On The Stashed’s 33rd And 7th With Anthony Donahue podcast, New York Knicks back-up point guard Brandon Jennings confirmed he wanted to go to the Big Apple on draft day.
“Back then when I was getting drafted, [Mike] D’Antoni was definitely the coach,” chuckled Jennings, who averaged 32.7 points, 7.4 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game as a senior at Oak Hill Academy. He would opt to play professionally in Italy for a year instead of at the collegiate level for the Arizona Wildcats.
“And I definitely loved the style of basketball and his play. The way he played was up and down, so at the time, yeah. Um. But, you know, things didn’t work [out that way].”
The electrifying, 6-foot-1 scorer from Compton, California averaged 15.5 points and 5.7 assists as a first-year Buck, including a rookie record 55-point outing against the Golden State Warriors.
Four seasons later, Jennings found himself in a Pistons uniform, and in the 2014-15 season, he’d suffer an Achilles injury that has kept him out of 75 games over the past two seasons.
The 26-year-old point guard says his injury is a thing of the past.
“I’m feeling good,” Jennings said. “Feeling good. You know, I was able to have a full summer where I was able to workout every day, get better and actually play. So that was my whole thing, just being able to play all summer.”
Detroit dealt Jennings mid-season to the Orlando Magic as part of a deal for Tobias Harris. He never caught his footing in Orlando’s rotation and ended up a free agent at season’s end.
In July, the Knicks signed Jennings to a one-year deal worth $5 million. His signing was part of a roster revamp that included acquisitions of former league Most Valuable Player Derrick Rose, center Joakim Noah and shooting guard Courtney Lee.
Jennings says team president Phil Jackson told him his role for this season.
“[Jackson] said he expects me to be sixth man of the year,” Jennings said at his July introductory press conference. “So I’m definitely gonna embrace that role. I don’t see why I can’t be in that conversation, and I’m fine with it. I’m definitely fine with it.”
New York has missed the playoffs in each of the past three seasons, including a franchise worst 17-65 record two years ago. But Jennings says he’s excited for this upcoming season.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “I mean, not just being a Knick, but being able to be in the NBA for this long, you know? Blessed. They say the window is three-to-five years, and for myself coming off of an Achilles injury, I’m definitely just humbled and blessed to be in this position.”
Aside from its splashy pick-ups, New York hired ex-Suns coach Jeff Hornacek and retained both forward Lance Thomas and guard Sasha Vujacic. The Knicks also added front court depth by signing 2015 second-rounder Willy Hernangomez, 2015 Summer League standout Maurice Ndour, undrafted rookie Marshall Plumlee and Lithuanian forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas.
Asked how important it is building chemistry over the summer with the new guys, Jennings said “it’s definitely important.”
“We look good on paper, of course,” he continued. “But, you know, guys need to know each other. You know, me, D-Rose, Porzingis, we all got a chance to workout with each other this summer. I’ve been hooping a lot at UCLA with some of the guys and things like that. You know, it’s been great.”
Jennings says he’s always brought his A-game when visiting Madison Square Garden, and the numbers back him up — some of the time.
Prior to his Achilles injury, the crafty perimeter threat scored 22 or more points in four of nine trips to the Garden, including a 37-point barrage in a 2010-11 win.
“It’s just, the lights are bright,” Jennings said of having a little something extra when he played in New York. “Every night, it’s a sold-out crowd. You know, Spike Lee is sitting courtside. You know all these celebrities and things like that. So you definitely want to put on a good performance.”
A Rose Thorn
Jennings was able to watch Derrick Rose develop from a high school prospect to a star at Memphis and eventually the league’s MVP. He also saw how three consecutive leg injuries derailed Rose’s career.
Last season, the 27-year-old guard averaged just 16.4 points per game, essentially a career-low outside of his 10-game 2013-14 season.
Jennings believes from working out and playing with Rose the ex-Bulls guard is returning to his old form.
“The way he’s moving out there on the court definitely looks like the MVP that won [in 2011], so that’s a great thing,” Jennings said. “He’s definitely ready. I’m excited for him.”
“He’s coming off of a year where he probably didn’t have his best year — me, him or Joakim, you know. So, we’re all hungry. And that’s the best thing.”
Porzingis placed second in Rookie of the Year voting last season after averaging 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. Jennings was very high on his sophomore teammate.
“I mean, his potential is out of this world,” he said of Porzingis. “The thing I love about him is he doesn’t back down from anybody.
“I think for him, being around all of us… playing with D-Rose and Joakim, I think his game is going to get better and better every year. And I’m really excited for him.”
Jennings also talks about his love for Hip Hop and R&B music. You can listen to the full podcast here.
Kristian Winfield covers the New York Knicks for Elite Sports NY. You can start the conversation on Twitter @Krisplashed.