Brandon Jennings' career has been anything but dull. From a 55-point game performance in his rookie year to being relegated to the bench after suffering a career-altering achilles injury, the point guard has been an enigma that shoots in any direction.
Adding Jennings via trade just days before the trade deadline, Magic general manager Rob Hennigan evidently bought low on Orlando's new backup point guard. The 2015-16 season has been nothing more than forgettable for the once-highly touted rookie.
In 23 games for Detroit this season, Jennings averaged career-lows in minutes (18.1), points (6.8) and assists (3.0), per basketball-reference.com. That's excluding a plethora of other categories as well. Despite the cataclysmic drop of production since averaging a career-high 19.2 PPG while shooting 41.8 percent from the floor in the 2011-12 season, Jennings is anything but "over the hill."
Just 26 years old, Jennings has mileage-thrust into a starting role for Milwaukee as a rookie seven seasons ago. However, he's currently one of the league's more prominent backup options at the point guard position. For Orlando, he's a definite change of pace from the methodical movements Elfrid Payton operates with. Even though Jennings has had difficulty getting acclimated to head coach Scott Skiles' system, it's early to project Jennings future with such a small sample size in Orlando.
"I'm not sure if the Magic know who or what they have with Brandon Jennings in that he is still knocking off a significant amount of rust from the achilles injury he suffered January of 2015," said the Orlando Sentinel's Josh Robbins. "[He's] still getting used to a whole bunch of new teammates, which it would be one thing if he were a power forward like Ersan Ilyasova... Tough to adjust under any circumstances, but even more tough when you are a point guard and haven't had too many opportunities."
As lead-guards have evolved, Jennings is transitioning to a simpler role that doesn't ask him to be the team's focal point right away. It would be cynical to expect Jennings to immediately put up similar numbers to what he was posting in Milwaukee and recovering from the low-key brutal achilles injury only further complicates his development.
Leg injuries sap the athleticism from players, especially in a league that focuses on moving up and down the floor at a breakneck pace. He's not going to be the second-unit energizer, even in his limited role, but the 26-year-old point guard has ball skills others would covet. Here, Jennings uses two ball screens to advance into the paint, draw in center Zaza Pachulia and dish to power forward Jason Smith for the open jumper.
He's a completely different breed than Payton when it comes to providing offense. Payton's hyper-reliance of production in the painted area or near the basket counters Jenning's propensity to space the floor and score from all areas on the floor.
Jennings, in his career, has taken 5.2 three-point attempts per game-albeit lacking efficiency. It's a necessity for a team that only has one legitimate gunner in Evan Fournier. Both Victor Oladipo and Mario Hezonja have more consistency attacking the basket than limiting their offensive ceiling by taking contested three-point attempts.
With Oladipo and Fournier occupying starting positions in the Magic starting lineup, Jennings' perimeter scoring plays favorably on the bench. Despite hoisting egregiously, the high volume point guard can provide fire on the second unit and exudes versatility-as Jennings can drive to the basket as well.
Defensively, Jennings hasn't been the most viable defender in his career and his 6'1", 169-pound frame doesn't handle slashing guards effectively. The repercussions from his achilles injury could have a lasting impact in Jennings' ability to handle more elusive and powerful point guards that attack him off the dribble.
Payton, distinctively, has the advantage over Jennings in the defensive department, which could limit Jennings' minutes moving forward as the Magic invest more heavily in Payton.
Orlando, at 27-34, sits just 4.0 games out of the No. 8 seed in the East. Both Payton, who has struggled in his second season, and Jennings should be vital cogs in the Magic's playoff run. However, there is more of an incentive for Jennings to take advantage of Payton's limitations on offense and provide a spark off the bench.
As an impending free agent, Jennings has the necessary opportunity to showcase the offensive capabilities he can provide organizations in the second unit. He might be devoid of starting opportunities, but some team will pay Jennings in the offseason.
With the expected salary spike, Jennings will receive millions based on name value alone. With diminishing skills and an injury history, the Magic would be wise to once again get Jennings for a bargain instead of buying high on the southpaw.