Value can be difficult to assess. Often, we equate individual value with team success, perhaps rightfully so. The valuable players, and especially Most Valuable Players, should play on winning teams.
Brandon Jennings’s role on the Milwaukee Bucks this season has been a counterpoint to that concept. The Bucks have been woefully mediocre, but the second-year point guard has arguably had more impact on the outcome of his team’s games than any other floor general in the NBA. Milwaukee has posted an 8-2 record when Jennings is more efficient than the opposing point guard and an abysmal 1-12 record when he is bested by the opposition. There is no other point guard in the League whose play so accurately predicts team success.
Amongst the current crop of point guards – considered to be one of the strongest in NBA history – Jennings has the 7th best efficiency recap in games his team has won this season posting a mark of 22.2. That’s better than Tony Parker, Rajon Rondo and John Wall. Yet of those players plus the six point guards ranking higher than Jennings, only Wall has been involved in fewer wins, reflecting Jennings’s weak supporting cast (not to mention the injury woes of Andrew Bogut). Still, the Bucks guard finds himself in some pretty elite company with Steve Nash, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Chris Paul and Raymond Felton sitting as the only point guards more efficient in winning efforts this season.
If you break things down further and look at Jennings’s stat line in wins this season, his production looks even more impressive. His 21.8 scoring average is the fourth highest average by a point guard in wins this season and his 5.6 rebounds per game is eclipsed only by Westbrook (5.8). Where he loses a bit of ground is as a playmaker, dishing out just 6 assists per game in wins, which ranks him 23rd among winning point guards, but his 52% three-point field goal percentage ranks 5th—and comes on nearly twice as many attempts per game as anyone else in the top five.
This reveals an interesting truth: the Bucks win games when Jennings operates as a scorer hitting three’s, not as a pure point guard.
Of that same group, no player has a bigger drop off in games his team has lost, with Jennings seeing his efficiency plummet to 11.5, which not only ranks 28th (out of 30) amongst starting point guards in losing efforts, but is also the single biggest degree of change for any player ranked in the top ten for efficiency in wins. His overall stat line (15.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 2.08 assist-to-turnover ratio and 34% shooting) ranks him below the likes of Jose Calderon, Mike Conley and Luke Ridnour.
How paramount has Jennings’s scoring been to the outcome of Milwaukee’s games this season? Consider the following. The only significant changes in Jennings’s stat line in wins versus losses is his scoring and shooting, his point production drops by 10 and his shooting percentage by 10%. In losses this season, the Bucks average 13 less points than they do in wins and shoot 6% lower from the floor. While the drop-off in Jennings’s production isn’t identical to Milwaukee’s, the similarities are far too prominent to ignore.
None of the elite point guards in the NBA (Williams, Rose, Westbrook, Paul, Rondo, Parker) see their teams struggle to the same degree that the Bucks do when Jennings is off. He has battled injury this season and played in only 27 games, a lower total than most starters, but has been outplayed by the opposing point guard in almost half of his appearances. Only Raymond Felton (44%) has been outdone in nearly the same ratio of games, with most of the other elite guards hovering around 30%. The degree of inconsistency that Jennings battles is as much a reflection of his still developing game as it is the tremendous load he must shoulder for Milwaukee. There are few players in the NBA capable of carrying a team in just their second season and doing it with a high degree of success, but Jennings is in a position where he doesn’t have a choice. The Bucks go as their point guard goes.