By Jonathan Hartzell, NBA.com
It’s been more than three weeks since the beginning of the 2013 NBA free agency period and Brandon Jennings is still without a team. The streaky point guard is not only unsigned, but also unmentioned, as there have been few reports of any teams interested in his services. This must be startling for Jennings who reportedly turned down a four-year, $40 million extension prior to last season, but it makes sense when you realize how little he’s recently provided the Milwaukee Bucks.
Coach Nick of BBallBreakdown simply laid out the problems with Jennings in a video released a few days ago. It’s startling to watch Jennings’ inability to finish with his right hand, play defense and run a productive offense for the Bucks. But it’s not that he lacks talent. This is the same player who torched the Golden State Warriors for 55 points in only his seventh game in the league. The same player who was one of only nine players in the NBA to average more than 17 points and 6.5 assists last season. And he’s only 23 years old!
But this is where the problems arise. The numbers mentioned above look gaudy and impressive if you ignore the fact that he only shot 39.9 percent from the field while putting them up. He hoisted up almost 16 shots per game last season and shot below 40 percent in 45 of his games. A team simply can’t win when their point guard shoots them out of so many contests.
And his problems on offense make his problems on defense ever more worrisome. Where can he benefit his team? The Bucks scored three less points and gave up 9.7 more points per 100 possessions when Brandon Jennings was on the floor last season, according to NBA.com/stats. Those are staggering splits for any player, but especially for a player who is determined to be the face of a franchise.
In addition to Jennings’ below-average play, he has also been hurt by his status as a restricted free agent. Similar to Nikola Pekovic of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who is also unsigned and restricted, teams are reluctant to make an offer to a restricted free agent like Jennings as his original team holds all of the power. If an opposing team signs Jennings to a low offer sheet, then the Bucks have three days to match and the opposing team has helped them out. If an opposing team signs Jennings to a high offer sheet, then the Bucks don’t match and the opposing team now has a point guard who can’t shoot for the next four years at a high price. If he were unrestricted, Jennings certainly would have been signed by now as there are very few 23-year-old, “starting” point guards on the market.
Unfortunately for Jennings, he is restricted and the Milwaukee Bucks seem completely ready to move on from the flashy point guard. The Bucks additions of Luke Ridnour, Carlos Delfino, and Zaza Pachulia this offseason signal the organization’s attempt to change their culture. They look ready to build around young big men Larry Sanders and John Henson and the return of Jennings could impede their transformation.
But all signs point towards Jennings accepting the Bucks’ one-year, $4.5 million qualifying offer as he may have no other options. This allows Jennings to play wherever he wants in 2014-15 and his Milwaukee return next season gives the Bucks a valuable trade asset at the February trade deadline. Most importantly for Jennings, the qualifying offer would allow him to prove he can be a productive player in the league. As this offseason has shown, Jennings hasn’t convinced many in the league of that yet.