"Volume-scorer" – noun. Derives from the pre 1950’s basketball term “ball-stopper” or the more commonly used term “ball-hog.” Definition: A player who needs to attempt a high amount of shots in order to score. Synonyms: inefficient, low-percentage shooter.
Brandon Jennings is quickly becoming the definition of a “volume-scorer,” a graveyard that has stolen the souls of many promising young NBA talents. Remember Steve Francis? Neither do I. Why are the New York Knicks struggling so much this season? Is it because they lost superstars Steve Novak and Chris Copeland to free agency this off season? Not at all. It’s due to the fact that the plague of the “volume-scorer” has fully engulfed Carmelo Anthony. His scoring numbers look great, but the win-loss column doesn’t look as healthy.
And neither does the morale and comradery of his teammates. Jennings, unfortunately, is following down this dark path of talented but embattled stars.
Jennings has always carried the reputation as an electrifying, dynamic offensive talent. As a high school senior, Jennings was the top rated player in the country – a bona-fide NBA superstar in the making. He was labeled as the “next great” scorer and a “can’t miss” prospect. But, that’s just it; miss is the one thing he does far too often.
This season has been the same song. New team – same result. What is it? His mindset? His form? His shot selection? Let’s take a more in-depth look at why Jennings has been struggling and why his team has never been able to get over the “mediocre” hump.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH HIS SHOT?
To be frank, Jennings' shot has a lot of issues. Let’s break it down into components:
- Shot preparation
The proper shot preparation is extremely important to become a good shooter and it is often overlooked, as it is by Jennings. He takes a lackadaisical approach to attacking his jump shot, which affects the dynamics of consistent range, arc trajectory and shot speed. Jennings is a career 35.6 percent three-point shooter and has never shot over 40 percent from the beyond the arc. Even worse, he's finished with field goal percentage better than 40 percent just one season in his career.
Jennings' lack of consistency in his three-point shot starts with his poor approach to using his lower body to explode into his jump shot and not having his feet prepared to generate the momentum needed in order to take the dependency away from his arms for range consistency.
As you can see in Jennings' shot, he brings the ball back to the point where his elbow angle reaches 45 degrees as opposed to the ideal 90 degree elbow angle needed at the point of release. The 45 degree elbow angle that Jennings uses causes him to “sling” the ball instead of actually shooting the ball. A great shooter uses what is called a 75/25 split. This means that 75 percent of the shot relies on the legs, and 25 percent relies on the arms. Jennings is closer to a 50/50 split, which makes for vast inconsistency. Not a good scenario for a player who attempts three-point shots at a rate of 56 percent of his overall shot distribution.
As a point guard, Jennings only shoots inside 17 feet 18 percent of the time. Compare that to Chris Paul, who shoots inside 17 feet 37 percent of the time and from beyond the arc 40 percent. Jennings needs to significantly balance out his shot distribution. We’ll get more into this later.
- Finish / Balance
What a lot of players don’t know is that the finish of their jump shot is just as important as their preparation and the actual motion of the shot. Jennings, unfortunately, has a very poor finish. Jennings has what I call "Allen Iverson syndrome" with his shot. Iverson was known for never holding his follow through and immediately bringing his shooting arm down to his side after his shot.
Even though it might at times look cool to do (which I’m afraid Jennings is overly concerned with), it is not effective. If I had to pick the single most important aspect of the shot, it would be the follow through. It controls everything. Think about it, in every sport it is necessary to hold the follow through for control purposes. Golf, tennis, throwing a football, pitching a baseball, the list goes on and on. The same is true for basketball. Jennings fails miserably in this aspect.
Another component of the shot is body balance on the finish. Jennings has gotten into a horrible habit of landing on one foot and turning his body too far while in the air. The ideal finish is what I call “five and a quarter.” This means the shooter needs to land five inches in front of where he took off and finish with a quarter turn so that his shooting shoulder is directly in line with the hoop. A lot of people think “straight up, straight down” is the ideal way. However, the shooter diminishes his optimum leg power and has to bring his arm across his body in order to have his follow through finish directly in line with the hoop, which causes inconsistency (see Blake Griffin).
Jennings, however, turns far too much on his finish to the point to where his body is contorted when he lands. As a left-handed shooter, his left foot is landing in almost a straight vertical line ahead of his right foot. As his body turns too far in the air, the majority of his shots are missing to the right side due to the torque of his turn. And we’re just talking about Jennings poor finish and balance when he is shooting in a catch-and-shoot or a pull-up situation. We haven’t even touched on his favorite – the extremely low-percentage step back fade-away.
- Shot selection / Volume of shots
It’s virtually undebatable that Brandon Jennings is a volume scorer. He needs to attempt a high volume of shots in order to put up decent scoring numbers. Out of the 128 players in the NBA who play what would be called “significant minutes,” Jennings ranks 127th in field goal percentage and ranks in the bottom 10 percent in points per possession at 1.07. Jennings is scoring 16.6 points per game while attempting 15.9 shots per game.
Any time a player’s shot attempts near their points per game, this is an immediate red flag. This is true in Jennings case for his entire career.
As a point guard, Jennings takes too many shots and his shot selection is subpar. Of all Jennings’ shots, 24.9 percent are wing three-point attempts; the furthest distance on the court. The majority of Jennings shots can be allocated into three categories: transition, spot up, and isolation. Unfortunately, Jennings is below 1.0 ppp in all three of these categories. He ranks in the bottom 22 percent in transition, and the bottom 37 percent in spot-up situations. It’s often said that Jennings is a great one-on-one player. Really? He ranks in the bottom 27 percent and is shooting an ice-cold 26.1 percent in isolation situations. If this weren’t bad enough, the part of Jennings' shot selection that really gets under my skin as a professional shooting coach is his heavy reliance on a step back fade-away jumper.
It’s one of the lowest percentage shots a player can attempt, and Jennings has fallen in love with it. The worst thing is, once he makes one, he won’t quit shooting it. It’s almost as if Jennings is trying to shoot the most difficult shots possible in order to take pressure off of himself to actually make a shot.
Let’s summarize – Jennings has poor shot preparation and tends to “sling” the ball instead of shooting it. His finish and balance is contorted, and his shot volume and selection are historically bad. Not a very good combination for a player who needs to be an efficient shooter to lead his team past constant meritocracy.
WHAT SHOULD HE DO TO REMEDY THE PROBLEM?
There’s no denying that Jennings is an extremely talented and gifted player. After all, scoring 55 points at any level is no easy task. He is also slowly developing into more of a true point guard this season averaging a career best 8.4 assists per game. What makes Jennings special is that he is a very crafty, unorthodox player. However, the key is learning how to develop this gift and channel it toward smart decision making and creating for teammates as opposed to settling for his impossibly low-percentage/high volume shots.
The good news is, Jennings has the potential to become a top-tier player in the NBA for many seasons to come and all of his flaws are fixable. But it won’t happen overnight. If he truly wants to be great he needs to take this advice to heart. If not, he will continue on his current path to the NBA graveyard of high volume scorers: Europe. And for Jennings, that’s not a desirable option, as his first stint in Europe directly out of high school was an underwhelming and humbling experience to say the least.
First off, Jennings' shot preparation needs a makeover. He is going to have to adopt a more “mature” shooter’s approach to being prepared. He needs to generate the majority of his power before he receives the ball in the pre-shot stage so that he can balance out the ratio of legs/arms closer to the ideal 75/25 split. This fix will take repetition, just like any adjustment will, but it will also take a lot of mental toughness and fortitude to correctly attack his shot on every attempt and not fall back into his lackadaisical approach. The “sling” motion on Jennings shot is going to take some time. He’s been shooting like that his entire life and been getting by just fine on his pure talent. He will continue to get along just fine if he is OK with an average career.
To correct his motion, Jennings is going to have to be committed to hours in the gym refining his shot before practice, after practice, and in the offseason. He needs to keep his shooting elbow angle at 90 degrees and extend into his follow through directly from that point. And speaking of follow through, he needs to do just that – FOLLOW THROUGH. This is the most important fix of all and actually the simplest fix of all. There’s no form change involved for a shooter to hold his follow through, it’s all a conscious mental capacity adjustment.
If Jennings wants to shoot a higher percentage and have more control over his shot, then he will hold his follow through on each and every attempt. Jennings needs to become more of a “student of the game” and take notes from the greats – Kyle Korver, Ray Allen, JJ Redick – all picture perfect, consistent follow through’s. Jennings inconsistency on his finish and balance can be cured by focusing on the ideal finish of “five and a quarter,” scrapping the one-footed land, and staying with his shot until it has gone through the net. What makes Jennings an intriguing player, his orthodox style, is what also negates from him being a consistent shooter. Leave the herky-jerky style for breaking down the defense and creating for teammates; not the form, finish, and balance of a jump shot.
Jennings' shot selection and volume of shots is the most important fix he needs to make. What might seem like an easy adjustment is not so simple. When a player has the “high volume” style built in their DNA, the only way to attempt to remedy the problem is by taking small progressive steps. First off, Jennings needs to realize what facet of his game he is most effective at. He shoots his highest percentage in pick-and-roll situations – 41.9 percent adjusted field goal percentage, ranking him in the top 55% of the league.
Jennings is most effective when he is attacking off-the-ball screens in a pull-up jump shot situation (assuming he is not shooting the dreadful step back fade-away). His adjusted field goal percentage is 44.1%, which ranks him higher than Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Paul George in the same category. There’s no question he needs to play to his strengths and cut down on settling for low-percentage shots. If Jennings can cut down on his three-point attempts (especially from the wings) and eliminate the step back fade-away from his game, he will simultaneously raise his efficiency level, his field goal percentage, and his overall points per possession – three very important factors if he is going to be the face of the Pistons franchise.
Over his NBA career, Jennings is averaging 15.5 shots per game. To be a productive point guard, he needs to cut that average down to the 11-13 shots per game range.
Ultimately, if Jennings can reduce his volume of shots and become a wiser player, realizing in what situations he is most effective, then he has a chance to become a top-tier player in the NBA for years to come. And more importantly, Jennings will be able to lead his team past the point of mediocrity and maybe, just maybe, out of the first round of the playoffs.
David Nurse is a professional shooting coach. You can learn more about him at PerfectShotsShooting.com, the best shooting and skills basketball website in the world. You can also follow him on Twitter @davidnurse05.