By Thomas Lea
Brandon Jennings took a chance when he bypassed a scholarship to the University of Arizona and the spotlight of Pac-10 basketball over a year ago in favor of playing professionally in Italy. So, I guess it makes sense that the former top rated high school product from Oak Hill Academy wound up with a team taking a chance on him during Thursday’s annual NBA Draft.
While many had Jennings slipping on their draft boards, the Bucks apparently were not drinking that Kool-Aid and took him with the No. 10 pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft. Though Milwaukee had former Syracuse point guard Jonny Flynn at the top of its draft board, general manager John Hammond and coach Scott Skiles went with Jennings after Flynn was taken at No. 6 by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
With the pick, the Bucks have a high ceiling point guard with potential to be great. He is an absolute freak athletically and has the ability to utilize his superb quickness to get to the rim and finish or dish the rock to one of the multiple perimeter players the Bucks have in the lineup.
He possesses a decent shooting touch, although it will need to improve if he hopes to elevate his game to a higher level. He can be creative with the rock and get himself through sticky situations with above average ball handling skills that defenders will have to respect. And do not undersell the advantages Jennings will enjoy by playing for Skiles, who was a heck of a point guard in his days as a player during his lengthy career.
Though Jennings was not present at the moment the pick was made, he did make a grand entrance at Madison Square Garden a bit later and saluted the rowdy crowd. After he could not receive any sort of guarantee that he would be a lottery pick from interested teams, the prospect decided to take the safe route in favor of a potentially embarrassing fall down the draft board a la Brady Quinn or Aaron Rodgers and only showed up after he was picked in the top 10.
When picked, and even before, the kid remained confident in his basketball ability and should play a prominent role in the Bucks rotation especially if the team runs into injury problems that have plagued them over the past few seasons.
After shipping Mo Williams to play with King James in Cleveland before the season began a year ago, point guard play was a bit erratic with a banged up Luke Ridnour and an inconsistent, but young, Ramon Sessions manning the position last season.
If anything, Jennings will be a solid and reliable backup in his first few seasons in the Association. And that role could be even greater should the Bucks part ways with Sessions who is a restricted free agent heading into the early July signing period, although that seems rather unlikely especially after the Bucks opened some cap space by trading away Jefferson.
Overall, for the No. 10 pick in a draft loaded with point guards, the Bucks secured one that could be a household name in the future. And that recognition could come sooner rather than later. Especially if the young player is able to chip in double figure scoring to a position that returns only one player (Ramon Sessions) that averaged over 10 points per game after Michael Redd went down with an injury and excluding the recently traded Jefferson’s numbers.
In the second round, a place where the Bucks have had great success in years past with the likes of Redd and Mbah a Moute, Hammond went with former Kentucky guard Jodie Meeks. Many will remember the 54 points the junior guard dropped on Tennessee, a Kentucky record, and for good reason. In short, the solidly built Meeks can flat out score.
What makes his game somewhat more impressive is his ability to score without creating his own shot. As a member of the Bucks, a team that features a great passing Andrew Bogut who loves to work it inside out and find players perched on the perimeter. Meeks, who is at his best as a catch and shoot guard, could be another shooter to coincide with a lethal Redd from distance. And if he ever develops a knack to find his own shot within himself, he could become another second round gem.
But with Charlie Bell, Keith Bogans, Luke Ridnour and newly acquired Salim Stoudamire already on the roster, Meeks will need to show he is capable of performing consistently at a high level in order to receive any consistent playing time. With his ability to score though, and at a position that has struggled in that department since trading away Mo Williams, I’m confident Skiles will find a way to get Meeks in the rotation.
With Jennings and Meeks comprising the 2009 draft class, the Bucks will have solid ball handlers that will space the floor and open things up inside for Andrew Bogut, Dan Gadzuric and the rest of the frontcourt. Teams will have to respect the quickness of Jennings and the sharp shooting of Meeks and that will prevent teams from doubling down on Bogut, which should help his game around the rim and open things up for penetration among the guards.
And with the wiggle room in the salary cap following the trade, the Bucks have a legitimate shot to re-sign one, if not both, of Sessions and Charlie Villanueva. By doing so, and with the new additions to the squad, the Bucks will have a legitimate core to make a run at one of the lower playoff seeds in 2009-2010 if (and a big if at that) the team can stay relatively healthy for the entirety of the season.Follow paulmbanks