On Saturday night, Brandon Jennings delivered a ready-made NBA commercial for the Milwaukee Bucks. No doubt about it--amazing happened at the Bradley Center. With Bucks fans standing throughout the second half and die-hard NBA junkies around the country flocking to League Pass and Twitter, Jennings put together one of the more remarkable second halves the NBA has ever seen.
After an unremarkable first half, Jennings scored 29 points in the third quarter and 16 more in the fourth. He finished the night with 55 points, setting a handful of records in the process. Jennings' effort seems impossible to sum up simply, so Basketball Prospectus explores it from several different angles.
Even for a 50-point game, Jennings' efficiency was impressive. In large part because he was so hot from three-point range, making seven of his eight attempts from beyond the arc, Jennings was able to score 55 points on just 34 shot attempts and eight free throw attempts. He never really took the Bucks out of their offense, using a little over 40 percent of the team's possessions while on the floor and deferring to teammates at times down the stretch.
Jennings had a 73.3 percent True Shooting Percentage for the game, which is very good. Naturally, 50-point efforts tend to be especially efficient. Per Basketball-Reference.com, there have now been 160 50-point games dating back to 1986-87 (the first year the site has game-by-game stats). The average True Shooting Percentage in those games is 70.1 percent, and no player has managed to score 50 in that span without at least 50 percent True Shooting.
If we define 50 percent as replacement-level True Shooting Percentage, we can see which player contributed the most points above the expectation of a replacement-level player using the same number of possessions. A replacement player would be expected to score about 38 points on Jennings' possessions, so he contributed a little more than 17 points (17.5, to be exact). That ranks 44th out of those 160 modern 50-point games, which is pretty impressive.
The best of these games by this measure, by the way? Naturally, it's Kobe Bryant's 81-point outing against Toronto in January 2006 (+26.2), but four other players are close; Dana Barros, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone and Glen Rice were all +23 or better.
A VARIETY OF SHOTS
What stands out about Jennings' night, having watched the final quarter-plus, is that he riddled the Golden State defense from all angles. Certainly, his scoring total would not have been possible had Jennings not been on fire from downtown. But Jennings also came up with one of his biggest buckets down the night on a pullup jumper and mixed in floaters and forays all the way to the basket.
That's the key to understanding how the Warriors defended Jennings.
"They kept going under the screens," he told NBA TV after the game. "In the first half, I was hesitating to take shots. Then the second half, they kept going under the screens. I was like, 'Don't keep disrespecting me.' I started knocking down jumpshots."
To the extent that the scouting report before the draft suggested Jennings' ability to shoot from the perimeter was a weakness, the book has now changed dramatically. (As Bucks broadcasters Jim Paschke and Jon McGlocklin took glee in pointing out during the game.) Still, when Jennings is hitting from the perimeter, he leaves opponents with equally undesirable options. Attempt to hedge against screens and Jennings is liable to blow past his defender on the way to the paint. A quality defensive team might be able to take care of this with its rotations, but Golden State had little hope short of trapping Jennings and forcing him to give the ball up. That might have been my strategy after the first 10 buckets of the third quarter or so.
Last year, BBP's Bradford Doolittle used his comprehensive list of 50-point scorers to break down the feat. I borrowed from Doolittle and did some additional research to come up with some interesting notes about Jennings' feat.
This section has been updated to include Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 51-point game, previously the Milwaukee rookie record.
- Jennings is the youngest player ever to score 50 points. Previously, LeBron James had been the youngest at 20 years and 80 days. Jennings is about a month younger--20 years and 52 days.
- I don't have this one totally confirmed, but it appears Jennings also scored 50 earlier in his career than any player in league history. Wilt Chamberlain's first 50-point effort came in Philadelphia's eighth game, which was apparently the previous record.
- It has been a long time since a rookie scored 50. The last was Philadelphia's Allen Iverson, who went for an even 50 on April 12, 1997 late in his Rookie of the Year campaign. Before then, you have to go all the way back to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1969-70.
- Jennings is the eighth rookie to score at least 50 points in a game (joining Abdul-Jabbar, Rick Barry, Elgin Baylor, Chamberlain, Elvin Hayes, Iverson and Earl Monroe). It's been done a total of 11 times, with Chamberlain pulling the feat on four occasions. (George Mikan also scored 50 in the first year of the NBA predecessor the BAA, but he wasn't really a rookie in the true sense of the word.)
- Therefore, an incomplete list of players who did not score 50 as rookies: Larry Bird, James, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal.
- Of the seven players to score 50 as a rookie, six of them won Rookie of the Year. The exception was Hayes, who was edged out by Wes Unseld.
BEST QUARTER EVER?
Jennings came oh so close to a perfect third quarter. His only miss in 13 shot attempts was his last one, a three attempt from the right wing that was also his lone miss from beyond the arc. Jennings made four three-pointers in the period and added a free throw (he did miss another early on) for 29 points and did so without a turnover. He outscored Golden State 29-26 all by his lonesome as the Bucks turned an eight-point halftime deficit into a nine-point lead.
Given the efficiency, a case can be made that Jennings put together the best scoring quarter ever in an NBA regular-season game. (Given the importance, it's hard to beat Sleepy Floyd's 29-point fourth quarter in the playoffs against the L.A. Lakers, which also included 12 straight makes.) The league record for quarter scoring is held by George Gervin and Carmelo Anthony, who matched the Iceman's 33-point mark that stood alone for three decades last December against Minnesota.
During his 33-point quarter, Anthony shot 12-of-15 from the field and 5-of-6 from the line, needing 18 possessions to score 33 points (an Offensive Rating of 183.3 points per 100 possessions). By comparison, Jennings posted an incredible 223.1 Offensive Rating in his big quarter, scoring more than two points per possession because of his threes and a three-point play.
Gervin's stats from his 33-point quarter are not available, but the New York Times' story the next day noted he shot 19-of-34 from the field in the first half, scoring 53 points. Gervin's outburst came on the last day of the 1977-78 regular season, when the Spurs were trying hard to win him the scoring championship, having already secured a division title. Given San Antonio was going to him on every possession, it's easy to see how Gervin was not especially efficient.
The better performance might actually have come earlier on April 9, 1978, when David Thompson of the Nuggets briefly surged ahead of Gervin for the scoring lead by putting up 73 points. According to the Times, Thompson shot 20-of-23 from the field in his own 53-point first half, and scored 32 points in the quarter (holding the record for a few short hours before Gervin took it away). But as accurate as he was, unless Thompson had a ton of three-point plays, he could not have matched the efficiency Jennings scored with by using a three-point line that did not exist in 1978.
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Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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