Bucks rook making a name for himself
MILWAUKEE -- They are trying to come up with a nickname in this city for the point guard who has leaped to the top of the rookie rankings, the left-hander with the slingshot jumper who already has drawn comparisons to Nick Van Exel, Kenny Anderson and even Tiny Archibald.
Folks outside the locker room seem to have taken a liking to the nickname "Young Buck" -- which isn't all that bad a choice, except for one thing.
Brandon Jennings already has a nickname, one he had tattooed across his back when he was in 12th grade at Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va.
That nickname is "Young Money," and it is apt.
Money, of course, is what Jennings earned last season when he made a groundbreaking move, deciding to spend a season playing professionally in Rome while he waited to become eligible for the NBA draft. Suspicions about his college entrance examination scores forced him to withdraw his commitment to the University of Arizona.
Money is flowing even faster into Jennings' bank account this season. And "on the money" is one of numerous phrases that can accurately be used to describe how he has played in the first nine games of his NBA career, which included a spectacular 55-point effort Saturday night against the Golden State Warriors.
"He's one of those guys who has vision and can score without dominating the ball. It's easy to say I want a point guard to run my club and all that, but in the NBA a point guard has got to score some points for you, and he can do both," coach Scott Skiles said before Milwaukee's 99-85 victory over New Jersey on Wednesday night, in which Jennings scored 19 points. "Tiny [Archibald] has gone through my head a little bit because he could score and also pass, but that's lofty company for a guy who has played eight NBA games. Now I know that's everybody's job, and we do that too at draft time, but again, that's a name that led the league in scoring and assists, so that's a big name."
Jennings has heard the Archibald comparisons and is flattered, the same feeling he gets from being likened to Van Exel, another quick-trigger left-hander unafraid to launch 3-pointers from a foot -- or two, or three -- behind the arc.
Nets guard Rafer Alston said Jennings is sort of a combo between Van Exel and Anderson, and Anderson is actually the player Jennings wanted to pattern his game after.
"In seventh and eighth grade, I had a tape of his highlights from his days at Georgia Tech, and I wanted to model my game after him," Jennings said.
He's one of those guys who has vision and can score without dominating the ball. It's easy to say I want a point guard to run my club and all that, but in the NBA a point guard has got to score some points ... he can do both.” -- Bucks coach Scott Skiles on Jennings
Jennings was the highest-rated player left on the Bucks' board when Milwaukee picked 10th in this past June's draft, but Jennings did not immediately come onstage to greet NBA commissioner David Stern. He had decided to watch the draft from his hotel room because he feared he might drop out of the lottery and become the face of frustration of the 2009 draft, much as Rashard Lewis was in 1998 when his stay in the so-called green room lasted all the way into the second round, leaving him in tears.
The Bucks, however, knew they would grab him if he was still on the board, and when the New York Knicks went for Jordan Hill with the eighth pick and Toronto took DeMar DeRozan ninth, Jennings was their man.
Milwaukee scouts Billy McKinney and Jeff Weltman had each traveled to Rome to watch Jennings play against Euroleague competition, and they let their eyes and instincts do the judging rather than focusing on his rather pedestrian statistics.
"The thing that stood out for me with him was just his quickness -- and his quickness in playing in a slower-tempo game," McKinney said. "And when you watch the Euro game, they play a slower tempo there, and you would think that would be an advantage for the bigger players defending him, yet he was able to handle the pressure and pretty much do what he wanted to do.
"The only question I had at that time was it looked like he had some technical flaws in his shot, minor flaws, and he didn't play a ton of minutes. So I came away from that game with a lot of questions, which is what you do in the scouting process -- instead of making a final evaluation you come away with questions -- and that's how you evaluate him in workouts, and those questions were answered."
"From that workout, in addition to what we saw on the DVDs, he really opened our eyes as to how good he was and how much we weren't able to see in some of the games we saw overseas," McKinney said.
It was also in that workout, general manager John Hammond said, that the Bucks saw a player whose ability to get to the basket and finish was similar to that of Tony Parker.
"We thought he'd go at No. 5, 6 or 7," Hammond said.
ROOKIES TO AVERAGE 25+ PPG, 5+ APG
SINGLE SEASON, NBA HISTORY
If Brandon Jennings can average 25 points and 5 assists per game, he will join Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson as the only rookies in NBA history to do so. After Wednesday's results, Jennings is averaging 24.8 ppg and 5.8 apg.
Added Weltman, "It's a different game in Europe, and you don't get to see all the stuff you get to see when you're scouting a college kid and projecting him for the NBA. It's a slower game, he's playing with older guys and all that stuff, so I think he was a difficult guy for us NBA guys to go over there and scout because it's such a different setting over there, and it kind of masks things that make him who he is."
The 55-point game on Saturday produced a small increase in walk-up sales for the two following home games, and on Monday the Bucks received calls from five former season-ticket holders who decided they had changed their minds and now wanted to re-up for the 2009-10 season.
Jennings has handled the added attention with aplomb, taking satisfaction out of changing people's perceptions of him by simply being himself.
"I'm down-to-earth," Jennings said. "People feel like they can't come talk to me -- 'He's cocky, he's feeling himself' -- I hear it in comments people make, but that's not true."
Part of what kept Jennings grounded during his season overseas was living with his 12-year-old brother and his mother, Alice Knox, at the apartment the Italian team provided for him.
He said there was only one time when he felt things wouldn't work out, when the team spent two weeks at training camp in a small village in the mountains. But he persevered through that initial episode of culture shock, eventually traveling to several countries he never would have visited otherwise. (He said Turkey was the most striking place he had visited because he'd never been in a Muslim country before.)
Next week, he will embark on the Bucks' first long road trip of the season, and Skiles already has told him that he should consider that the start of the season, because that is when the rigors of being an NBA player are most burdensome.
He will see different defenses -- teams trying to force him to his right, trying to trap him at midcourt, getting up on him near the 3-point line to force him to drive the ball into traffic, putting bigger defenders on him -- and his challenge will be to overcome those shifting obstacles as he makes what's known as his "first lap" around the league.
"Michael Redd told me: 'It's a long season; you need to take care of your body, you've got to stay mentally strong.' He told me you don't need to be partying, just stay in the hotel and relax," Jennings said.
Money time, after all, begins when the ball goes up at tipoff.
And if Jennings continues what he's been doing in the first nine games of the season -- leading all rookies in scoring, assists and minutes played -- there will be a new nickname that'll be more fitting than "Young Buck" or "Young Money."
That nickname will be ROY, the acronym for rookie of the year.