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.