Brandon Jennings has a way of entering the lane as if he were driving a sports car, turning the ball with either hand as if it were a steering wheel. The Bucks' rookie point guard is typically the shortest (6'1"), slightest (169 pounds) and youngest (20) player on the court, yet he glides where he pleases, fearlessly zipping in and out of sneaker-squeaking traffic.
"When I'm out there, everything just comes so easy for me," he acknowledged last Thursday while driving his actual car to Milwaukee's Calderone Club for an authentic Italiano lunch of four-cheese tortellini, a nod to his recent 10-month stay in Rome. "I'm playing on a team that has a chance to make the playoffs."
But nobody thought the Bucks could make the playoffs, his passenger reminded him.
And nobody thought you'd be this good.
"True that too," said Jennings with a smile. "But I didn't think I'd be this good either."
How does a career go from zero to 55 so quickly? That's how many points Jennings scored in his seventh NBA game, a 129--125 win over the visiting Warriors. That was the highest output by a rookie since Feb. 13, 1968, when Earl Monroe went for 56—this despite Jennings's scoreless opening quarter (offset by a 29-point third in which he hit 12 of 13 shots). But then that's how Jennings rolls. "In the beginning you want to get the teammates involved so they have the confidence that they need," he says. "We were down [after] the first half, so I was trying to spark it up a little bit. Three shots went in, then three went to five, five went to nine...."
After the game he received congratulatory texts from Steve Nash, Baron Davis and Kevin Durant, none of whom have come close to scoring 55. "I never would have thought I would score that many points," he says. "You watch guys like Kobe Bryant do it and you're like, That's crazy! And then when you do it.... I was in shock. I just couldn't believe it. Couldn't believe it."
Jennings has the makings of another lefty point guard, Nate Archibald, with the vision and skills to make plays for others or himself while going at full speed. Although he isn't quite as fast as his childhood hero Allen Iverson, whose number he wears in tribute, Jennings is far more skilled as a distributor and accelerates to either hand without sacrificing balance or control. One of his more flattering compliments was delivered by Mavericks big man Drew Gooden as Jennings brought the ball up during a recent game. "I heard him say, 'This dude's fast, you got to come and help me,'" says Jennings. "When they say that, I just try to keep going at them."
Not only was Jennings leading all rookies with 25.3 points and 5.5 assists per game at week's end, but—this is the real trick—he was also scoring constructively. Picked by many to finish last in the East, Milwaukee has had its lone All-Star, shooting guard Michael Redd, sidelined for all but two games by a strained left patella tendon. But through Sunday the 8--3 Bucks were off to their best start in nine years, and Jennings's teammates are loving him for the open shots he creates. "His game is not pass-first and it's not score-first—he's taking what the game gives him," says Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles. "But nobody could have predicted this."