Jennings has the game to become Bucks’ leader

Game time

Kings 96, Bucks 95

The NBA’s latest rookie sensation is Brandon Jennings.
He, along with Andrew Bogut and Michael Redd are the primary
reasons why the Milwaukee Bucks can dare hope for a bright future.

Let’s take a closer look at this trio.

After suffering multiple injuries, Michael Redd is still a
long way from recovering his game. In his 22 minutes, his 1-for-6
mark from the field included three bricks. Redd was also so
lead-footed on both offense and defense that Scott Skiles’ judgment
has to be questioned for allowing him to be on the court throughout
the end of the game.

The Bucks will continue to struggle to win more games than
they lose until Redd fully recuperates and becomes the creative
wing-scorer they so desperately need.

Andrew Bogut’s best aspects are his strength, his
hands, his intelligence, his excellent passwork, and the fact that
he’s totally ambidextrous. However, he’s slow moving both
vertically and horizontally and, as such, is an inferior defender.
Even worse, in the last minute of the game, Bogut missed two free
throws and a pair of uncontested tip-ins.

Bogut can put up acceptable numbers — 15 points, 13
rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocks in the game at hand. But
additional stats — 2 layups missed, 3 of his shots blocked, one
air-ball, 14 isolations for a mere10 points, and only 6-20 from the
field — reveal that he’s not sufficiently athletic to lead the
Bucks to the next level.

That leadership must come from young Brandon Jennings. On the
plus side of the rookie’s game are his soft jumper, his
advanced court vision, his admirable unselfishness, and his
breath-taking speed and quickness.

When his right-to-left crossover dribbles created time and
space, Jennings usually made the net dance. But his shot-release
was appreciably stiffer when he tried to pull-and-shoot while
dribbling right — an air-ball plus a brick-like 20-foot miss. Nor
does he have the bulk to consistently get to the hoop and finish in
a crowd — he did this only once. Considering that Jennings forced
a total of four shots, his overall shooting numbers — 4 for 11 for
15 points — weren’t awful.

His passing, however, was outstanding. In addition to his
nine assists, Jennings delivered seven on-target passes that could
have been assists had the recipients made open shots or not been
fouled while shooting layups. Moreover, only one of his five bad
passes became a turnover.

On defense, Jennings was routinely out-muscled by Tyreke
Evans and out-tricked by Beno Udrih. Jennings also tended to wander
on defense and, because of his slight build, avoid any and all
physical contact. Plus, he was totally obliterated by even the most
marginally adequate screens.

At best, Jennings could develop into a weaker, better-passing
version of Calvin Murphy. At worst, he could approximate Kenny
Anderson’s soft skills.

The guess here is that he’ll evolve in something closer
to the former than the latter.

Here’s a quick run-down of the rest of the squad:

Ersan Ilyasova can catch-and-shoot, rebound, show some
promise as a post-up scorer, and set rugged screens. Too bad his
passing leaves much to desire.

At the other end of the court, Ilyasova’s ability to
offer helpful weak-side assistance on defense puts him in good
position to draw charging fouls. But this advantage is offset by
his penchant for turning his head and his somewhat limited lateral
movement.

Unlike Jennings, Luke Ridnour isn’t wary of going
chest-to-chest on defense. The veteran’s to-the-hoop game is
likewise both more aggressive and more refined. Ridnour appears to
be an acceptable backup and mentor to young Jennings.

Carlos Delfino loves to shoot, plays aggressive but
ineffective defense, routinely overhandles, and has trouble
penetrating and finishing.

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is an extremely valuable role player
who doesn’t need to have his number called to score (5 of 5,
4 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block, 14 points). He moves adroitly without
the ball, plays earnest defense, and can even catch-and-shoot. This
guy is for real.

Hamim Warrick can score in iso situations — four of these
for four of his six points — relying on various quick and tight
spins. He also plays exemplary deny defense.

Otherwise, Warrick cannot pass, set useful screens, play
effective on-the-ball defense, or differentiate between good shots
and bad shots. Nevertheless, he had some value as an erratic yet
potentially explosive scorer off the bench.

Jodie Meeks showed a soft shot, but little else. The
37-year-old Kurt Thomas is surviving on savvy alone.

In order to move up the ladder of respectability, the Bucks
need a legitimate shot-blocker (Sam Dalembert?), a complete
recovery by Redd, a summer spent in the weight-room by Jennings, as
well as another creative wing-scorer.

Still, in their solid mediocrity, the Bucks are capable of
surprising any team that takes them lightly.

Straight shooting

There are several players who are
creating problems for their teams because of the unique natures of
their talents, their attitudes and/or their contractual situations.

• During the offseason, Carlos Boozer was a year away
from free-agency and made it clear that he would not be returning
to Utah when his current contract expired, and would therefore
welcome a trade. But these days he’s insisting that
he’s become a happy camper. In truth, Boozer can’t wait
for: a) The season to end so he can change clubs again, or b) The
Jazz to deal him to a bona fide contender that has sufficient
resources to sign him to still another humungous deal.

Meanwhile, both Boozer and his teammates-of-the-moment
understand that he’s here today and gone ASAP, so nobody is
surprised when he occasionally breezes through a game on cruise
control. As a result, the harmony necessary for Jerry Sloan’s
disciplined game plan to succeed often descends into cacophony
— especially on the road.

But, as much as the Jazz want to make a deal, they’ve
been frustrated by their inability to attract “equal
value” for Boozer.

Hmmm. What could be considered equal value for a
not-so-secret malcontent and habitual hypocrite these days?

Utah is advised to get real, i.e., do whatever it takes to
get rid of Boozer before the season is irrevocably lost.

• Nate Robinson promises to behave like an adult if
only Mike D’Antoni will give him some daylight. But now that
the Knicks have started to get it together, there’s no way to
justify putting Robinson back into the rotation.

Because he was totally shunned in last summer’s
free-agent market, trading him is not a viable option. But how long
before Robinson’s frustration results in still another
childish outburst that will threaten whatever fragile chemistry the
team has managed to create?

It looks like the only real solution for the Knicks is
Starbury redux.

• Anthony Randolph is insisting that the Warriors sign
him to a mega-bucks extension. The problem is that the young man is
too knuckleheaded and too mistake-prone to warrant such an
investment, but is also much too talented to blithely trade away.

What to do?

Better hope he can mature in a hurry.

• Despite his protestations to the contrary, Chris Bosh
already has one foot out the door. Since the Raptors are headed
nowhere fast, Bosh should forthwith be traded for whatever draft
picks and bench-bound hooplings with long-range star-quality
potential that the market can offer.

• To put it mildly, Hedo Turkoglu has been a grave and
an expensive disappointment. Apparently, Toronto’s brain
trust never realized that playing with a post-up player who had to
be two-timed — and therefore created open looks for his
teammates — was a critical element in Turkoglu’s
success in Orlando. Instead of teaming with a monster-in-the-middle
like Dwight Howard, Turk the Turk is now paired with Andrea
Bargnani, a 7-footer who plays like a small forward, and is never
double-teamed. Most recently, in 30 minutes versus the sad-sack
Nets, Bargnani managed to haul in the grand total of one rebound.

On his own, all of Turkoglu’s flaws are emphasized,
e.g., his slowness afoot at both ends of the court, plus his
inability to both pass and shoot effectively when forced to go
right.

What to do?

Trade Bargnani.

• As if they don’t have enough trouble dealing
with their season-long rash of injuries, Portland has also had to
deal with Andre Miller’s malaise. They can’t trade
Steve Blake because the Blazers simply are better with him at the
helm of what’s left of their offense. And Miller’s
sizable contract may also make him untradeable.

What to do?

Grin and bear it, and hope for a series of miraculous
healings.

• And for the personnel difficulties faced by both the
Rockets and the Clippers, how about the Warriors trading Corey
Maggette to Houston for Tracy McGrady?

Vox populi

With the All-Star Game on the horizon and the ballots being
submitted, who would be your All-Star selections, and why? — Neil
Perry, La Mirada, Calif.

Nobody.

The All-Star Game is a meaningless, overhyped spectacle that
has little to do with competitive basketball. I’d rather
watch either the Nets play the T-Wolves in a real game, or else a
re-run of last year’s Puppy Bowl.

Travels with Charley

Here’s another episode of my
craven CBA follies.

I had suspended Jim Lampley during halftime of the
championship playoff series in 1989. The lingering reason being his
lackluster play at my not immediately reinserting him into the
starting lineup upon his return from a broken bone in his hand. My
rationale was that Lamp had done nothing but sit around and get fat
during the interim.

The immediate reason was his coming late to the locker room
after lingering courtside with a young lady.

Anyway, we were subsequently swept by Henry Bibby’s
Tulsa Fastbreakers, a team featuring several questionable
characters.

Once the Lightning’s season was over, the best run in
Rockford took place at a local high school gym. Still steaming at
Lamp’s behavior, I laced up my sneakers and presented myself
at the gym with the sole purpose of playing opposite Lampley and
beating him to a pulp. But the other participants simply
wouldn’t let me into their game. This guy had next. That guy
had next-after-next. And so on.

So, unsweated and unavenged, I left.

Fast forward to midway through the next season when the
Lightning were playing in Pensacola, a team whose starting center
was Jim Lampley.

Virtually all of Rockford’s best players from the
previous season were elsewhere — Elston Turner and Pace
Mannion back in the NBA, Fred Cofield in Europe, Dwayne McClain in
La Crosse — and we would finish the season with a dismal
record of 22-34. In any event, I was increasingly desperate to turn
our already lost season around.

How desperate was I?

Before the game, I walked on to the court while Lampley was
rehearsing his free throws. And then I asked him if he would
consider returning to the Lightning. A trade, after all, could
easily be arranged. Actually, I didn’t really ask him. I
practically begged him.

He smiled broadly and was delighted to turn me down. Then he
tallied 23 points to lead the home team to victory, and smiled
again each time he trotted by my bench.

Shame on me.