The NBA G League has long been a stop on the road back for NBA vets, as evidenced by one of the top comeback stories of this season, Knicks Call-Up Trey Burke.
Brandon Jennings hopes to be next in line.
The 28-year-old, who first played in the G League on a rehab assignment with the Grand Rapids Drive in 2015, is back trying to showcase his talents en route to the big league. He joined the Wisconsin Herd, the first-year affiliate of the Milwaukee Bucks, in February, bringing him back to the organization that drafted him with the No. 14 pick in 2009.
Jennings, like every G League player, has aspirations to make it to the Association. But in this case, he also wants to take this season with the Herd — no matter how long or how short — to work on his game and show NBA scouts that he is back to being the dynamic talent he was the last time he played in Wisconsin.
“I just felt that it was a great opportunity right now for me, just to showcase what I can do and show that I’m back to who I want to be and was before,” said Jennings. “I’m just going to keep hooping and stay positive. If the opportunity comes, it comes. If not, then I have to just keep pushing.”
Jennings, who played with the Shanxi Brave Dragons in the Chinese Basketball Association to start this season, is coming off a hamstring injury from his time in China. He said he feels 100 percent, at home again, and happy to be playing basketball in America.
“I went to China, I saw the ball go in, but to be back in America playing basketball, I’m enjoying it and I’m having fun,” said Jennings. “In China the game is really physical. It definitely made me tougher and helped me mentally.”
Jennings has quickly become a leader of the Herd, who enter the home stretch of the season outside the playoff picture at 18-22. His relationship with the Bucks organization was one reason Jennings decided to go the NBA G League route, said Herd head coach Jordan Brady.
“I think that played a big factor in his decision to play in the G League, that he knew that we would be the team to claim him,” Brady said. “It was his relationship with our front office that got the conversation started, and he was really excited about it.”
Besides getting back to the player he once was, Jennings has been working on his shooting touch, with his goal to make it in today’s NBA.
“I watched a lot of NBA games in China, and because of what Golden State is and teams like that, you have to be able to shoot the three-ball,” said Jennings. “Especially at my age at 28, I’m kind of in my prime years. So if I want to play for a long time, I have to be able to shoot the three, and that’s what I’ve been working on the most.”
In his three games so far with the Herd, Jennings is averaging 29.7 points, 7.0 assists and 4.7 rebounds. He dropped 31 points on 11-for-21 from the field in his Herd debut on Feb. 21.
“We know that he’s a talented scorer. He averaged near 20 points a game in three years in Milwaukee,” said Brady. “I have noticed that he’s had a great time having defensive focus, and he’s been very liberal with distributing the basketball.”
Jennings’ new mentality has brought him success on the court already, but has also shed a light on his teammates, as Brady said Jennings is “very focused on being a professional.”
“I can’t say enough about the level of professionalism and respect that he’s had coming into our organization,” said Brady. “His leadership that he’s been able to bring has been great in the short amount of time that he’s been here with us. He’s a guy that our players know has had success at the NBA level, which gives them a large attention span for him.”
Perhaps the most important part of all, Brady says Jennings has been “very coachable” at this level as well.
“He’s extremely focused on not only using this as an opportunity to get back to the NBA, but he’s also serious about building his craft,” said Brady. “He’s the first one in the gym and the first one to the arena on game days. The example that he’s set has been key.”
That jibes with what Jennings hopes to prove during his minor-league stint. His note to scouts around the NBA? He’s a changed man.
“I’m not the same person I was before,” said Jennings. “When I was in China, I got to look back at the positive and negative things I was doing in my career, and overall I was able to find myself. Now without an ego, I just want to play basketball and let that do the talking.”