Meet your NBA ROY frontrunner: Brandon Jennings

With Blake Griffin sidelined for the first six weeks of the season, the race for ROY is suddenly wide open. Griffin will still have plenty of time to stake his claim, but for now, the spotlight is elsewhere. It was supposed to shift to Tyreke Evans in Sacramento, but the Bucks’ Brandon Jennings has stolen the show.

He nearly became the second rookie in the history of the NBA to register a triple-double in his first game when he posted 16 points, nine rebounds and nine assists against the Sixers. The next night, after a quiet first half where he only scored three points, he erupted for 16 points in the third quarter, leading Milwaukee to a huge comeback (and an eventual win) against the Pistons. Here’s a look at a phenomenal steal and finish that brought the house down…

I have watched countless Bucks games over the last few years, and I haven’t seen the Bradley Center that electrified since the “Big Three” of Ray Allen, Glenn Robinson and Sam Cassell had the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Everyone knew he could attack the basket, but the impressive thing about Jennings thus far is his outside jumper. He has shown good extension and follow through and there’s nothing about his shot that would indicate that this accuracy would be a fluke. It looks a lot more consistent and fluid than it did in the highlights I’ve seen from his year in Europe and his stint in summer league.

In his PER Diem, ESPN’s John Hollinger discusses how Jennings’s time in Europe isn’t a good reflection of the kid’s talent. (Insider subscription required.)

If he has a weakness, it’s at the defensive end. Jennings is quick and will get his share of steals, but fouls are a concern. He had five in each of the Bucks’ first two games, and at that rate he’ll have a hard time averaging enough minutes to snag the rookie of the year award. He had a lot of trouble with the size of Detroit’s Rodney Stuckey during the first half especially, and big guards may give him trouble all season. He’ll get a stern test against one of the biggest — Chicago’s Derrick Rose — in his next game Tuesday night.

Nonetheless, his European experiment appears to have been a beneficial experience. Jennings got a chance to play and improve, not to mention a serious ego check. Although he didn’t put up great numbers in Rome, his learnings from playing there enabled him to be among the league’s readiest rookies, even though he never played one collegiate game.

That, clearly, will be food for thought for other youngsters who contemplate the same decision. In fact, it eventually could undermine the NBA’s efforts to raise the age minimum from 19 to 20 years old, because it doesn’t really help the league if its future stars are laboring in obscurity in Europe rather than building fans in the NCAA. If Jennings does end up as a surprise rookie of the year winner, the current trickle of prep stars across the Atlantic could quickly become a torrent.

Granted, the sample size is very small (two games) and he wasn’t going against the greatest of defenders (Louis Williams and Ben Gordon), but Jennings proved he can play. He may not remain the ROY frontrunner all season, but for now, he’s the man.

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