The Bucks have lost C Andrew Bogut for the season, yet they are playing some of their best basketball in years. The team has taken down the Miami Heat twice, and the Lakers once, in the last ten days alone.
Why is this happening? Well, its not Stephen Jackson. He is sucking the wind out of the team’s sails. Its not Carlos Delfino. He’s in one of his biggest slumps since he came to Milwaukee.
Its PG Brandon Jennings! Jennings is on an amazing role and right now he is now the prohibitive favorite to win the Team MVP award at the end of the season.
Here’s a look at the latest Milwaukee Bucks Win Chart for 2011-12:
MILWAUKEE BUCKS WIN CHART 2011-12 (THROUGH 21 GAMES)
DUNLEAVY AND LIVINGSTON PLAYING WELL
As you can see, Brandon Jennings Value Ranking (3.1) is well past any other Buck. But he is not alone amongst the contributors. Some new Bucks are also doing well.
The new Bucks who are playing well are SF Mike Dunleavy, G Shaun Livingston, PF/C Jon Leuer, and G Beno Udrih.
Amongst the aforementioned, I would say Dunleavy has been the best contribution. If he could stay healthy, and that’s a HUGE “if”, he can transform the Bucks fortunes. In fact, if you want to go by trends, the team has seemed to trend much, much better whenever Dunleavy has played. Now, I don’t want to get into a whole “plus/minus” discussion, because I think that statistic is fraught with problems, but the Bucks have clearly played better when Dunleavy has been on the court.
But, unlike “+/-“, which claims to capture some sort of ethereal “intangible” value, I would credit Dunleavy’s value to Dunleavy himself (“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves”). Dunleavy has been fairly productive on his side of the statistical ledger, and he has been good at making his opponents box score stats look ugly. In fact, his Defensive Win Score has been outstanding, and as a cumulative result, I have him adding 1.1 wins to the Bucks and I don’t credit him with any losses. Dunleavy was a quiet post-labor addition to the Bucks, but a big one. He is an excellent “producer” and has been since, probably, his second or third season in the Association. He gets underestimated because of the amount of melanin in his skin (I believe).
The other big additions to the main rotation have been G Shaun Livingston and Jon Leuer. Livingston, like Dunleavy, has been a productive professional if and when he has been able to stay healthy. Health has been his big bugaboo. Before his ugly, ugly knee blow-out, many compared him to a young Magic Johnson. While that appears to have been a comparison too far, he certainly is closer to being the next Magic Johnson than he is to being the next Sweet Pea Daniels (the ghetto legend whom I played against one summer at Five Star).
Finally, the surprise that is Jon Leuer. Leuer has been magnificent, and it appears he is no flash in the pan. Who would have thunk it? Everyone I know from the Land of Cheese had Leuer pegged as another productive collegian from the University of Wisconsin who would never find a place in the Show (call it “The Curse of Ron Dayne”). But, in fact, he has been a very productive professional, and it appears that it wasn’t mere “beginner’s luck”. He seems to be here to stay. Another big second round pick by the Bucks (Michael Redd, Luc Moute, etc).
BACK TO THE JENNINGS STORY
But, again, the big story is Mr. Brandon Jennings. After watching him for the last couple of seasons, I concluded that he would never break into the elite or even sub-elite ranks. He just didn’t shoot well enough, and he shot too much. He couldn’t make plays for his teammates either. His defense was good, he generally handled the ball well enough, but he just wasn’t efficient with scoring possessions. This season — SO FAR — Jennings has switched that around.
The difference in Jennings scoring efficiency has been his much improved 2pt percentage. Coming into this season, Jennings was a 39% shooter from 2 point range, this season he is a much improved 47% shooter. His improvement has been two fold — he’s knocking down his medium range jumpers, and — most of all — he’s finishing at the rim. In past seasons, Jennings has been atrocious at the rim. Not this season. This season he is completing 59% of his drives with two balls.
Can it continue for the Tiny Man? I believe it can (Knock on wood). As you remember in past seasons, I said the art of finishing at the rim for little men in the NBA is the art of angles. Look at Steve Nash. He isn’t fast and cannot jump over the Peshtigo phone book. But he can finish at the rim because he can make shots from unblockable release points. Its all about angles. I’ve noticed this in Jennings game. Against the Bulls, for instance, he picked Derrick Rose’s pocket, took the ball down, used his body to shield the impending Rose, and then finished with a nifty looking little semi-hook shot. Angles… if you can make shots from unblockable angles, you can negate the advantage of height. It seems Brandon Jennings has learned this lesson. Time and experience in the Association have been his teachers. Now let’s just see if he can maintain his grades.