Howard Beck was in Florida and the New York Times scribe caught up with Brandon Jennings, who makes his Madison Square Garden debut tonight against the Knicks.
The unfettered Jennings admitted to Beck that the game had extra meaning, not just because it was his NBA debut at the basketball mecca.
"This one's going to be a little bit more personal," he said, "because I did want to go there."
Jennings has one trait that is common in some of the game's best players: a high respect and interest in history. Like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, Jennings engulfs himself in basketball legend and can't keep himself away from the game.
I remember when I first met Jennings at his workout with the Knicks last June and how he had what I thought was exactly what the Knicks needed: an unrelenting self-confidence and swagger and awareness.
And he wanted to be a Knick and to play for Mike D'Antoni, just as much as Stephen Curry.
"I really want to come here, I'm not going to lie," Jennings said that day in June. "D'Antoni's system is great for all point guards. You see what he did for Steve Nash, two years MVP back-to-back and the Phoenix Suns were one of the most exciting teams to watch in the NBA for those two years. So his system is great for me."
One could argue that it even helped Chris Duhon look decent statistically, with a top 10 assists-to-turnovers ratio (3.45). But one fact that couldn't go protected was shooting (34.8 percent).
Jennings has already proven he can score this season, especially after the double-nickels he dropped against the Warriors on Nov. 14. Like any rookie, the wall usually comes at mid-season and we're seeing it now in Jennings. He had just two points (1-for-7) in 27 minutes in Tuesday's loss in Orlando and over his last 10 games his averaged has dipped to 13.6 points on 33.8 percent shooting. In his last five, he is scoring 11.6 points and shooting 34.4 percent.
It happens. What is encouraging about Jennings is while is scoring production is down, his assists remain fairly static. Over the last 10 games, he is dishing out 7 assists per game and 6.2 in his last five, which is right at his season average.
Scott Skiles has used Luke Ridnour as a key part of his rotation off the bench and he has responded with a solid season for the Bucks. Ridnour's play has certainly caught the attention of the Knicks, though it is highly unlikely the Bucks would consider trading such an important piece of insurance by the Feb. 18 trade deadline. Not with the Bucks very much in contention for a playoff spot in the East (and battling with the Knicks for it). But this summer, when Ridnour is a free agent, he could be an option, though one of a several.
At this point it's not worth rehashing the events of the 2009 draft. What's done is done. Donnie Walsh admitted his scouts didn't push him on Jennings and when it came down to a decision, once Curry and Tyreke Evans -- Walsh's top two choices, make no mistake -- were off the table, the front office decided to go with a big in Jordan Hill.
We've expressed our opinion on this enough. When a franchise is rebuilding, you can't afford to get lottery picks wrong. Walsh and Co. got it 100 percent right with Danilo Gallinari in 2008. Of course there were others who went later in the draft that the Knicks could have chosen -- Eric Gordon, Brook Lopez, Jason Thompson, J.J. Hickson -- but Gallo fit all of the needs and after some major concerns as a rookie with the back issue, he's had a solid redshirt rookie season and there's no doubt there is great potential with so much room to grow.
Time will tell if Hill was indeed the wrong choice for 2009. And Jennings may fizzle like some players do after making a big splash early in their careers.
Right now, I just don't see it in this kid.
Nate Robinson has the challenge of guarding him and the timing of moving Nate into the starting lineup for this game is a good move for two reasons (aside from Duhon's play, obviously): 1. you need speed to counter Jennings and Nate should rise to the challenge. 2. it's a good diversion to keep the fans occupied with the lineup change rather than the lottery pick you could have had.