Brandon Jennings, Shot Volume, and Winning Percentage

Do the Bucks play better when Brandon Jennings takes more shots?

Mammas, don’t let your sons grow up to be scoring point guards.  The entire role is a Catch-22. Pass too much and you’re deferential.  Shoot too much and you put the rest of your team’s offense in peril.  Perhaps Brandon Jennings leans a bit too far into the shot-happy zone.  Rob Stone, a frequent contributor to Bleacher Report on all matters related to the Bucks, brought up the topic this week. He follows a line of reasoning which, on the surface, is hard to dispute.  A player — especially a point guard — that takes too many shots risks disrupting the team’s rhythm, irking other players, and throwing up low-percentage attempts.

But what if we delve deeper? Stone’s piece doesn’t use any data other than a reference to Jennings’ low assist totals. What are the numbers? Do they fall into a pattern or point to any reasonable conclusions?  And forget assists. The real question is: do the Bucks win when Brandon shoots a high volume of shots? (Side note: if this data has been presented somewhere else, I apologize. I didn’t read it anywhere and related Google searches came up in vain.)

The table below categorizes the Bucks win-loss records over the past two years according to the number of shots Jennings took.

The games where Jennings took 25 or more shots make up a small sample, so throw that category out when studying for patterns. The real story lies elsewhere.

Note how the winning percentages start low when Jennings isn’t taking a lot of shots. As the number of shots rises into the teens, the winning percentage goes up with it. Milwaukee needs Jennings to be a scorer. The more shots he takes, the better off they are — until it reaches the point of diminishing returns. And it’s a crash-and-burn turning point.

Once Brandon is taking 20+ shots a game, the winning percentage is halved! The cliché is true, at least for the extreme case.  The Bucks need him to take a fair amount of shots, but the data suggest — rather overwhelmingly, I might add — that there’s a tipping point where it becomes counterproductive. Milwaukee needs Jennings to find the correct balance.

Keep in mind that the numbers give a correlation, but not a causation.  They show that the Bucks are losing when Jennings takes a lot of shots, but that’s not enough to say that Jennings’ shots are the reason behind the losses. Does Brandon take a large quantity of shots in the losses because other players are having bad games and not providing a reasonable alternative?  Or is his inefficiency magnified in his high-usage performances, thus resulting in ‘L’s?  Given his career 38% FG shooting, the guess here tends toward the latter theory.

Perhaps Isiah Thomas could serve as a role model. As a Hall of Fame point guard, Thomas still managed to both distribute assists and lead successful teams. He also figured in as the first or second scoring option in the Piston offense.  How many shots a game did Isiah take? Excepting a pair of injury-shortened seasons, Isiah annually averaged between 15 and 19 shots per game. It certainly would be nice for Brandon to mimic Isiah’s career.  Er, ahem, um, playing career, that is.

Tags: Brandon Jennings Isiah Thomas Milwaukee Bucks Point Guards