Jennings nice fit for Bucks
Leading the moribund Milwaukee Bucks to the postseason? No, he expected that.
Scoring 55 points in a game less than a month into his NBA career, however, was just as shocking to Jennings as it was to the rest of the league.
“I never thought in a million years I’d score 55 points in a game,” he said.
Going into the Bucks’ first-round playoff series against Atlanta, Jennings has made peace with that magical night after calling it a curse earlier in the year. Despite the perception that Nov. 14 performance against Golden State created, Jennings is more interested in assists, wins and silencing his critics than he is in scoring.
Jennings said he hears it all: that he’s too small to be a serious player, too flashy to be a dependable leader and too stubborn to fit in.
“They said at the beginning I wouldn’t be able to lead this team as a point guard to the playoffs,” Jennings said. “It’s going to take me some time, it would do this, it would do that. I proved them wrong.”
While it’s not exactly clear who “they” and “them” are, it doesn’t really matter. Those slights, real or perceived, serve as motivation for Jennings.
“Now I just have to go into the playoffs and make my name,” he said. “Make my fame, as they say. Your name is made in the regular season. Your fame is made in the playoffs.”
Jennings certainly is making a name for himself.
Flip on the TV, and there’s a glimpse of him in a new Under Armour commercial campaign after the apparel company gave him a four-year deal more than 12 months before he’d get a meaningful minute in the NBA.
He has won the NBA’s Eastern Conference rookie of the month award four times and is averaging 15.5 points, 5.7 assists and 3.4 rebounds.
Still, he has all but conceded someone else will take home the top rookie trophy this year.
He believes the 55-point game is partly to blame, but says he has only tried to be a scorer when Milwaukee has needed it. His next-highest scoring night came when he scored 35 points in a double OT win in Sacramento on March 19, the same place where Kings rookie Tyreke Evans was getting all the headlines.
“That was more of a statement game to tell people don’t forget, I am one of the top rookies in the league. Don’t overlook me,” Jennings said. “I might not be putting up big numbers, but when I feel like putting up big numbers, I can.”
He’s only 20, having skipped college to go play overseas. Jennings didn’t play regularly for his team in Italy but the move still paid off when the Bucks drafted him with the No. 10 overall pick.
Now it’s looking like a masterstroke by Bucks general manager John Hammond and coach Scott Skiles, who got the point guard they needed.
Skiles, no slouch himself running a team in his 10 years in the league as a player, has worked with Jennings at every step. No, Jennings’ game is not much like his teacher’s, but their vision on the court is something they share.
Now Skiles is waiting to see what Jennings can do in the playoffs.
When asked what he has seen in Jennings’ mental makeup that makes him confident that the playoffs won’t be too big for him to handle as a rookie, Skiles paused.
“I didn’t say that,” Skiles said.
Skiles seemed to be sending a message: show me, kid.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how he responds,” Skiles said. “I would have no problem believing that Brandon’s going to come out and play very well in Game 1. You know, on the other hand, it’s a different thing. It’s something he’s got to go through.”
Jennings certainly plans to make an impact in the playoffs – but, again, not necessarily by scoring first.
“There are a lot of people who don’t get to see us play,” Jennings said. “You see highlights, but I think a lot of people will be able to see how good, how selfless we are as a team. Then, everybody will understand why I didn’t put up the numbers I’ve put (up), because I have players and I feel like being unselfish is our key to winning.”
The Bucks nabbed another scoring threat when they acquired John Salmons in a deadline-day trade. But without Jennings’ safety net, injured center Andrew Bogut, Jennings realizes more of the focus will be on him.
Of course, Milwaukee wasn’t supposed to be in the playoffs to begin with.
“A lot of people like to predict. Just like they predicted us not making the playoffs this year,” Jennings said. “Everybody has their predictions, but when it’s time to roll out the ball and get between those lines, it’s up in the air.”