Since scoring 26 points in Milwaukee’s win over Memphis on Nov. 21, rookie Bucks phenom Brandon Jennings has been in something of a slump. Entering tonight’s game against Chicago, Jennings had shot 29.0 percent (20-of-69) in his last four games. Not coincidentally, the Bucks had lost each of those games. With Andrew Bogut anchoring the defense in his return to the lineup, Milwaukee got the win tonight, but Jennings (5-for-15) shot poorly again.
As Outside the Clubhouse pointed out today (referencing my Jennings Every Play Counts breakdown), the odd thing is that Jennings cooling down has had little to do with the most reasonable culprit–his outside shooting. Jennings is still shooting nearly 50 percent from beyond the arc. Instead, he’s struggled closer to the basket. Using NBA.com’s HotZones charts–which were invaluable in researching Pro Basketball Prospectus 2009-10–helps isolate the issue.
Specifically, we can compare Jennings’ shot chart over the last five games to what he’s done over the course of the season. Using ESPN.com’s game-by-game shot charts, I also added in what Jennings shot tonight. The results are striking. You might think that teams have stopped Jennings by keeping him out of the paint, but he’s actually attempting more shots at the rim now than early in the season (40.5 percent of his total shot attempts, as compared to 29.5 percent early). It’s just that he’s not making any of them. Through the first 10 games, Jennings was hitting a reasonable 51.6 percent of his close attempts. The last six games, that has dropped to 26.5 percent, which is rather ridiculously low. Jennings has also seen the midrange game desert him. He hit 46.6 percent of mid- to long-range two-pointers during the first 10 games, and that is down to 15.0 percent since.
What has been the difference? Surely, as teams have scouted Jennings they have a better idea of how to try to stop him. The fact that he’s played a stronger set of defenses over the last five games is also a factor. Still, some misfortune has to be a factor. NBA players–even skinny 6’1″ point guards–simply do not finish so poorly on a regular basis.