Brandon Jennings vs. Tyreke Evans: A referendum for Rookie of the Year

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By Jake McCormick

The 2009-10 Milwaukee Bucks and Sacramento Kings were expected to spend more time in the basement of their respective conferences than Jerry Stiller in the King of Queens. But thanks to the accelerated development of point guards Tyreke Evans and Brandon Jennings and some added help from previously unknown Euros (Omir Casspi, Ersan Ilyasova), both teams have been a pleasant surprise to their fan bases.

With that said, Saturday night’s showcase of the top Rookie of the Year candidates (so far) was the highlight of a lethargic 96-95 Kings win that ended all too predictably for the Bucks. Evans’ drive and juke froze Andrew Bogut for the game-winning lay up left .9 seconds for one last shot from the Bucks.

“My disappointment doesn’t lie in the fact that he made a nice layup at the end of the game,” Scott Skiles said after the game. “It lies in the fact that we weren’t ready to play, we had blank looks on our faces.”

After their third loss in a row by less than two points, there weren’t many extremely positive developments, unless you count a roundhouse kick to the teeth from a team that had only won one road game all season.

Threat Level Green: Brandon Jennings (15 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds, +8) vs. Tyreke Evans (24 points, 3 assists, 7 rebounds, -2)
BJThe lines above are examples of the flaw in the +/- statistic. Stats can’t always measure intangibles and ability, and does it really matter if the team loses?

However, the stat lines for this game were a perfect example of the differing styles of Jennings and Evans. If you’re a big points-only guy, Evans won the “battle,” but Jennings made his case in other areas on the court.

“It’s not a one on one battle between me and him; he’s a scorer and I’m more of a passer,” Jennings said. “He scored a lot, but overall I don’t think he had a better game than I did, numbers-wise.”

Of course, the only stat the matters at the end of the night is the W, and in that respect Jennings said Evans got the best of the Bucks. Jennings went 4-4 with his first shot coming close to the three minute mark in the second quarter, before missing his next seven shots. He did shoot 100% from the stripe, including two late game pressure free throws.

Skiles said he has periods where he gets really aggressive and others where he has a pass-first mentality.

“He can score and see the forward pass, but there’s a tough balance in there,” Skiles said. “Sometimes it takes some time to work that balance out.”

With all of that said, I would give the edge to Evans because the Kings won the game and he came through in crunch time. But it’s becoming more and more clear that neither player is a fluke and will inevitably be better when these teams meet again in the future.

Threat Level Blue: Three straight losses by a combined four points
This normally wouldn’t be a good thing, but two losses to elite teams by a combined three points and another by one against the Western Conference version of the Bucks has to do something to help this team come the latter portion of the season. After all, it worked for the Packers after an embarrassing loss to the Buccaneers, and they’ve responded with five straight wins.

BoguesThe Bucks are a young team, and Skiles clearly has them outplaying their abilities right now. It’s much better to experience growing pains in game 25 than in game 80 when you’re fighting for a playoff spot. Jennings addressed this concern and the added confidence that can come when the team starts to win these close games.

We don’t want to have this happen too much, but it’s going to help towards end of the season, push for the playoffs,” Jennings said. “Losing to teams like this will give us the confidence to win when we do get into the playoffs, because we are going to make the playoffs this year.”

Threat Level Yellow: Statistically speaking…
The Bucks starting lineup picked up the slack for the bench’s 20 points, with every starter finishing with between 14 and 17 points. Ersan and Bogut added 10 and 13 rebounds, respectively, but overall the team shot only 42.7% and Bogut went 6-20; well below his season average.

Carlos Delfino didn’t score until the second half, but ended up leading the team with 17 points and three key treys to keep the game close late. He also got a little animated late in the fourth trying to motivate the Bucks, which is a rare sight from such a mild-mannered guy. It was nice to see every starter chip in, but when no one steps up with a consistent shot that can carry a team when they need it most, it’s hard to beat even the Kings.

Threat Level Orange: Power outage
Not only did the first quarter end in a 21-21 tie, both teams had nearly identical field goal percentages, rebounds, turnovers, and assists. But aside from the Bucks’ 72 percent shooting clip in the second, the game lacked a sense of urgency and consistency on both ends.

“I didn’t think either team early in the game came with a ton of energy,” Skiles said. “Somebody has to win a game like this and they did.”

The Kings came into the game with only one road win on the season, and Skiles was frustrated enough with that fact.

“I don’t understand why when we’re playing a team has won one road game we’re not really bringing it,” he said. “We didn’t and we took one.”

But the team had some major consistency issues from the start and the bench (Luke Ridnour was 3-10) wasn’t shooting well enough to pick up the slack. Skiles said the team just looked out of sync most of the night.

“The defense wasn’t very good and offensively we had some segments of good ball movement,” he said. “But we also had some segments where we holding the ball and turning down open shots for more difficult shots.”

Threat Level Red: Free throws, free throws, free throws!
TyrekeThe Bucks’ Achilles heel is starting to look as painful as an actual Achilles injury. Remember the Yovani Gallardo injury two years ago? It’s that hard to watch.

Bogut missed two free throws with 55 seconds remaining with the team down 92-91, and the team had 20 shots from the line compared to 29 for Sacramento. But if Milwaukee doesn’t find a way to get to the line more often, they should be expected to make the most of their limited changes. Considering they shot 65%, there aren’t too many excuses left in the book.

“If we make our free throws down the stretch, that (Tyreke Evans) play doesn’t matter,” Jennings said.

Skiles said he wouldn’t have felt a lot different if the Bucks had won the game, because at the end of the day the team would still have the same problems.

“The Laker game, the Cleveland game; those are great teams,” he said. “If we want to really be a great team we have to look at the game in total. We have to look at all the things we have control over and work very hard at it.”

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