Detroit Pistons head coach Maurice Cheeks was known to drop a few dimes in his day.
A point guard himself, Cheeks was a four-time All-Star with the Philadelphia 76ers and a key member of the Sixers’ 1983 NBA Championship squad. He averaged 11.1 points and 6.7 assists per game for his career, and a banner with his No. 10 uniform still hangs in the rafters of Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center today.
Now, in his 20th season as either a head or assistant coach, Cheeks is mentoring yet another rising superstar point guard in Brandon Jennings.
Jennings is averaging 17 points and a career-high 7.8 assists in his first season with the Pistons. The former Milwaukee Buck, only 24 years old, is under direction of perhaps one of the most accomplished point guard coaches in the NBA.
Having coached the likes of Russell Westbrook and Allen Iverson, Cheeks is well-experienced when it comes to coaching strong-minded players with a high performance ceiling.
With that being said, here are three ways Cheeks can help Jennings realize his potential as an elite NBA point guard.
Improve his defense
What do elite-level point guards like Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, Tony Parker and Russell Westbrook have in common? They’re all among the NBA’s best defensive point guards, according to a recent evaluation by Kelly Scaletta of Bleacher Report.
Equally as important as when the Pistons have the basketball, Brandon Jennings must also star on defense in a league full of point guard talent.
Cheeks recently emphasized the importance of Jennings’ defensive presence following the Pistons’ 121-94 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Dec. 10.
“If you’re going to be good, and I’m going to say this again, a good point guard, I don’t like the word ‘hide,’” he said. “I want the guy who’s guarding the ball, who’s running my team, to guard (the opponent’s point guard).”
Basically, in order for Jennings to reach the value of elite-level point guards like Paul, Rondo, Parker and Westbrook, he must learn to play defense like them.
Cheeks is the perfect guy to teach Jennings the value of defense. In addition to being a four-time NBA All-Star, Cheeks was a four-time member of the NBA All-Defensive first team.
Help him take better shots
Though easier said than done, Jennings needs to improve his shot selection. The Pistons point guard is shooting 39.2 percent from the floor and 35 percent from three-point range, both below his career averages of 39.4 percent and 35.4 percent, respectively. Although Jennings is dishing out a career-high 7.8 assists per game, his low shooting percentages remain a weak point of his game—something he was heavily criticized for during his four seasons in Milwaukee.
Jennings’ NBA.com shot charts, in reverse order from this season going back to 2011-2012, suggest that his shooting has even regressed this season:
Make him dish the rock
As part of improving his shot selection, Jennings should continue becoming more of a pass-first facilitator than a shoot-first scorer. Though Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Josh Smith don’t yet stack up to the likes of Cheeks’ former teammates Moses Malone and Julius Irving, Jennings is still working with the most talented roster he has had in his short five-year career.
The Pistons, 11-13 on the season, are 3-10 when Jennings attempts more than 16 shots, they’re but 6-5 when he dishes out more than eight assists. That’s a telling enough statistic in itself.