(Not So) Instant Trade Analysis: Brandon Jennings to the Detroit Pistons

Detroit Pistons get: PG Brandon Jennings (three years, $24 million)
Milwaukee Bucks get: PG Brandon Knight, F Khris Middleton, C Viecheslav Kravtov
(Writing about basketball in damn near August is always hard. But writing about two teams from the Midwest that haven’t played since mid-April? Buzz’s girlfriend, woof. So to help, we contacted friend of the blog and proud Detroit Pistons fan, The Source, to help us decode a really interesting deal with no clear winner. At least in our eyes here at MAMBINO. Below is his thoughts, along with mine)
The Source: My basic thoughts? Brandon Pettigrew is committed to fitness now, and is working hard to cleanup his drops and fumbles from last year. A productive TE, plus Reggie Bush, and maybe a decent to below-average #2 WR is all we need to get Calvin some space.

Veras adds depth to a bullpen that really needed it. If Benoit keeps the closer role, which he seems to have embraced, then the Tigers will have two reliable, late-inning relievers in Smyly and Veras. Phil Coke just can’t cut it. And Iglesias gives us more range at SS (our starters will be happy), some above average speed (of which, we had almost none), and Peralta will be juicing at home soon rather than in the clubhouse so we needed a steady infielder for the next 50 games.
In the same week the city of Detroit announced its bankruptcy, a state board approved plans for a new hockey arena, which will cost tax payers almost $300 million. OK, Detroit.
Oh and the Pistons…..
Adding Jennings to Smith and Monroe, the Pistons now have 3 starting lefties so opposing lineups will have to….
We needed a PG. Calderon is gone, Stuckey is bad, and Knight is gone and bad. Billups isn’t there to play a ton of minutes. When you look up Brandon Jennings on ESPN, one of the first things you see is “#3 PG.” That’s a win right there. By the numbers, Jennings is a better scorer and passer, and he averages almost a steal per game more than Knight. The shooting percentages are similar but Jennings has the edge from the line and he’s got this cool tattoo that looks like a necklace.

KOBEshigawa: I suppose that yes, Jennings is a point guard in name, or more importantly, in the eyes of the World Wide Leader. However, let’s not fool ourselves–guys like Russ Westbrook, Monta Ellis and Gilbert Arenas have averaged the same 6 assists a game that Jennings threw down last season, and they’re hardly the type of ball-distributing guard the Pistons seem to need.

But you’re right–he’s a better passer than Knight and certainly a more developed, though perhaps inefficient scorer. Jennings has never been able to live up to the 55 points he put up in his seventh professional contest his rookie year (and really, how could he?), but his points still seem to come from volume of shots, rather than playing to his strengths. Considering his gaudy point totals, the point guard still doesn’t get to the free throw line much (just 2.9 FTA per game last season), which may be a side effect of his nearly 6 three pointers a night.

But hell yeah dude. That necklace tat is SWEET.

The Source: In terms of money, $8 million each year for 3 years isn’t unreasonable. It puts us up against the cap this season, but we saved almost $3 mill by getting rid of Khris Middleton and that other European guy whose name you’ll never know. With some bad contracts coming off the books at the end of the season, or maybe before via trades, the Pistons will have room to give significant extensions to Monroe and Drummond over the next two seasons.

KOBEshigawa: The best part of this trade is the Pistons’ ability to convince Jennings to take a contract that he’ll be able to live up to, rather than the max money he wanted and certainly didn’t deserve. But keep this in mind: he’s just 23 years old. If a team were to pay him, say, $10 or $11 million dollars a year, it still wouldn’t have been an outlandish contract. Jrue Holiday was given a contract to the same tune last year that was scoffed at, but guess what? The 22 year-old proved that he was far from a finished product and had miles left to evolve into an All-Star. Which he did.

Jennings got paid like he was a very good role player, when in fact he still has room to grow into an All-Star. Worst comes to worst, it’s just a three year deal that will be over as soon as Detroit realizes that he’s never going to be even capable of being a spark plug scorer off the bench. That’s a coup for GM Joe Dumars in a half decade span when they have been few and far between.

The Source: Will it work? Well, there wasn’t a ton of hope with Knight. The Pistons have four young and talented players in Jennings, Smith, Monroe, and Drummond. If Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (or the green Mario Brother) works out as a 2-guard, that’s a lot of talent in the starting 5. They all have to improve, but being so young, then can improve together. There is good defensive potential, plus two proven scorers in BJ and Smith and Monroe is a 16 and 8 guy. If Jennings can run the offense properly, giving Monroe his touches in the post and Smith plenty of opportunities to take bad shots, this could work. I don’t think it will be a disaster. After all, we can’t be worse than we’ve been over the last few years.

Mo Cheeks needs to prove he can get these guys to embrace their roles and he needs to teach them all how to make good decisions. Young players always have trouble with decision making but it should be helpful to have a guy like Chauncey around to mentor. Plus Rasheed Wallace is there to encourage Josh Smith to shoot 3’s, even though he’s bad at it.

KOBEshigawa: The obvious upside is there. The Pistons have a tremendous amount of talent, though neither of their young vets–Smith and Jennings–have come even close to tapping into their talent, specifically into how to best use their skillset. J Smoove is an athletic freak with shutdown defensive potential and can’t shoot. So what does he do? Take plays off of defense with mental lapses and shoots a ton of jumpers. Brandon Jennings is a lightning quick guard with a quick shot release and absolute fearlessness in the face of bigger defenders. So what does he do? Doesn’t attack the rim enough and pulls up when beating players off the dribble.

This new Detroit coaching staff must figure out how to use all these young pieces when other than Monroe, none of them know how to utilize their own strengths. I’m still scared of death of the spacing on this team. Jennings is an erratic shooter that has to be respected simply because of the sheer number of shots he takes, but if he’s cold, the oppositions will have no problems daring him into a 1-11 night (otherwise known as “The Artest”). Offensively, again, they have a ton of potential. But there could be some significant growing pains here.

The Source: In two years, this team could be competing in the Eastern Conference Finals, but there really needs to be consistent growth as a unit and a commitment to defense. There is enough talent on offense for the points to come but if we maximize Drummond’s potential as a defensive anchor and surround him with solid contributors, opponents could really have a hard time scoring on us. Drummond looked good in the Summer League so it seems we are on the right track, but I wouldn’t be surprised if BJ struggles to understand that PGs play offense AND defense. It’s an experiment, but it will be more fun than last year. Pistons fans will watch and NBA fans will remember Detroit has a basketball team. It might be a flop, but we wouldn’t be falling far.

The 7th seed belongs to Detroit this year and we might get a few nationally televised games. Showtime.

KOBEshigawa: Defensively, I disagree–I’m very cautious in proclaiming they can be solid. Drummond eventually can be a Tyson Chandler-like difference maker on the floor, but he’s still extremely raw and still learning the game. He’ll be relying on Josh Smith to make up for a lot of his mistakes, and even though he’s gotten a lot of press for his D, Smoove isn’t the headiest defender in the league. On the perimeter, Jennings will get toasted on a nightly basis, but there’s still a chance he could become a crafty lockdown guy, if ever he gave a crap.

But, like you said, this team is going to learn together and evolve together, which is great for coach Cheeks in regards to him being able to build defensive habits from square one.

If Miami, New York, Brooklyn, Chicago and Indiana are locks for playoffs berths, then Detroit is in the mix with Atlanta, Washington, Toronto and Cleveland for the final three spots. Barring significant injuries of course, I see Atlanta and Cleveland as locks, leaving the Pistons and most likely the District duking it out for the pleasure of a four game South Beach sweep.

Lest we forget, there was another team in this trade. Milwaukee looks like a fun young team, but without a proven scorer in Jennings will really be pressed to put the ball in the hoop next season. As The Source indicated, Knight isn’t a great distributor or creator with the ball in his hands, but rather much more comfortable shooting the rock from long. He’ll be another developing project in a cast of many in The Good Land, including LARRY SANDERS!, John Henson, Ekpe Udoh, first round pick Giannis Antetokounmpo and to a certain extent, even veterans like Ersan Ilyasova and OJ Mayo (just 26 and 25 years old, respectively). The Bucks have locked themselves into rebuilding, but have a lot of great young pieces that they can watch develop. Jennings didn’t want to be there anymore, so good on GM John Hammond for getting a valuable lottery pick player in return.


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