As the Raptors prepare to play host to the Bucks on Wednesday, they know the key is Jennings, his explosive game, ability to go off at any moment and a jump shot that keeps improving.
Here’s a kid who went against conventional wisdom by playing basketball in Italy, a decision that left many teams unwilling to draft him in 2009 until Milwaukee took him with the 10th overall pick.
With limited playing time in Italy, NBA scouts weren’t sold on Jennings, uncertain whether he could play the point when the book on him said he was more likely to get off his own shot than create for others.
In today’s NBA, more and more point guards are shoot-first, pass-second, with fewer embracing the Steve Nash mentality of getting teammates involved before his own shot is taken.
With a chip on a shoulder and a burst that has few equals, Jennings had flashes as a rookie. Flash forward to this his third year and there are many teams who would want to re-do the 2009 draft.
“He’s really improved, his body language, his confidence,” Houston Rockets assistant coach Kelvin Sampson said of Jennings during an interview with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “He’s got some swagger now.
“I think he got knocked on his heels a little bit last year because he didn’t have the immediate success. I know people don’t want to hear it, but a lot of his struggles last year were a by-product of all the injuries they (Bucks) had.
“(Carlos) Delfino (an ex-Raptor) was out with concussions; Andrew (Bogut) was never healthy. (Ersan) Ilyasova had the problem with the concussion. We just never got in a rhythm last year, and I think for a second-year guy like Brandon, that’s unfortunate.”
Sampson, who joined Kevin McHale’s staff in Houston this season, was an assistant in Milwaukee under head coach Scott Skiles, whose old-school ways many believed would clash with the new-school Jennings.
As he gets set to play the Raptors, it’s hard to knock Jennings who, heading into Tuesday was averaging a career-high 19.9 points, has put together seven games of at least 50% shooting and who has revelled in some of the biggest backdrops.
Against Miami, Jennings basically went toe-to-toe with LeBron James, responding each time the Heat star would knock down a shot. He wound up draining seven three-pointers in a 31-point outing. It would mark the second time this season the Bucks had beaten the Heat.
During Milwaukee’s visit to New York, Jennings once again showed why the Knicks made a huge mistake in not taking him, torching the home side with a season-high 36 points to give Milwaukee its first road win of the season.
To the uninitiated, the Knicks used the third overall pick in 2009 to take Jordan Hill.
If ever a guy was suited to Mike D’Antoni’s high-octane offence, it’s Jennings.
If ever a guy was suited to play in the glorified pickup game that is all-star weekend, it’s Jennings, whose time will come.
With names such as Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo, Andre Iguodala, Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson, Jennings is in tough, but he’s definitely in the conversation.
“I would think I would have tears of joy if I did make it,” Jennings said when asked of a possible all-star selection.
“I can just remember me playing as a kid in Europe that everybody doubted and said I would never make it. And (people) saying I’d never be a consistent player or I’d never be an all-star.”
TALE OF TWO GUARDS
DeMar DeRozan and Brandon Jennings both grew up in Compton, Calif., and were both taken in the 2009 NBA draft.
The two are friends who were separated by one draft slot and roughly 30 days in age.
And yet they are different, the off-guard in DeRozan desperately trying find consistency and legitimacy as a scoring option and Jennings, a point guard who is enjoying a breakout season.
At the time of the draft, the Raptors needed athleticism with DeRozan the obvious choice when Toronto picked at No. 9.
Jennings, who refused to work out for the Raptors, would go No. 10 to Milwaukee.
Three years later, it’s worth debating whether the Raptors made the right choice, whether Jennings, who has a lot of Damon Stoudamire qualities, would be better suited for Toronto.
In 2009, Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn and Steph Curry went ahead of Jennings, while guys such as Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Jeff Teague, Eric Maynor, Darren Collison and Rodrigue Beaubois, all point guards, went in the first round.