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Brandon Jennings takes aim for the 40-percent mark

Oct 14, 2011, 3:09 PM EDT

Milwaukee Bucks' Brandon Jennings waits to enter the game against Toronto Raptors in the first half of their NBA basketball game in Milwaukee, Wisconsin AP

Yesterday, in a live chat on ESPN.com, Brandon Jennings lobbed an easy-as-pie piece of cake over the plate. He didn’t have to; Jennings had stopped by to pretty clearly shill for Court Grip — the new product which Dwyane Wade plugged so aggressively but a few weeks earlier — and those kinds of advertising tours tend to be very straightforward affairs. But Jennings got just a tad sidetracked in talking about his workout schedule and his goals for next season, and offered up this gem:

Steve (Orlando):

Go Bucks! How many hours a week do you, if at all, practice your 15 foot jump shot. Thanks.

Brandon Jennings  (3:05 PM):

Actually since the lockout, I’ve been in Baltimore working for 3 months straight. I’m going to shoot over 40% this year. This whole three months of the lockout, I’ve been working out 5 days a week in Baltimore.

40 percent. That’s it. Take a moment to get all of the wisecracks out of your system. Just wring out the snark. 40 percent is an incredibly unimpressive target, a number that most NBA players eclipse with even their worst shooting seasons. We know this. Jennings probably does, too, but that didn’t stop him from setting a depressed goal for his own individual performance.

Jennings is still just 21, and he’ll evolve plenty as a player before he even hits his basketball prime. Yet his underwhelming field goal percentage numbers — .371 and .390 in his first two seasons respectively — are a cause for legitimate concern. They’re far from a death sentence for Jennings’ career, but so long as his poor shot selection continues to get the best of him, his NBA potential will be curbed substantially.

To be fair, Jennings has averaged five three-pointers a game in each of his NBA seasons thus far, accounting for nearly a third of his total shot attempts. If we use effective field goal percentage instead of standard field goal percentage, his shooting efficiency looks a bit more respectable, and Jennings actually outshoots John Wall and Russell Westbrook.

Of course, the problem with comparing Jennings to players like Wall and Westbrook is that each has produced in a way that Jennings has not. Wall sees the world in angles, and harnesses them through his own brand of awesome playmaking; he posted an assist rate 10 points higher than Jennings last season, despite JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche attempting to sabotage that number at every turn. Westbrook, on the other hand, was not only a far superior playmaker statistically in his second season, but he got to the line at an elite rate. He curbed his initially low field goal percentage with rapid improvement and a commitment to drawing contact, and those free points — which exist outside of his total field goals attempted and thus his field goal percentage — are a big component of Westbrook’s incredible production.

If Jennings were a better passer, his poor shooting numbers would matter slightly less. If he were committed to getting into the lane (where Jennings has proven himself to be an decently effective finisher), his efficiency numbers would skyrocket. Yet Jennings remains committed to forcing shots he has little chance of making, and hasn’t shown enough growth in the other facets of his game to hedge the problematic influence of his shot selection.

The blame here might not solely be on Jennings (Scott Skiles seems content with players taking long two-pointers, and the Bucks haven’t exactly had a lot of high-level talent outside of Jennings and Andrew Bogut), and that notion makes it worth considering if this alignment of player, team, coach, and system might be damaging to the offensive potential of all parties involved. If Jennings was firing up more shots than normal because of Bogut’s lingering injuries and the offensive limitations of some his teammates, then that’s understandable. But if he’s growing accustomed to shooting once every other minute despite playing for one of the league’s slowest teams as if such a thing were his Basketball Gods-given right, then we could have a bit of a problem. A fair bit of restraint would behoove Jennings, but the Bucks’ system offers structure without the means to prevent him from taking ill-advised shots. Skiles has a reputation for being an oppressive coach, but in his offense Jennings is oddly enabled.

There’s something admirable about an NBAer playing within themselves, and whether due to personal motivations or circumstance, we have yet to see Jennings pull off such a feat. 40 percent would be a nice step in the right direction, but only the slightest step. If Jennings wants to keep pace with his impressively efficient contemporaries, he’ll need to show a fair bit of growth beyond that number.

H/T: Tom Haberstroh.

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