Coming off his team’s seventh victory in 10 games, Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek had every reason to wake up last Sunday feeling optimistic about the entire team. Instead, he turned to his wife, Stacy, and revealed a hunch he had about one of his guards.
“This morning I told my wife that I think Brandon [Jennings] is going to have a great game tonight,” Hornacek said. “He said some things … at shootaround, so I knew he was going to be good.”
The Knicks’ opponents last Sunday, the Sacramento Kings, cancelled their morning shootaround, so Jennings made his way to Madison Square Garden early to workout on the court. Then, 45 minutes before tipoff, Jennings stood at his locker and spoke about his lack of scoring and increase in passing.
“Coach still wants me to be more aggressive scoring,” Jennings told GiveMeSport before last Sunday's contest. “And I will be now that we’re [over] a month into the season.”
He lived up to that promise later in the evening, posting a season-high 19 points off the bench for New York. But in typical Jennings fashion, the 27-year-old Compton, California, native provided a spark aside from his offensive output.
Jennings baited Kings Willie Cauley-Stein in a three-shot foul, sank a vital three-pointer to end the third quarter, and helped to space the floor alongside Derrick Rose. Hornacek acknowledged the Knicks' change in pace when both speedsters are roaming the hardwood.
"It's hard for the defence where me and Brandon play off the ball," Rose said.
"Brandon is a knockdown shooter and he's good at creating. I'm good a creating. It's our job to attack and make them make a decision. It's really pick your poison."
As Rose’s backup, Jennings no longer has to be the player who averaged 19.1 points for the 2011-12 Milwaukee Bucks. The former first round pick now focuses on his entire skill set; Jennings 8.6 assists per 36 minutes is a career-high.
"I don't have to take on a role to score so much, I can do other things to help the team get better by playing defense and being a spark," Jennings said. "We have three guys in our starting lineup that can score 20 points a game and I know that's where our scoring is going to come from."
Jennings showed off that passing prowess on November 22 in a 107-103 victory over the Portland Trailblazers. While he scored just four points, Jennings dropped 11 dimes to his teammates. It was Jennings' third game off the bench with double-digit assists, tying him with Greg Anthony and Roy Sparrow as Knicks to achieve the feat thrice.
If he keeps going at that rate, he may surpass Mark Jackson's team record of seven games off the bench with double-digit assists.
In Jennings' next game, a Knicks 114-103 win over the Miami Heat, he added nine more assists. The next time he reaches double-digit dishes as a reserve, he'll tie with Charlie Ward.
So far, the Knicks have received a tremendous return on their one-year, $5 million investment. Considering he's still about two years removed from a ruptured Achilles tendon, Jennings' return to productive form is remarkable.
Jennings has previously said that he and fellow offseason acquisition Joakim Noah were brought in to incorporate an attitude that hasn't been seen since the days of Knicks legends John Starks and Anthony Mason.
Playing the Knicks 22 times as an opponent -- 12 times at MSG -- Jennings is familiar with the hostile New York City crowd. He says the adjustment from foe to friend, however, has gone smoothly -- and his goal remains the same.
"What I learned by playing for the Knicks is that every night, somebody is trying to come in and have their best game," Jennings said. "I used to be on the other side, so I feel it more now every night...you have to protect home court."
"A lot of guys come in here to have their best game, I just want to get the win."