Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Pistons acquire Brandon Jennings

At least it's not Rajon Rondo. In a move that had been foreshadowed for months, the Pistons have parted ways with Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton, and Viacheslav Kravtsov in a sign and trade with Milwaukee to acquire Brandon Jennings for three years and $24M. This isn't my favorite move, but I'm coming around to it.

When rumors were swirling about the Pistons making a play for Jennings, I said:
The Pistons don't have the cap space to acquire Jennings outright who is a restricted free agent. A sign-and-trade would necessitate parting ways with Knight, a move that would be prudent for a contender but not a team still building around a young core. Jennings and Knight have the same ceiling, with Jennings more of a known entity coming closer to his potential, but there is precedent for point guards having breakout junior campaigns (as both Rondo and Jennings did recently).
My main contention for keeping Knight was that he had shown enough promise to warrant one more shot with a point-guard-first coach in Mo Cheeks. Jennings, meanwhile, was basically a known entity: a high-usage point guard with spotty shot selection. But what I projected Cheeks to do for Knight, perhaps he can do for Jennings.

So what are the Pistons getting in Jennings?
Jennings is a score-first point guard with shoddy shot selection and an impeccably low turnover percentage. To wit:

Jennings takes about 16% of his shots from the dreaded midrange where he, like most players, is not particularly effective. He has the potential for games like the one posted above, but he's more prone to games where he scores 16 points on 7-14 shooting. In other words, he's not terribly efficient. He has a devastatingly low free throw rate (21%) for a scoring guard; for reference, Chris Paul's FTR is 39%, Kyrie Irving's is 27%, and Brandon Knight's is 25%, all of which makes Jennings' 42% shooting percentage around the basket more troublesome.

What Jennings does better than just about everyone in the league, however, is hold onto the basketball. Last season, Jennings ranked 15th amongst point guards in TO%, giving the ball away on just 9.7% of his possessions. Of the point guards that turned the ball over less frequently, only Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Ramon Sessions, Kemba Walker, and Nate Robinson had a higher usage rate. To put that in perspective, Jose Calderon turned the ball over on 9.6% of his possessions last season with a usage rate two thirds that of Jennings (16.5%).

How does Jennings fit with the Pistons' roster?
In spite of his high usage rate and low turnover percentage, Jennings' assist rate leaves much to be desired. Among point guards, Jennings was tied for 45th last year in assist rate with a 24.9% mark. Four spots below Jennings was Will Bynum with a 24.2% assist rate. So while Jennings protects the ball like Calderon, he doesn't come near the Spaniard's ability to dish to his teammates. Then again, few players in the league do.

Like Brandon Knight was expected to do, Jennings will spend a lot of time stretching the floor with this Pistons' lineup. As a career 35% three point shooter, that's not where he's best utilized, but he did have a career year behind the arc last season shooting 37%. The threat of his shot and his slashing ability should help keep defenses honest and open up looks for his teammates.

With the ball in his hands, Jennings has the potential to be a drive-and-dish phenom. With Drummond, Monroe, and Smith all hovering around the basket, Jennings' ability to penetrate should draw help defenders opening up looks for the frontcourt. If all goes as planned, they may need to rename the Kobe Assist after Jennings following this season. With his low FTR and subpar field goal percentage around the basket, there will be ample opportunities for putbacks.

And while Jennings' history doesn't indicate he's willing or capable of handling being the distributor on the team, Mo Cheeks might have something to say about that. My optimism about Knight's third season with the Pistons was heavily influenced by what Cheeks brings to the table. As a former point guard, he'll provide increased guidance to the Pistons' guards. Chauncey Billups may also have a hand in developing Jennings into a more traditional point guard. Ultimately, the success of this signing will fall largely on the shoulders of Cheeks who will be tasked with making Jennings' skillset fit with a dominant front line.


For $8M a year, Jennings is overpaid, but not in Detroit. The 2014 free agent class is guaranteed to be replete with stars, none of which are coming to Detroit. The Pistons have to spend their money on someone, and Jennings is an upgrade over Knight, if a specious one. The Pistons will now have $21M tied up in Jennings and Smith, making a Greg Monroe max deal more problematic for the team, and increasing the likelihood of a trade. Mo Cheeks already had a hell of a task in front of him, but this Jennings signing adds one more piece to the already challenging puzzle. If he can find a way to get Jennings, Smith, Drummond, and Monroe to gel, the Pistons could be a formidable squad in the East. That's a lot easier said than done.

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