Jennings willingly learning his craft under Cheeks’ tutelage
MIAMI – The Pistons won at Miami two months ago, but the Heat had the Pistons on the ropes in the second half when they whittled a 17-point deficit to three. Miami did it largely by ganging up on Brandon Jennings, smothering him 30 feet from the basket and taking big chunks off the shot clock while the Pistons struggled to get into their offense.
Mo Cheeks stabilized the ship that night by having Jennings execute a dribble handoff to Rodney Stuckey and the Pistons wound up winning by 10. Jennings committed six turnovers.
Before Monday’s rematch at Miami, where the Pistons battled Andre Drummond’s foul trouble and the full force of a two-time defending champion bent on avenging their December defeat in a narrow 102-96 loss, Cheeks talked about working with Jennings.
“I’m teaching Jennings how to run his team,” he said. “I think he’s a student – that’s the best part of it – and trying to understand that position instead of just being an offensive player. He’s learning little things about the game, which is pretty fun teaching and watching him show maturity in that area.”
Jennings put his education on display not long afterward, finishing with 26 points on just 15 shots from the field. He got to the foul line a dozen times, dished out seven assists, grabbed three offensive rebounds among his four total, registered three steals and even blocked two shots. And in 41 minutes against a team that thrives off forcing turnovers, with the ball in his hands more than anyone’s, Jennings accounted for only three of his team’s damaging 21 turnovers.
Cheeks’ reputation for helping develop young players in general, and his history as one of the headiest point guards of his or any generation, gave Joe Dumars an extra measure of confidence in executing the trade that brought Jennings in from Milwaukee several weeks after Cheeks was hired last summer. Cheeks has used videotape as not only a teaching but a bonding tool with Jennings. They’ve taken to spending an hour or two on nearly a daily basis watching recent games, Cheeks helping Jennings see the game from another perspective, frame by frame.
“I’ve been watching a lot of film,” Jennings said. “I’ve never been a film guy since I’ve been in the league, but since I’ve been with Mo, two-hour film sessions every day. When we’re supposed to have off days, I come in with Mo and watch film for two hours.”
Jennings quickly became sold on the value of watching videotape by, well …
“Just to see all the crazy things that you do. You look at it and you’re like, ‘Man, that was dumb. I can’t do that next game.’ When I first started watching, I was laughing. Now I can see the improvement. The film never lies. Whatever you do on the court, you’re going to see it the next day. Just overall watching – not just myself, people I play against, the whole team, see how the team is moving, see where guys are the most effective. I’m seeing the game in a different aspect now.”
It helps when two people are spending the hours together that Cheeks and Jennings are if they enjoy each other’s company. They pass that test, too.
“We have a great relationship,” Cheeks said. “I just try to teach him the game really, little nuances of the game. When I tell him to be himself, I want him to know himself is good enough. He can score the basketball. I’m just trying to teach him little things about the game, involving his teammates and defending the ball and doing all those things that help his team win games.”
Jennings said he got along fine with his Milwaukee coaches, Scott Skiles and Jim Boylan, but has made a connection with Cheeks that goes to another level.
“Besides my high school coach, I haven’t been as close with a coach since then,” he said. “With Mo Cheeks, it’s just been a different relationship. He’s always on me. He’s always riding me. As they say, if a coach is not on you, you should be worried. For him to hit me up on off days, like ‘Yo, we’re watching film today at 12,’ that just show he cares and he wants me to be great.”
Cheeks often reminds those asking about Jennings that, at 24, he still has much to learn about the game’s most complex position. If continuing education requires both a willing teacher and an inquisitive student, then the Pistons’ future at point guard is in pretty good hands.