NBA

Jennings has the game to become Bucks' leader

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Charley Rosen

Charley Rosen is FOXSports.com's NBA analyst and author of 17 sports books, the current ones being Bullpen Diaries: Mariano Rivera, Bronx Dreams, Pinstripe Legends, and the Future of the New York Yankees and Crazy Basketball: A Life In and Out of Bounds.

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Game time

Kings 96, Bucks 95

The NBA’s latest rookie sensation is Brandon Jennings. He, along with Andrew Bogut and Michael Redd are the primary reasons why the Milwaukee Bucks can dare hope for a bright future.

Let’s take a closer look at this trio.

After suffering multiple injuries, Michael Redd is still a long way from recovering his game. In his 22 minutes, his 1-for-6 mark from the field included three bricks. Redd was also so lead-footed on both offense and defense that Scott Skiles' judgment has to be questioned for allowing him to be on the court throughout the end of the game.

The Bucks will continue to struggle to win more games than they lose until Redd fully recuperates and becomes the creative wing-scorer they so desperately need.

Andrew Bogut’s best aspects are his strength, his hands, his intelligence, his excellent passwork, and the fact that he’s totally ambidextrous. However, he's slow moving both vertically and horizontally and, as such, is an inferior defender. Even worse, in the last minute of the game, Bogut missed two free throws and a pair of uncontested tip-ins.

Bogut can put up acceptable numbers -- 15 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocks in the game at hand. But additional stats -- 2 layups missed, 3 of his shots blocked, one air-ball, 14 isolations for a mere10 points, and only 6-20 from the field -- reveal that he's not sufficiently athletic to lead the Bucks to the next level.

That leadership must come from young Brandon Jennings. On the plus side of the rookie’s game are his soft jumper, his advanced court vision, his admirable unselfishness, and his breath-taking speed and quickness.

When his right-to-left crossover dribbles created time and space, Jennings usually made the net dance. But his shot-release was appreciably stiffer when he tried to pull-and-shoot while dribbling right -- an air-ball plus a brick-like 20-foot miss. Nor does he have the bulk to consistently get to the hoop and finish in a crowd -- he did this only once. Considering that Jennings forced a total of four shots, his overall shooting numbers -- 4 for 11 for 15 points -- weren’t awful.

His passing, however, was outstanding. In addition to his nine assists, Jennings delivered seven on-target passes that could have been assists had the recipients made open shots or not been fouled while shooting layups. Moreover, only one of his five bad passes became a turnover.

On defense, Jennings was routinely out-muscled by Tyreke Evans and out-tricked by Beno Udrih. Jennings also tended to wander on defense and, because of his slight build, avoid any and all physical contact. Plus, he was totally obliterated by even the most marginally adequate screens.

At best, Jennings could develop into a weaker, better-passing version of Calvin Murphy. At worst, he could approximate Kenny Anderson’s soft skills.

The guess here is that he’ll evolve in something closer to the former than the latter.

Here’s a quick run-down of the rest of the squad:

Ersan Ilyasova can catch-and-shoot, rebound, show some promise as a post-up scorer, and set rugged screens. Too bad his passing leaves much to desire.

At the other end of the court, Ilyasova’s ability to offer helpful weak-side assistance on defense puts him in good position to draw charging fouls. But this advantage is offset by his penchant for turning his head and his somewhat limited lateral movement.

Unlike Jennings, Luke Ridnour isn’t wary of going chest-to-chest on defense. The veteran’s to-the-hoop game is likewise both more aggressive and more refined. Ridnour appears to be an acceptable backup and mentor to young Jennings.

Carlos Delfino loves to shoot, plays aggressive but ineffective defense, routinely overhandles, and has trouble penetrating and finishing.

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is an extremely valuable role player who doesn’t need to have his number called to score (5 of 5, 4 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block, 14 points). He moves adroitly without the ball, plays earnest defense, and can even catch-and-shoot. This guy is for real.

Hamim Warrick can score in iso situations -- four of these for four of his six points -- relying on various quick and tight spins. He also plays exemplary deny defense.

Otherwise, Warrick cannot pass, set useful screens, play effective on-the-ball defense, or differentiate between good shots and bad shots. Nevertheless, he had some value as an erratic yet potentially explosive scorer off the bench.

Jodie Meeks showed a soft shot, but little else. The 37-year-old Kurt Thomas is surviving on savvy alone.

In order to move up the ladder of respectability, the Bucks need a legitimate shot-blocker (Sam Dalembert?), a complete recovery by Redd, a summer spent in the weight-room by Jennings, as well as another creative wing-scorer.

Still, in their solid mediocrity, the Bucks are capable of surprising any team that takes them lightly.

Straight shooting

There are several players who are creating problems for their teams because of the unique natures of their talents, their attitudes and/or their contractual situations.

• During the offseason, Carlos Boozer was a year away from free-agency and made it clear that he would not be returning to Utah when his current contract expired, and would therefore welcome a trade. But these days he’s insisting that he’s become a happy camper. In truth, Boozer can’t wait for: a) The season to end so he can change clubs again, or b) The Jazz to deal him to a bona fide contender that has sufficient resources to sign him to still another humungous deal.

Meanwhile, both Boozer and his teammates-of-the-moment understand that he’s here today and gone ASAP, so nobody is surprised when he occasionally breezes through a game on cruise control. As a result, the harmony necessary for Jerry Sloan’s disciplined game plan to succeed often descends into cacophony — especially on the road.

But, as much as the Jazz want to make a deal, they’ve been frustrated by their inability to attract “equal value” for Boozer.

Hmmm. What could be considered equal value for a not-so-secret malcontent and habitual hypocrite these days?

Utah is advised to get real, i.e., do whatever it takes to get rid of Boozer before the season is irrevocably lost.

• Nate Robinson promises to behave like an adult if only Mike D’Antoni will give him some daylight. But now that the Knicks have started to get it together, there’s no way to justify putting Robinson back into the rotation.

Because he was totally shunned in last summer’s free-agent market, trading him is not a viable option. But how long before Robinson’s frustration results in still another childish outburst that will threaten whatever fragile chemistry the team has managed to create?

It looks like the only real solution for the Knicks is Starbury redux.

• Anthony Randolph is insisting that the Warriors sign him to a mega-bucks extension. The problem is that the young man is too knuckleheaded and too mistake-prone to warrant such an investment, but is also much too talented to blithely trade away.

What to do?

Better hope he can mature in a hurry.

• Despite his protestations to the contrary, Chris Bosh already has one foot out the door. Since the Raptors are headed nowhere fast, Bosh should forthwith be traded for whatever draft picks and bench-bound hooplings with long-range star-quality potential that the market can offer.

• To put it mildly, Hedo Turkoglu has been a grave and an expensive disappointment. Apparently, Toronto’s brain trust never realized that playing with a post-up player who had to be two-timed — and therefore created open looks for his teammates — was a critical element in Turkoglu’s success in Orlando. Instead of teaming with a monster-in-the-middle like Dwight Howard, Turk the Turk is now paired with Andrea Bargnani, a 7-footer who plays like a small forward, and is never double-teamed. Most recently, in 30 minutes versus the sad-sack Nets, Bargnani managed to haul in the grand total of one rebound.

On his own, all of Turkoglu’s flaws are emphasized, e.g., his slowness afoot at both ends of the court, plus his inability to both pass and shoot effectively when forced to go right.

What to do?

Trade Bargnani.

• As if they don’t have enough trouble dealing with their season-long rash of injuries, Portland has also had to deal with Andre Miller’s malaise. They can’t trade Steve Blake because the Blazers simply are better with him at the helm of what’s left of their offense. And Miller’s sizable contract may also make him untradeable.

What to do?

Grin and bear it, and hope for a series of miraculous healings.

• And for the personnel difficulties faced by both the Rockets and the Clippers, how about the Warriors trading Corey Maggette to Houston for Tracy McGrady?

Vox populi

With the All-Star Game on the horizon and the ballots being submitted, who would be your All-Star selections, and why? -- Neil Perry, La Mirada, Calif.

Nobody.

The All-Star Game is a meaningless, overhyped spectacle that has little to do with competitive basketball. I’d rather watch either the Nets play the T-Wolves in a real game, or else a re-run of last year’s Puppy Bowl.

Travels with Charley

Here’s another episode of my craven CBA follies.

I had suspended Jim Lampley during halftime of the championship playoff series in 1989. The lingering reason being his lackluster play at my not immediately reinserting him into the starting lineup upon his return from a broken bone in his hand. My rationale was that Lamp had done nothing but sit around and get fat during the interim.

The immediate reason was his coming late to the locker room after lingering courtside with a young lady.

Anyway, we were subsequently swept by Henry Bibby’s Tulsa Fastbreakers, a team featuring several questionable characters.

Once the Lightning’s season was over, the best run in Rockford took place at a local high school gym. Still steaming at Lamp’s behavior, I laced up my sneakers and presented myself at the gym with the sole purpose of playing opposite Lampley and beating him to a pulp. But the other participants simply wouldn’t let me into their game. This guy had next. That guy had next-after-next. And so on.

So, unsweated and unavenged, I left.

Fast forward to midway through the next season when the Lightning were playing in Pensacola, a team whose starting center was Jim Lampley.

Virtually all of Rockford’s best players from the previous season were elsewhere — Elston Turner and Pace Mannion back in the NBA, Fred Cofield in Europe, Dwayne McClain in La Crosse — and we would finish the season with a dismal record of 22-34. In any event, I was increasingly desperate to turn our already lost season around.

How desperate was I?

Before the game, I walked on to the court while Lampley was rehearsing his free throws. And then I asked him if he would consider returning to the Lightning. A trade, after all, could easily be arranged. Actually, I didn’t really ask him. I practically begged him.

He smiled broadly and was delighted to turn me down. Then he tallied 23 points to lead the home team to victory, and smiled again each time he trotted by my bench.

Shame on me.

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