Yesterday, Washington signed point guard Brandon Jennings after he cleared waivers. Before his release, the six-year point guard had only missed one game for the Knicks. In New York, Jennings was solid on a team that’s been through way too much off-court drama. Jennings, known to speak his mind, was a bystander in various reality show situations with Phil Jackson, James Dolan, Derrick Rose, Charles Oakley and way too many others to name. While his advanced stats leave much to be desired, Jennings is a welcome addition to Washington as he is a strong offensive weapon, and the Wizards have struggled with depth throughout this season.
Jennings’ Season So Far
Offensively, Jennings played decently in his 58 games with the Knicks. While his overall numbers may not have been impressive, he outplayed Derrick Rose many nights. Rose was the Knicks’ big acquisition last summer, making much more in salary than Jennings on the season.
During an overall disappointing New York Knicks season, Jennings’ shooting numbers were far from remarkable. He shot less than 40 percent overall and from beyond the 3-point line in the blue and orange. Nearly half of his shots came from the three-point line, while converting only 34 percent of those shots. However, Jennings — known for being a mercurial scorer — has had big games, in which he scored 20+ points and several assists, as well as disappointing ones, in which he was 2 for 10 from the field. Despite his mediocre numbers, perimeter defenders respect him because of their fear of a hot streak. At this point, Jennings is a known commodity but still a valuable player.
Jennings has lost some agility after tearing his Achilles two years ago when he was with the Pistons. That may explain his tendency to settle for 3-pointers, rather than funneling to the hoop. Although Jennings may not be as explosive as he once was, he can still get into the lane with screens and mismatches. His game still has flash and flair off the dribble, where he has thrown some pretty nifty passes to open teammates. He has been able to find big men like Willy Hernangomez, Kyle O’Quinn and Kristaps Porzingis when defenses have collapsed on his drives. Surprisingly, Jennings was the Knicks’ leader in assists on the season, averaging 4.9 assists in 25 minutes per game.
Defensively, Jennings has not been a consistent difference maker. He has the ability to hound defenders if he’s motivated, but that has come and gone this season. While it may be minor, Jennings has outplayed Rose defensively, the player he was signed to back up in New York. His length allows him to gamble for steals and pokes. Jennings can be a passable defender, but the key issue with him is effort.
Jennings’ Role With The Wizards
The Wizards have struggled all season with their backcourt depth, with starters John Wall and Bradley Beal playing huge minutes. Washington's second unit has not been able to hold leads set up by their solid starting five. At last week’s trade deadline, the Wizards acquired veteran wing Bojan Bogdanovic from the Brooklyn Nets. Bogdanovic was a major addition, moving to a sixth man role after being the second leading scorer for the struggling Nets. So far, Bogdanovic has played decently, adding a much-needed lift to a bench whose best player was second-year wing Kelly Oubre.
The addition of Jennings will provide relief for the Wizards’ backcourt as the season winds down. Beal and Wall have played 34.7 and 36.7 minutes per game respectively. Wall is sixth in the league in minutes per game, while Beal is 22nd, so any way to cut their minutes will be beneficial for a team looking to make a deep run in the playoffs. Beal has a history of injuries, and resting him may even be an option with the Wizards likely to be a top-4 team in the East. Jennings has been healthy this season, missing only one game and starting 11; he can easily come off the bench and provide major minutes, or slide into an off-ball role with Wall.
Jennings’ biggest contribution to the Wizards may not be his mercurial scoring. With Bogdanovic, the Wizards may have their scoring sixth man. Jennings will be an upgrade as a facilitator. This season, Trey Burke has been the primary backup for Wall, and, while his numbers look solid offensively, Burke has struggled playing as a ball handler. Burke’s issues as a facilitator have caused Coach Scott Brooks to resort to 6-foot-7-inch wing Tomas Satoransky to set up the offense.
While Burke may have shot the ball better than Jennings this season, he still has been lackluster in other areas. Standing at 5 feet 11 inches (but listed at 6 feet 1 inches), Burke has a difficult time getting his shot off due to a lack of explosion and length. The Wizards are hoping that Jennings can bring his flashy passes and dribble penetration to the Capital. He can run the pick-and-roll in a pinch, and he may cut down on his turnovers with a better roster. Jennings’ shot selection may also improve in a more refined system. His ability to go red-hot and his flashy, uptempo style of play will energize the otherwise dreary second unit. In lineups with Beal, Bogdanovic or Otto Porter, Jennings may have enough room to create for himself or others, flanked by great shooting.
Looking to the Playoffs
Washington acquired Jennings on the deadline for players to be eligible for the playoffs. With this move, the Wizards are looking to make a deep run in the playoffs. After the announcement of Kyle Lowry’s injury this week, the first playoff round against the Toronto Raptors is looking favorable for the Wizards. If Lowry struggles to regain his rhythm after surgery, the Wizards may have a legitimate chance to play in the Eastern Conference Finals.
By acquiring Jennings, the Wizards are looking to stop Cleveland's streak of Eastern Conference Finals wins, and take down other top teams like the Boston Celtics or Toronto Raptors in the process. With one of the best 1-2-3 combos in the league, Washington has the star power, and now the bench depth, to make Cleveland sweat. After initially starting the season under .500, the Wizards have played well and currently sit as the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Washington Wizards participated in the waiver wire arms race, acquiring one of the best point guards on the market in Jennings. In New York, Jennings may have outplayed the man he was backing up, Derrick Rose. Now, as a backup to Wall, Jennings will give minutes relief for the overworked superstar. He is an upgrade at the backup point guard position, a facilitator that mixes solid on-court leadership with a flair for highlight reel passes. As a free agent this summer, it’s also in Jennings’ best interest to impress potential suitors for his next contract.