| Will Brandon Jennings be a quick NBA study after his year abroad?|
|104 Dunks last season by Hakim Warrick with Memphis. He ranked just 17th in the league, but his total was higher than that of the top two Bucks -- Richard Jefferson (51) and Charlie Villanueva (48) -- combined. |
|Record: 34-48 (fifth in Central) |
Points scored: 99.3 (15th in NBA)
Points allowed: 100.4 (16th in NBA)
This article appears in the October 26, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated
Last year Brandon Jennings became the first high school player to forgo a college basketball career to play professionally overseas. Whether the 20-year-old makes an impact during his rookie season will depend on how quickly he can translate his European experience into NBA production -- especially on a Bucks team that lost both experience and production with the departures of forwards Richard Jefferson and Charlie Villanueva.
The point guard job is Jennings's for the taking: Only underachieving veteran Luke Ridnour and untested second-year pro Roko Ukic stand in his way. Jennings gained a competitive edge from the season he spent with Virtus Roma, where he battled grown men for playing time, endured rigorous two-a-day practices and slogged through a 70-game schedule. "At first I thought it was crazy, all this practice and no days off," says Jennings, who averaged only 11 minutes for Roma. "But I think that really helped me get ready and mentally focused for the NBA."
With Virtus Roma, Jennings was also steeped in the type of fundamentals-based team ball stressed by second-year coach Scott Skiles. But can he go from playing a minor role on an Italian pro team to logging major minutes with the Bucks? Jennings led the Las Vegas summer league with 8.2 assists per game while averaging 14.6 points. If he maintains that pass-first mentality during the regular season, it could mean bigger numbers for shooting guard Michael Redd (who is coming off left-ACL surgery), center Andrew Bogut (stress fracture of the back) and forward Hakim Warrick, who signed as a free agent in July.
To bulk up his 6' 1", 169-pound frame, Jennings has added pregame weightlifting sessions. "I don't want to get pushed around by [big] guys like Andre Miller and Chauncey Billups," he says. But he and his teammates will need another year of schooling before they graduate to the status of playoff contender.
-- Andrew Lawrence