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Jennings looks for all-around game


That smash debut on Oct. 30, when he had 17 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in 34 minutes against Philadelphia, was terrific.

The joyride through November, when he averaged 22.1 points and had six games of 25 or more, was sensational.

And that night he rang up 55 in his seventh game against Golden State on Nov. 14? Positively otherworldly.

The thing is, Brandon Jennings never intended for it to be like that. You think a 20-year-old rookie who had played just one season off the bench for a team in Italy since leaving high school would be planning to dominate the NBA?

"Actually I was kind of scared, how good I was playing," Jennings said.

Well, that proves it, doesn't it? The sprint out of the blocks was some sort of solar flare, a cosmic burst of energy that can't be predicted or repeated. Or perhaps he's just run smack into the proverbial rookie wall, before Christmas even, his 6-foot-1, 170-pound (maybe) frame already straining against the rigors of the NBA grind.

Not exactly. The good news for Milwaukee fans is that Jennings' drop-off from "scary" greatness to mere very goodness doesn't reflect a lack of confidence or the passing of a hardwood harmonic convergence. It's actually a telling indicator of his uncommon maturity. Rather than an overnight sensation, he prefers to be a steady, role-playing point guard who puts the team's bottom line ahead of blowing up a box score with his stat line.

"The thing about the 55 was that now everybody was expecting me to score 50 points," said Jennings, who hasn't reached 30 points since and doesn't mind a bit. "A lot of pressure started going my way. The main thing is, you just have to keep playing your game. That's what I'm doing now."

Jennings' game, as he sees it, is to score about 15 points and pass out eight or nine assists per night. He also drops the "S" word, the one that makes a coach's ears perk up like a hungry Doberman.

"Being solid," he said.

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Jennings' scoring average is down nearly five points from November to 17.2 points in December. He has surpassed 20 points only twice, but reached double figures every game. His three-point shooting percentage has dropped from 42 percent in November to 30 percent.

On the other hand, his assist average has risen from 5.6 to 7.0, while his turnovers have dropped from 3.2 to 1.9. His improvement hasn't translated to more wins for the Bucks, who have gone 4-11 since starting 8-3, but that's more a reflection of a tougher schedule and short-term injuries to Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut.

Jennings will have plenty of difficult moments this season, particularly learning to play on the road, but the fact remains he's a 20-year-old rookie who's averaging 20.2 points, 6.2 assists and 2.8 turnovers. Already, the Rookie of the Year race seems down to him or Sacramento point guard Tyreke Evans, who has the edge in experience because he's all of four days older than Jennings.

Jennings' "veteran" approach was on display in the Bucks' 84-81 win over Indiana on Monday. His numbers were of the solid variety -- 16 points, six assists, four rebounds, two steals and two turnovers -- but he surpassed the combined effort of Pacers veterans Earl Watson and T.J. Ford, and he scored the Bucks' two biggest baskets -- a three-pointer that provided a four-point lead with 1:52 left and a step-back fadeaway on the right baseline for a five-point lead with two seconds left on the shot clock and 28.6 seconds on the game clock.

"Good players make shots at the end," he said. "I'm still getting my looks. I'm backing off a little bit, trying to get my teammates more involved. I'm a better passer than a scorer."

Jennings' teammates seem not to mind him doing either. They appreciate his spirit of sharing, but there were no hints of resentment in the Bucks' locker room early in the season, either, even when he dared to score 55. They won that game, after all, and besides, how can you not like a kid who comes off more like an enthusiastic ball boy than a brash rookie?

Bucks veteran shooting guard Redd, a career 20-point scorer, would figure to suffer the most from a scoring point guard, but he's fine with Jennings' approach, then and now.

"When you have a good shot, shoot it," Redd said. "Just go play basketball. You can't put a number on what you want to average. Whatever happens that night, happens."

Jennings has an able playmaking mentor in Bucks coach Scott Skiles, whose single-game record of 30 assists, set on Dec. 30, 1990, still stands. Skiles was a pass-first point guard like Jennings wants to be, but he was enough of a scorer -- he dropped 41 on the Pacers in Indianapolis one night in '92 -- that he understands the dilemma for a point guard with a jump shot.

"When you can score and see the floor and make plays, you have to find a balance in there, and it's difficult," Skiles said. "You have to relax and take what the game gives you. Sometimes that poise and relaxation comes after experience. He's still working through that in the course of games.

"It's easy for coaches to stop the tape and be critical. There are times we think he should be looking to score a little more and times we think he shouldn't. It can be a tough balance. The only cure I've found for it is experience. He's ahead of where most kids his age are at. But nowhere near where he's going to be."