded for taking a shot at an explosive young point guard who’s only 23 years of age. For Jennings, this is easily the most talented team he’s been part of. The leadership of Billups and Cheeks will go a long way in helping Jennings with decision-making and leading a team. Coach Cheeks is a defensive-minded coach that should get the most out of Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond on the back end. Think about the potential of those three players playing defense for a second. This team has the potential and ability to shut teams down, while getting out and finishing on the break with the speedy Jennings leading the way.
Jennings no doubt has his deficiencies. His assist-to-turnover ratio was ranked 25th in the league last year. His field-goal percentage ranked second worst among the 123 players who averaged 15 field-goal attempts per game last year, according to ESPN. So there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of the trade. But remember, it’s a three-year deal worth $25 million at around $8 million/year, far less than the $12 million annually Jennings was looking for.
The Pistons went from potential fringe playoff team to a team that looks like a postseason contender. This young Pistons squad will now have expectations placed on them, which is more than you could have said with combo guard Brandon Knight leading the show. This has all the makings for a great story season for Motown or a disaster in the making. We shall see.