Brandon Jennings' 55-Point Effort Last Season Proving to Be a Curse?
The Bucks point guard scored 55 points Nov. 14, 2009 at home against Golden State in his seventh NBA game, the most put up by an NBA rookie in nearly 42 years. And at the close of games Nov. 21, 2009, Jennings was averaging 25.3 points in his first 11 games.
But what's happened since? Entering Friday, Jennings had played in 82 regular-season games since then, one entire season, and has averaged 14.4 points. Not bad for an upcoming player but hardly the numbers many began to expect after Jennings' electrifying first NBA month.
"We live, I think, to put it politely, in a pretty foolish world, where somebody does one thing and everybody jumps either on the bandwagon or off the bandwagon,'' said Bucks coach Scott Skiles. "A team can lose two games and everybody wants to know what's wrong with them. A guy has one great game. (Jennings) got off to a great start last year and kind of put himself on the map and everything, but I think it also created unrealistic expectations for a guy that's a very young player.''
Yes, Jennings' 55-point game, which was the high game in the NBA last season and broke Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 1969-70 team record of points in a game by a rookie, was a monumental outing. But it also was a bit of a curse.
Fans might have to wait a long time for Jennings ever to approach anything like that again. His high game since then is 35 points. He finished last season with a 15.5-point scoring average and is at 17.1 this season, making his career mark 15.7.
As for that award for Rookie of the Year everybody thought Jennings had locked up last November, it eventually went to Sacramento guard Tyreke Evans. Jennings slipped all the way to third, with Golden State guard Stephen Curry being runner-up.
"I mean, yeah, when you do something great, everybody expects you to keep going on with it,'' Jennings said. "But, at the same time, it was only my seventh game of the NBA season. I still had no idea what was expected and what really was going on. I was just going out there and just free playing.''
Jennings' 55-point game could go down in history as a fluke, although he isn't the currently the guy with the lowest career scoring average to have had an outing of 55 or more. Jermaine O'Neal, who had 55 Jan. 4, 2005 for Indiana, has a career average of 14.1, although that's misleading since O'Neal barely played early in his career before developing into a six-time All-Star who four times averaged 20 or more points in a season.
There have been 46 players who have combined to score 55 or more points in a game 147 times, and the only such players never to have appeared in an All-Star Game are Jennings and Purvis Short. But Short did average 28.0 points for Golden State in 1984-85, when he had 59 one night, and 22.8 in 1983-84, when he had a 57-point outing.
There have been some real stunners among players who reached 50 in a game, namely Walt Wesley, Tony Delk, Willie Burton and Tracy Murray. But getting 55 puts a player in an entirely different category.
Sure, there's plenty of time for Jennings, just 21, to get into an All-Star Game. But will he ever again to be the type of scorer he was a year ago? Including the 55-point outing, he scored 24 or more points in seven of his first 11 NBA games. He's done it just eight times in the 82 regular-season games since then.
"He's got the ability on any given night to get hot, score some points,'' Skiles said. "He's got to become more efficient in the way that he plays. He's got to be better in the fourth quarter. There's a lot of things he's working hard at. He's a worker. He's coachable. But it's unfair to think that a player with that little experience is somehow going to continue the pace he played (to start last season).''
One reason Jennings hasn't been able to keep up his scoring pace of a year ago is a sagging field-goal percentage. Through 11 games last season, he was shooting 47.9 percent, including his 21-of-34 night against Golden State, which included 7-of-8 from three-point range. The rest of the season, Jennings shot 34.8 percent to finish at 37.1.
Jennings has been better this season, shooting 41.6 percent. But that's a number that still needs to go up.
"I know I can score the ball for sure,'' said Jennings, averaging 6.3 assists this season and 5.7 for his career. "We got a lot of new faces (this season). I want to make sure everybody is on the same page and make sure our chemistry is perfect before anything like (being a big scorer).''
Despite raised expectations from last fall, don't think for a picosecond Jennings would take back that spectacular 55-point game, when he erupted after not scoring a single point in the first quarter.
"For me not playing the year before in Italy and not getting the chance to play, that was probably one of the best things that could happen to me,'' said Jennings, who went from high school to barely playing with Lottomatica, a team in Rome, in 2008-09 before being taken No. 10 in the 2009 draft. "I didn't score in the first quarter. I just had this unbelievable second half out of nowhere, where shots were just falling.''
The game was talked about plenty last weekend on the one-year anniversary, helped that Jennings' Bucks played host to Golden State last Saturday, 364 days after his scoring outburst during the Warrriors' previous visit. So what did Jennings do for an encore?
Well, he didn't approach 55 points, scoring 19. But he did grab a career-high 11 rebounds, not bad for a guy generously listed at 6-foot-1.
Still, Jennings can play for a very long time. But he might always be most remembered for what he did at the start of his NBA career.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson.