How did Brandon Jennings slip to #10?

Not since the 2001 Playoffs have I been this excited about the Milwaukee Bucks. That was the year George Karl led the so-called “Big Three” — Ray Allen, Glenn Robinson and Sam Cassell — to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they faced Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers. They were just a missed Robinson jumper away from making the NBA Finals.

For a small market team to develop into a serious contender, they have to get lucky. Big name free agents generally don’t want to play in Milwaukee or any other small market, so they have to acquire their superstar through the draft. The Spurs landed Tim Duncan. The Magic landed Dwight Howard. The Cavs landed LeBron James.

That Bucks team won the first pick in the 1994 lottery (Robinson), swung a draft day trade in 1996 (Allen) and traded for an underrated point guard (Cassell) during the 1998-99 season. Robinson wasn’t a franchise player like Duncan, Howard or LeBron, but with Allen and Cassell (along with an up-and-coming reserve named Michael Redd), the Bucks were able to make a run in a watered down Eastern Conference.

This summer, the Bucks got lucky again. While it would have been nice to win the lottery and the right to draft Blake Griffin, the next best thing happened — they struck gold with the #10 pick. As the draft grew closer, it appeared that the Bucks had zeroed in on Jennings, but as Chris Sheridan writes, they didn’t think he’d be there.

“The thing that stood out for me with him was just his quickness — and his quickness in playing in a slower-tempo game,” McKinney said. “And when you watch the Euro game, they play a slower tempo there, and you would think that would be an advantage for the bigger players defending him, yet he was able to handle the pressure and pretty much do what he wanted to do.

“The only question I had at that time was it looked like he had some technical flaws in his shot, minor flaws, and he didn’t play a ton of minutes. So I came away from that game with a lot of questions, which is what you do in the scouting process — instead of making a final evaluation you come away with questions — and that’s how you evaluate him in workouts, and those questions were answered.”

They were answered in a workout the Bucks held in mid-June for point guards Ty Lawson, Jonny Flynn, Jeff Teague and Jennings.

“From that workout, in addition to what we saw on the DVDs, he really opened our eyes as to how good he was and how much we weren’t able to see in some of the games we saw overseas,” McKinney said.

It was also in that workout, general manager John Hammond said, that the Bucks saw a player whose ability to get to the basket and finish was similar to that of Tony Parker.

“We thought he’d go at No. 5, 6 or 7,” Hammond said.

Before heading to Italy, Jennings’s resume was already impressive. He was the 2008 Naismith Prep Player of the Year, which is a pretty good indicator of success in the NBA. The previous 12 winners were Kevin Love, Greg Oden, Louis Williams, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Ray Felton, DaJuan Wagner, Gerald Wallace, Donnell Harvey, Al Harrington, Shane Battier and Kobe Bryant. There are three superstars on that list (Kobe, LeBron, Howard) and other than Harvey and Wagner, they’re all significant contributors in the NBA.

I remember watching Jennings’s draft stock over at NBADraft.net as the 2008-09 college season wore on. He started the year in the top 3-5 of the site’s mock drafts, and as reports out of Italy had him struggling to fit in, he slowly dropped into the back half of the top 10. During the pre-draft workout phase, he was in the 10-15 range. It didn’t help that the 2009 Draft was heavy on point guards, including Ricky Rubio, Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry, Jonny Flynn, Jeff Teague and Ty Lawson.

Scouts questioned his jumper and his attitude. Thus far, he is getting rave reviews on both counts. He is averaging 24.8 points per game, and is shooting 48% from the field and 56% from long range. Is he going to be a 50%+ 3PT shooter? No, but he’s looking like he might settle somewhere in the low- to mid- 40’s, and for a guy with his quickness, that would make him very difficult to defend. He’s also getting along very well with Bucks head coach Scott Skiles, who has a reputation for being a hard ass.

He’s drawing comparisons to other lefties Kenny Anderson, Nick Van Exel and Tiny Archibald. To me, his game is most reminiscent of Allen Iverson’s, though right now, Jennings looks like he’s going to be a better distance shooter — Iverson has hit just 31% from 3PT in his career — and he doesn’t seem to dominate the ball as much as AI does.

Not only is Jennings a scorer, but he’s a capable playmaker (5.8 apg) and rebounder (4.7 rpg). His assists will likely grow as the Bucks start to get a few more pieces around him. Right now, along with center Andrew Bogut, the team is starting Carlos Delfino, Hakim Warrick and Luc Mbah a Moute. Those aren’t exactly marquee names, and the Bucks are still 6-3. Granted, six of the team’s nine games have been at home, but that’s a good start nonetheless.

Of course, it is early. He’s only played nine games, and it’s going to be tough for him to keep up this pace. But all signs point to the Bucks striking gold at #10. Hell, the Clippers can keep Blake Griffin. We’ll take “Young Money.”


Photo from fOTOGLIF

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