Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks
Three years ago, after he was named the Naismith Prep Player of the Year at Oak Hill Academy, Jennings took the unusual step of bypassing the NCAA system, instead electing to play a season overseas with Lottomatica Roma of the Italian League. A year later, teams were still skeptical of the 6-foot-1, 169 lb point guard, as he posted Italian League averages of just 6 PPG, 2 APG, 35% FG% and 21% 3FG%. Nevertheless, the Bucks took him with the 10th pick in the 2009 draft, and were quickly praised for their foresight after he dropped 55 points against the Warriors in just his seventh NBA game. Jennings went on to average 16 points and 6 assists per game and finished third in the league’s Rookie of the Year voting. Yet for all his talent, Jennings has some glaring holes in his game.
In the NBA these days, there’s generally two types of point guards: shoot-first and pass-first. Jennings is neither. His 37% shooting percentage ranked him dead last in the NBA last season. His 39% FG% this year? Last again. Jennings can get to the rim, but to be a successful point guard, you need to be able to knock down open jumpers. Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose are two examples of very good point guards who became great after working on their shooting. Jennings also launches far too many threes (five per game) for someone shooting just 33% from deep.
So if Jennings can’t shoot, he should be able to pass, right? Well, his 5 APG ranks him 25th among the league’s point guards, and his 2.14 assist-to-turnover rate is 36th among point guards. Jennings would work well as a bench player, where his flaws could be hidden while providing instant offense for a team’s second unit, but he’ll never be the player to lead middling Milwaukee to the upper echelon of the NBA. At just 21, Jennings has time to make improvements, but it’s not promising for the Bucks when their point guard of the future can’t do the two most important things expected of him.
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Marcin Gortat, Phoenix Suns
If you’re a frequent visitor to the site, you know that I’m a fan of players who significantly up their production after receiving a boost in minutes. So it should be no surprise that Gortat fits the bill, as his production is finally beginning to fall in line with his usefulness on the court. Gortat rose to prominence during Orlando’s Finals run in 2009, when he was still a largely unknown quantity. It quickly became clear, though, that the second-year player was as an intimidating presence on the defensive end. Standing 6-foot-11 and a chiseled 240 lbs, the Polish Hammer (gotta love that nickname) effectively spelled Dwight Howard off the bench, ensuring that foes would not take advantage of the Magic down low when the Defensive Player of the Year was taking a breather. Orlando head coach Stan Van Gundy noticed too, increasing Gortat’s playoff minutes each spring, from 6 per game in his rookie year of ’08 to 11 per game in ’09 and 15 per game last year.
Gortat was shipped to Phoenix earlier this year as part of the Jason Richardson/Vince Carter deal, and he’s now excelling as the first big off the bench in the desert. Just look how his output has improved with his increased run with the Suns:
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Like many of the players highlighted in this space, Gortat has a specific skill-set and knows his role. He is the kind of big that good playoff teams need—a defensive-minded intimidator that can control the paint and won’t fuss if he doesn’t get touches. Ryan Anderson has stepped up in his absence for Orlando, but he doesn’t bring the interior toughness of Gortat, something they’ll need should they face a team like the Bulls in the playoffs.