Jennings, Ellis look forward to bigger things next season
One of the great qualities in sports are the nuances, the way a game can be broken down to the smallest degree, the way a final outcome can be explained away by subtleties long forgotten by games end or never seen at first blush.
The game within the game, as they say.
In basketball, it takes a little longer to work on those nuances. Ten large, athletic men confined to a half court are more likely to expose flaws and lack of cohesion than anything else, especially on offense.
It's clear when a player isn't sure of his spacing, where to go and when.
This was the case for the better part of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis' time together in the Milwaukee Bucks backcourt the final stretch of the season.
Jennings fashions himself as a true point guard, but at 19.5 points per game he clearly has a scorer's mindset.
Enter Ellis is a career 20-point per game scorer but also averages six assists per game. Jennings is just under that mark for his career.
So the Bucks had two very similar players paired together, and it took some time for the pair to figure out how they would work together.
As the games wore on, their teammates began seeing it come together. The subtleties were becoming more pronounced.
"They just had to learn on the fly, how to play together," Bucks forward Ekpe Udoh said. "As the year was coming down to a close you could see they were getting comfortable with each other. It's only going to improve."
For the first time, Jennings had to learn how to move without the ball, being able to turn the switch from point man to scorer in an instant.
"Monta said it many times, but he's a good passer, so Brandon is learning," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. "He's still learning how to play without the ball in his hands and it's a lot easier to learn when you have other people out there that are passing the ball and the ball finds him again after he gives it up. I thought they worked really well together."
The two have only said publicly that they looked forward to playing with one another, and professed a strong desire to work together during a traditional offseason – one with a full training camp, exhibition season – followed by a regular 82-game schedule.
"The last couple of weeks we really got a feel for one another where we can get each other shots and make each other better," said Ellis, who averaged 17.6 points and 5.9 assists in his 21 games in Milwaukee. "Next year, coming into training camp it'll be much easier because we'll pretty much know each other a little bit and I think we'll get gelling."
Jennings admitted it was difficult to get the chemistry right, but felt the similarities in their games will benefit the team more than create problems.
"I think we'll be able to work out great," he said. "He's a scorer, I'm a scorer, but we just feed off each other. Everybody always said Monta wasn't a willing passer, but he is. He passes just about better than any other guard in the league.
"I think with the 82 game season I think we'll be even better."
In his end of the year evaluation, general manager John Hammond also looked forward to see what his new tandem could do with one another with a full offseason and season together, but admitted the 6-foot, 1-inch Jennings and the 6-3 Ellis are not the ideal NBA backcourt in terms of height.
The key for Hammond however, was noticing the little things, how they practiced, got along with one another, and looked to both to give up the ball, and to get it.
"I think (Ellis is) happy to share the ball and I think Brandon was excited to have him and I think he still is," Hammond said of the duo. "I think Brandon will love to play with Monta as he moves forward and I think it can be a fun backcourt. It's a little undersized, but I think it can be a tough backcourt to defend, too."
The team now hopes the extra time – provided the pair remains together by the start of training camp – will help those become overt reasons for victory.
"Considering the circumstances, they played really well together," Skiles said. "I'm pleased with that. Some more time together, a real training camp, eight exhibition games, different lineups, they can't help but get better together."
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