New York Knicks: Brandon Jennings' new attitude has fueled his on-court maturation
Dec 9, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; New York Knicks guard Brandon Jennings (3) drives past Sacramento Kings guard Darren Collison (7) during the first quarter at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

New York KnicksBrandon Jennings was criticized for selfish play and poor decision making. On a new team, he’s undergone a transformation.

Brandon Jennings was a polarizing figure before he even began his NBA career. Jennings made headlines when he decided to go against the system. As a teenager in high school.

He was one of the nation’s top recruits out of the prestigious Oak Hill Academy (the same school that produced Carmelo Anthony) and committed to playing his college basketball for the perennial powerhouse Arizona Wildcats.


A year later, Jennings announced that he thought playing a year overseas would be his best route to gain experience for the NBA. Not an American college. He eventually signed a contract to play professionally in Italy.

A year later, Jennings announced that he thought playing a year overseas would be his best route to gain experience for the NBA. Not an American college. He eventually signed a contract to play professionally in Italy.

Jennings was still the 10th pick in the 2009 draft, but experts speculated that he would’ve gone higher if he’d chosen the conventional route.

Unlike most rookies who are top picks Jennings’ team wasn’t awful in his first year. The Milwaukee Bucks won 46 games before getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs and Jennings started all 82 games.

Jennings dropped 55 points in his rookie season and broke the Milwaukee franchise rookie scoring record set by Kareem-Abdul Jabaar in 1970. He was just two points short of the franchise scoring record set by Michael Redd. Jennings finished third in Rookie of the Year voting.

He set the tone for the rest of his career by attempting the most field goals on the team with 1,216. It was 300 more than the player in second, Andrew Bogut (910). Jennings’ usage percentage as a rookie was a team-high 26.1%, and he shot higher from three-point range (37.4%) than from the field (37.1%).

He averaged just 5.7 assists in 32.6 minutes to go along with 2.4 turnovers. Brandon Jennings had immediately earned a reputation as a reckless volume shooter. Players like that typically don’t change.

And Jennings didn’t. Not in Milwaukee anyway. He was with the Bucks for four seasons and averaged 17.0 points on 15.5 FGA and a usage percentage of 25.2% on a slash line of .394/.354/.813. Jennings took a lot of shots, but in his defense, the Bucks didn’t exactly surround him with talent.

Jennings’ Bucks teams went to the playoffs twice and got bounced in the first round both times. When head coach Scott Skiles was fired during the 2012-13 season, Jennings made it clear he wanted out of Milwaukee.

He ended up with the Detroit Pistons via a sign-and-trade agreement that gave Milwaukee Brandon Knight and Khris Middleton (maybe the best thing Jennings ever did for the franchise) where even Jennings admitted he needed a fresh start.

The former high school superstar had garnered an unfortunate reputation and in an interview with Yahoo Sports! he admitted to losing focus while in Milwaukee.

Jennings wasn’t picked up by the Pistons until the final day of July due to concerns over his character. He told Yahoo that being passed over by teams in free agency was a “humbling experience” and it “opened [his] eyes” that he needed to make basketball his No. 1 priority again.

Unfortunately, his time with the Pistons couldn’t have gone any worse.

The point guard’s first season (2013-14) was his only full one (80 games), and his shooting percentages dipped to pathetic levels. Jennings was 37.3% from the field but averaged 14.2 attempts per game. He was 13th in the league in total three-point FGA but shot just 33.7% from downtown.

Detroit changed coaches for 2014-15 (to Stan Van Gundy), Jennings ruptured his Achilles and played in just 41 games, and was replaced in the starting lineup by current Pistons point guard Reggie Jackson.

Jennings only played 23 more games for the Pistons in 2015-16 before being traded to the Orlando Magic. It was a brutal contract year coming off the injury; playing in only 48 games and finishing with just 6.9 points, 3.5 assists, and 18.1 minutes per game. He shot career-lows across the board, .368/.329/.731.

After a season like that, some guys might’ve packed it in. Jennings had gone from rookie superstar to a combo guard who couldn’t defend seemingly overnight, and his hope at a career rebirth in Detroit didn’t pan out.

But Jennings was still young (26) this past summer when he was negotiating a contract with a new team as a free agent. And teams were always looking for point guard help. One team that’s seemingly always on the hunt for their next floor general was the New York Knicks.

Jennings told the New York Times before the 2009 draft that he hoped the Knicks would select him with the No. 8 pick. As a young point guard, he felt he could thrive in Mike D’Antoni’s offense.

“I really want to come here, I’m not going to lie,” Jennings said Monday after working out for the Knicks and expressing his appreciation for Coach Mike D’Antoni’s run-and-gun offense. “D’Antoni’s system is great for all point guards. You see what he did for Steve Nash.”

The Knicks took Jordan Hill with the 8th pick instead, and DeMar DeRozan went at No. 9 with Jennings going 10th. Another brutal year in the draft for New York.

Seven years later Jennings had a chance to play for the Knicks finally. But there was a catch. He’d need to do it as the backup. And he’d have to take a cheap deal.

The Knicks had just traded for Derrick Rose and committed $122 million to Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee. At a time when point guards like D.J. Augustin were getting four-year, $29 million contracts would Jennings accept a discount?

The answer was a resounding yes. Jennings signed a one-year, $5 million deal. It was one of the best value contracts of the summer. Phil Jackson was praised for being able to convince Jennings to accept a sixth man role, but that’s just how much Jennings wanted to be a Knick.

For the first time in his career, Jennings was playing with elite scorers. He knew he’d have to take a backseat to their production, but he didn’t mind becoming more of a facilitator. Through 23 games as a rookie, Jennings averaged 35.5 minutes and 18.4 FGA.

New York Knicks

In 23 games as a Knick, he’s playing just 22.9 minutes and taking only 6.9 FGA. Jennings leads the team in assists and assist percentage by a wide margin and is the captain of a fast-paced scoring second unit.

Although Jennings has been dreadful from beyond the arc (29.3%), his field goal percentage is hovering around the 40% mark for the first time since 2014-15. It isn’t a coincidence that all of this is happening with Jennings’ usage percentage at a career-low (18.1%).

The transformation has been incredible. The point guard is on track to earn some Most Improved Player Award buzz.

https://youtu.be/5AzeX7PlBSk

While the concept of loyalty in the NBA is laughable and super teams control the balance of power, Jennings showed a type of emotion towards the city of New York before even stepping foot on the court.

But when he suited up in that Knicks uniform it was easy to tell that he belonged. You could tell by game three of the preseason that Brandon Jennings should’ve been a Knick all along.

An NBA preseason game is usually nothing more than a meaningless exhibition to draw even more money for the increasingly prosperous league. Except when Brandon Jennings is playing at Madison Square Garden in a New York Knicks uniform.

It was his second game at the World’s Most Famous Arena, and his new team was going up against the Washington Wizards. Jennings’ excited attitude on the floor would lead you to believe head was matched up with the Wizards’ All-Star leader John Wall.

But there was one minute left in the third quarter of a preseason game, so it was Casper Ware. Ware has only appeared in nine NBA games (back in 2013-14) and is currently playing in Australia. But Jennings didn’t care about his counterpart’s resume.

https://youtu.be/pIvgq7pRoAM

He saw an angry basketball player and decided to mess with him. At that moment, the 6-foot-1, 170-pounder, had endeared himself to Knicks’ fans. At that moment Knicks’ fans saw John Starks.

The same John Starks that Jennings compared himself to during that very game.

It was an exhibition and fans were already filling the Garden with chants of his name. Even Kristaps Porzingis had to be a little jealous.

Before the regular season even tipped off, Jennings was a beloved figure on this brand new team. It took eight seasons for Brandon Jennings to find his way to New York finally, but it was worth the wait. The kid from Compton, California who blew off college and flamed out as a rookie superstar is where he belongs.

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I'm ESNY's Executive Editor for EliteSportsNY.com. I cover the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets. Email: chip.murphy@elitesportsny.com Chip Murphy covers the NBA for Elite Sports NY. You can find him on Twitter @ChipperMurphy.