Zach Attacks: The conundrum of “swag”


Over the next 15 days, I’ll be releasing a random essay on each team in the league. The first one is about an aspect of the Milwaukee Bucks. You can follow the series with the “2011-12 Team Previews” and “Zach Attacks” tags at the bottom of the page.

What is “swag?”

Urban dictionary defines it as:

The way in which you carry yourself. Swag is made up of your overall confidence, style, and demeanor. Swag can also be expanded to be the reputation of your overall swagger. You gain swag, or “Swag up”, by performing swag worthy actions that improve this perception. A person can also “swag down,” by being an overall pussy and garnering negative swag for their actions. Swag is a subtle thing that many strive to gain but few actually attain. It is reserved for the most swagalicious of people. Swag can also be quantified, with point systems existing in some circles of friends.

Now, if you read this definition and tried to keep your eyes from bleeding then we’re definitely on the same page in life. Personally, I always like to think of the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of:

a : something (as a decoration) hanging in a curve between two points : festoon
b : a suspended cluster (as of evergreen branches)

Regardless of whether you think of “swag” as a decorative way of sprucing up your living room or a made-up term by a generation of people who have no idea how to assess someone’s worth in their profession or social standing, it’s a concept that both boosts and destroys the perception of what Brandon Jennings is.

When you look at Brandon Jennings, you see a very confident young point guard with a certain style about him. He has the Gumby haircut. He has his own Under Armour marketing campaign that shows how much of a real person he is, despite the fact that he has a very unreal set of skills for his aberrant profession. His play pops on the LCD TV with flash and his game management is saturated with composure. He’s unflappable in a flap-happy world.

But part of that flash and composed nature that could be misconstrued for being nonchalant brings about an aura of hype that he neither runs from nor can escape, even if he wanted to try. His fans love him without question of his abilities. They promise you he’s better than you’ll give him credit for and that he should be talked about amongst the elite floor generals of the hardwood.

When you attempt to tell many of them that they need to be patient and see what develops with Jennings, you’re immediately labeled a “hater.” And we all know that when the word “hater” has entered the argument, the accuser is out of things to say. But there is plenty to say about how good and bad Brandon Jennings is and there is nothing wrong with accepting both sides.

Is he overhyped? Absolutely.

Over his two seasons in the NBA, Brandon Jennings has been a pretty ordinary point guard. He has a career PER of exactly 15.0. Per 36 minutes, he’s a career 17.0 point per game scorer on 15.9 field goal attempts per game. He’s just over a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He only makes 37.9% of his field goal attempts, 35.2% of his 3-point attempts and a very respectable 81.3% of his free throw attempts. Because of the limited offensive options at his team’s disposal, his usage rate is over 25%.

The crux of the Milwaukee offense is usually trying to create something out of desolation. There hasn’t been a real offensive threat on the team the entire time Jennings has been running the show. Michael Redd broke once again and his warranty ran out a long time ago. Corey Maggette was there last season and let’s just say it went exactly how you’d assume. In fact, John Salmons was the best scorer on this team in terms of efficiency and impact over the past two seasons, more than any other player. JOHN SALMONS!

In every sense, Milwaukee is where points go to die.

But remember that night Brandon Jennings scored 55 points as a rookie? His fans sure do. It’s viewed by them less as a Willie Anderson or Tony Delk type of extraterrestrial outburst and more of a sign of what could be. Never mind that according to HoopData, Brandon Jennings is below average for a point guard in shooting percentages from shots at the rim, 3-9 feet, 10-15 feet, 16-23 feet and beyond the 3-point line. There was a night Brandon Jennings had everything clicking and it was historical.

Is one night worthy of the hype? Probably not. However, do his detractors under appreciate Brandon Jennings? Definitely.

You might look at Jennings’ slight size and figure he’s just another young, flashy point guard that doesn’t play a lick of defense. Your assumption would be completely misguided. Jennings is actually a very good defender. He’s one of the best point guards in the league at getting around/through a screen to harass the offensive player. I can’t stress how important this is in a pick-and-roll heavy league. If you set a screen on Brandon off the ball, he’ll get around it and contest the shooter. If you set a pick to free his man for dribble penetration, he’ll slip through it and keep his man from getting a good shot in the paint.

He’s like the Houdini of the halfcourt defense.

Jennings is also a special game manager. Does he take bad shots? He takes a lot of bad shots. Some of that could be credited to arrogance, too much confidence or just being a shot chucker. Or some of that could be out of desperation or necessity. The bad shot selection overshadows the even-handed nature and calm nature he runs this misshapen Bucks offense. He doesn’t really turn the ball over. There were just 21 players last season that played in 2,000 or more minutes while having a usage rate above 25% and a turnover rate under 13%. Jennings was one of those 21 players and the only point guard on the list.

Jennings has the understanding of a veteran in terms of how he sees the floor. It’s not only an understanding of where the team should go next (even though they don’t have the players to actually accomplish this feat) but it’s a confidence of knowing he’s making the right decision. And it’s a confidence in knowing he can create any shot he needs to, even if he’s having a difficult time converting them into points.

Is that confidence considered “swag?” Is his shot selection considered “swag?”

Is there even a way to determine what that means in the game of basketball? There is no winning with whatever it is we quantify as his “swag.” For some, it’s an all-encompassing measurement of cool. It’s the confidence of being comfortable with taking any shot at any time. For others, it’s an arrogance that tricks his advocators into thinking he’s better than his actual rating.

He is both overrated and underrated at the same time because we don’t actually know where to rate him in the hierarchy of floor leaders in the NBA. His attitude confounds us. It’s everything we want in a player and everything we love to point out as a flaw within their overall impact on the team concept.

Regardless of what you think of Brandon Jennings it’s probably incorrect because we overcompensate for our own deficiencies as basketball-watchers while figuring out exactly what his deficiencies are in the grand scheme of team sport. Jennings is going to be a lot better and worse than you expect this year. He will improve and it will either validate what you know he is or show that his previous validation was premature.

And that’s what “swag” is in the world of the NBA. Whatever the hell that means.

Big thanks to Ethan Sherwood Strauss for helping me figure out what “swag” means.

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  4. HoopSpeak Live Episode 27: Henry Abbott and Zach Lowe
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