Brandon Jennings signed a below-market, one-year, $5 million deal to rebuild his brand as one of the electric young experienced point guards in the league. In doing so, he has had to rebuild his game, too, going from scorer to playmaker.
Jennings, who amassed a 55-point explosion just four seasons ago, has won over the New York crowd with his brassy style, playmaking skills and savage defense as Derrick Rose’s backup.
Scoring is not something on his radar.
“My role has changed here,’’ said Jennings, in his first full season since his 2015 Achilles tendon tear. “I don’t have to score a lot. I can set the table. Not that it means I still can’t score. I have to sacrifice my game for the team. I’m playing with some of the best scorers in the world. I definitely have to change my game and found other things I can bring to the table.
Jennings, whose 3-point shot has been spotty, is averaging just 6.2 points, but 5.8 assists in 21 minutes, electrifying the second unit with his speed.
“At first it was a challenge,’’ Jennings said. “I’ve accepted it. I know my role is to play defense, come with a lot of energy and set guys up and play hard.”
Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek has fallen in love with Jennings’ offensive pace and grit on defense, giving him a lot of in-game decisions to make regarding when to play Jennings and when to play Rose and when to play them together.
In the victory over Portland on Tuesday, Jennings logged 11 assists after three quarters, but cramps in his legs and shoulder forced him to the bench for the entire final period. It worked out as Hornacek was all in for Rose, who carried the Knicks home with his own heroics. For a change, this Knicks’ point-guard problem is one they would prefer to have.