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NBA / Aug 2, 2013 / 3:40 pm

Who’s Better: Brandon Jennings or Mike Conley?

Brandon Jennings

Brandon Jennings

They’re two lefty point guards with divergent career paths, and while one has grown with the same group in Memphis while becoming one of the better young point guards in the game, the other has dealt with new coaches and teammates and a not-undeserved reputation as a gunner. Mike Conley might have been in the same boat as Brandon Jennings if he’d landed in Milwaukee coming out of Ohio State, but now they both have similar squads around them.

With Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph supporting him from the front-court, Mike Conley has thrived in a Memphis Grizzlies offense predicated on smart, interior passing, and the ingenuity of Conley to get to the rim. He’s never needed to carry the offense and his offensive efficiency has reflected that luxury. But Brandon Jennings never had those types of teammates in Milwaukee with a host of poor supporting players—at least on the offensive end, since Larry Sanders has developed into a smart rim-protector—and his gunner mentality could be conceivably be attributed to the necessity he shoot on a team that might not have been able to score otherwise.

Now defensively, Jennings fell off in the latter portion of the 2012-13 season, routinely getting burned as he ball-watched on the perimeter and ignoring a lot of his assignments to the detriment of his team. Conley, while sporting a nice steals average, has been buttressed by the perimeter defense of Trick-or-Treat Tony Allen, perhaps the best perimeter defender in the league.

With Jennings just inking a three-year $24 million deal as part of a sign-and-trade sending him to Detroit, he gets a new start with a triumvirate of front court players—Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith—that rival Conley’s Gasol and Z-Bo support on the block and elbow. So things are a bit more even in terms of supporting cast, and it begs the question: who’s better?

We argue. You decide.

… … …

BRANDON JENNINGS

Everyone has seen that guy hanging around at a school dance, waiting to get someone to notice him. The guy is cool, has a strong reputation and a good crew of friends. So the question is, why isn’t anyone dancing with him? Expectations. The man has his eyes set on the dime in the middle of the dance floor, but conceivably that doesn’t really sound like a legitimate option for him. Regardless, he holds his ground and begins to become less and less appealing to the opposite sex for his stubbornness and unwillingness to compromise.

We can now call this the “Brandon Jennings” of free agency, a perfectly capable player who had his value shoot down because of his determination for a big-time contract. Jennings eventually was sent to Detroit in a sign-and-trade deal that landed him a three-year, $24 million.

The overall argument is whether Jennings is a better player than Mike Conley Jr., a player who recently played the best basketball of his career. Jennings didn’t have the best year of his career and was maddeningly inconsistent for the Milwaukee Bucks. I’ll give you reasons why Jennings hasn’t been coached correctly and how he hasn’t even properly tapped into his potential. Along with those two things I’d like the readers to remember that the two players are polar opposites in how they play the game and that Jennings is two years younger.

Jennings is a statistical anomaly, a player that shoots first and asks questions later. He has shot more than 14 times a game since his rookie season in 2009 due to a mediocre cast around him. Jennings has had the “pleasure” to have John Salmons, Stephen Jackson, and Monta Ellis as his second scoring option. Ellis is, by far, the best scoring threat on this list but he never complemented Jennings. Conley has played with Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, and Zach Randolph. Conley even had the luxury of playing with Greg Oden at Ohio State, taking away much of the pressure that he would have had to face otherwise.

So Jennings didn’t have a great second option, what else caused his inefficiency? The biggest issue Jennings faced was the coaching style of Scott Skiles. Jennings admittedly isn’t very good on defense, he actually is quite bad, but the Skiles system did not bring out the best in Jennings. It mired him in a defensive oriented system that wore out the players and eventually led to some disgruntled players.

Jennings eventually became one of those players. A guy who finally broke down in a city that started to lose him, as did his coaches. He couldn’t get along with his coaches because a clear distinction was written about him being the superstar that was never going to get superstar money, and he wanted the money.

The Bucks forgot that Jennings had averaged 16.1 points and 5.9 assists during his tenure in Milwaukee. The city got to witness his 55-point outburst in 2009, his rookie season, which was the year that the Allen Iverson comparisons began.

Jennings never lived up to the Iverson billing in Milwaukee but a new chapter has started in Detroit where he will get to pair his talents with Josh Smith. With such a dominant and highly efficient front-court of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, Jennings and Smith will be able to satiate their propensity to shoot. For Jennings to finally tap that potential, it will be up to nre coach Maurice Cheeks to adequately incorporate Jennings into a fast-paced offense.

The 23-year-old has a lot to give to this game and has flashed the potential to flat out dominant the game, something that Conley hasn’t quite done.
-THOMAS RENDE JR.

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  • Scott Adrian Link

    Good job on the article Tom. I think I take Mike Conley because he plays a more relaxed, efficient brand of basketball, accompanied by better defense. He may not be the best scorer, but he has a good shot selection, which in my opinion can be more valuable than a high-volume scorer with bad shot selection, especially when Conley is only scoring 3 points less per game. Maybe Jennings scores a little more efficiently on Detroit than on Milwaukee because he is surrounded by more options for the first time in his career but…I still take Conley. If Conley plays for Milwaukee instead of Memphis, who knows, maybe he scores more but doesn’t shoot as good. His role would increase and his stats would benefit. I don’t see him shooting below 40% like Jennings though, because scoring below 40% with high usage rates is pretty atrocious and only few have shot that bad over the years. Conley has also improved steadily year-by-year.

    I think Jennings has the higher ceiling/potential but teams found him out rather quickly after his 55 point explosion during his rookie year and it’s been a mediocre scoring performance ever since. He forces a lot and takes many contested shots. When he’s hot, he’s hot, but overall he’s lacking in scoring weapons. The AI comparisons make sense because of style and height but he isn’t half as lethal both as a scorer and defender. He has a good jumpshot, but masks that with his terrible shot selection and he is considerably weak around the rim. As a point guard, I feel it can be detrimental to your team to be taking the most shots, especially if 60%+ of them aren’t converting.

    Jennings will be better suited as a SG in Detroit, and I’m hoping it will workout better than Milwaukee. He doesn’t strike me as a star potential player, but he definitely could be more effective than Conley if he’s in the right system. All said, I still take Conley if I’m starting a team from the ground up because he is solid, has experience, and provides me with the playing style I need from a PG.

  • AustinBurton206

    I don’t think Jennings is a gunner by nature; I think he was a gunner by necessity because Milwaukee didn’t have a lot of scorers.
    I covered Jennings since pretty early in high school, and (at least back then) he always talked more about passing than scoring. He’d go into high-profile games and tournaments predicting he’d break the records for assists, and often go out of his way NOT to shoot trying to get those assists. And when he did have a big scoring performance, he’d talk about it like he only did it because he felt he had to.
    Now that doesn’t mean Jennings won’t play selfishly, because if he’s more motivated by getting his name in the record books than by truly making his teammates happy he’s still not racking up assists for the right reasons.
    Maybe his whole mindset has changed now that he’s playing for pro money. Maybe he does want to score and shoot all the time now, but from what I know, I feel like he’d be perfectly happy being closer to a “pure” point guard in Detroit.