Brandon Jennings spent almost 11 months waiting to get back into a basketball game.
He didn’t expect it to be a D-League game, but now he’s glad it was.
Jennings played 27 minutes for the Pistons’ affiliate, the Grand Rapids Drive, Saturday night in his first game since tearing his Achilles’ tendon in January. He finished with 11 points and 12 assists in a 130-104 win over the Iowa Energy.
There aren’t a lot of NBA players willing to go to the D-League to rehab an injury, but both Jennings and Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy thought it was the right decision. Instead of trying to work off the last bits of rust in limited minutes for the Pistons, Jennings was able to play extended periods of time on a team that runs the same offensive system as Detroit:
“I didn’t want my first game to be back in the NBA and I’m happy I was able to get some run – 27 minutes…I can’t complain,” he told The Detroit News.
With Jodie Meeks sidelined by a broken foot, the Pistons need a scorer off the bench, and they’re looking forward to Jennings’s return. That showed when Reggie Jackson, Andre Drummond and Van Gundy all made the drive across Michigan to see Jennings in action:
“He’s looking good; he’s still trying to get acclimated and get back,” Jackson said. “You see the burst and the flashes and we all know the player he can be. He’s someone we’re going to need when he gets back.”
Jennings practiced with the Pistons on Sunday without any problems, but he and Van Gundy don’t want to rush things. Detroit plays Tuesday in Miami and Wednesday in Atlanta, but while Jennings could be in uniform, there are no guarantees he’d play if he suits up. (He could also wind up playing in another game for Grand Rapids on Wednesday.) If he didn’t, he’d then be in position to possibly return to the Pistons on Dec. 26 for a home game against Boston.
“We’re still going to take our time with it,” Jennings said. “More on the defensive end, I’m still having trouble with pushing off, trying to get through screens, which is expected. My lateral movement is something I still have to work on.”
With the Pistons above .500 and hoping to end a postseason drought, Van Gundy doesn’t want to put Jennings on the court before he’s ready to help the team win. He’s made it clear that, right now, Jennings wouldn’t play ahead of backup point guard Steve Blake.
“It’ll probably come down to deciding between him and Steve,” he said. “I don’t think at this point that I would play him ahead of Steve.”
That’s fine with Jennings, who’s been realistic about his future in Detroit even since the team traded for Jackson shortly after his injury. Jackson signed a five-year, $80-million contract last summer, while Jennings is on the last year of a deal that he signed with Joe Dumars.
He’s one of the last players that Van Gundy has kept from the Dumars era, and he knows that he’s going to be coming off the bench. If he plays well, he becomes a valuable trade asset that Detroit could flip for someone who’s a better long-term fit:
“We are playing well right now, so I know I can’t come in and take it like that,” Jennings said. “Hopefully we can get a couple practices in and then we can see what happens.
“If I have to earn my second (unit) spot, let’s practice for it then.”
Jennings’s D-League performance was a big step towards earning that spot.