Sunday Point Guard: Clemson’s hidden shooting star

CLEMSON – If you’re a Clemson hoops fan you’d probably love to have a starting player who could shoot 46 percent from 3, right?

What if I told you Clemson already has just that player.

Really, you say? Then you’re probably wondering why so much fuss has made about Clemson’s shooting woes. You’re probably wondering why it took the Tigers 38 minutes to make a jumpshot at Duke … you’re probably wondering why Clemson is shooting 33 percent from 3.

What if I told you that same player has increased his 3-point and overall shooting each year he’s been on campus?

In 2009-10 he shot 17.1 percent from 3, and 37.4 percent from the field as a freshman

In 2010-11 he shot 29.3 percent from 3, and 41 percent from the field

In 2011-12 he shot 33.3 percent from 3, and 43.9 percent from the field

And in 12-13, as we mentioned above, as a senior, he’s one of the ACC’s most accurate 3-point shooters (46 percent) and is shooting an efficient 47.5 percent from the field.

What if I told you that same player is criticized for perceived lack of progress?

You might be surprised to learn that player is Milton Jennings.

The perplexing Milton Jennings is more efficient than you think. But he has a volume issue. Can he correct it during his final games as a Tiger?

Jennings has been called a bust. He’s been criticized for his supposed lack of growth. But as we can see, he’s actually improved each year and is now playing at a career-high level of efficiency.

So why does the perception problem continue? Why is Clemson still struggling on offense despite such percentages from a 6-9 forward?

One word: volume.

Jennings is averaging a career high in minutes this season, 27 per game, but he’s taking only 7.3 shots per game, nearly the same amount he took as a sophomore (7 shots per game). He’s supposed to be a senior, a leader, a focal point. Instead he has often seemed reluctant to take a lead role.

That was until Saturday when he scored 21 points on 7 of 13 shooting from the field.

So why hasn’t Jennings had more games where he takes 10+ shots from the field? That’s what I wanted to know following the Virginia win.

Some of it is a fragile confidence. He air-balled an early 3 at Duke and didn’t seem interested in shooting the rest of the game. But other part that is not widely known is Jennings has a high basketball IQ and sometimes over-thinks situations on the court.

This is what Jennings told me after the win over Virginia:

“I look up at the clock and I see 16 (seconds), so naturally I know it might be too (early) to shoot. It might not be the best shot if I shoot it right there; this is all in my mind,” Jennings said. “Where coaches say you have to take that shot, you have to make people guard you.”

Instead of taking an early open 3 on one possession, Jennings thought the shot was too early in the shot clock. Coach Brad Brownell implored him to shoot and was disgusted when he did not.

For Clemson to be relevant in ACC play, in March, Jennings has to somehow get out of his own head. If there’s an open shot, he has to take it.

He’s playing efficient basketball. He’s playing really efficient basketball. Now he needs volume. He needs to shoot.

He and Devin Booker combined for 25 shots, the rest of the team shot 10 times, against Virginia. Distribution should be similar going forward. They are Clemson’s best scorers.

Booker must continue to be an inside post-presence. Jennings must continue to be a threat from 3, a floor stretcher, who can provide outside shooting. For Clemson it has to be a two-man game from its two seniors.

They’ve been reluctant to take leading roles but they know time is running out on their careers. And while the timing is late for the light to come on, late is better than never.

6 thoughts on “Sunday Point Guard: Clemson’s hidden shooting star

  1. I feel like Jennings is a classic case of the-chicken-or-the-egg. Does he need to take more shots because he’s so efficient? Or is he efficient because he doesn’t take as many shots? And because it’s such a fragile situation, as you mentioned, you never know if three or four more shots a game derails it all if he misses two of those extra three shots.

    Admittedly, I’m not caught up on my 2013 Tigers basketball knowledge yet (still coming down off of the football high). But it seems like Clemson’s biggest problem for several years now has been no one with that competitive instinct to just win. Tajh had a good 2011 season but spent the entire off season working to get better. In the NC State game, he’s still lowering his shoulder into defenders on the last drive of the game. He’s willing to put the team on his back and just win. Part of the basketball team’s problems lie with there only being two upperclassmen. But does anyone on this team want the ball in their hands with 15 seconds left and down by one?

    • Matt,

      I think Jennings has always been a reluctant, low-volume shooter … but he’s also improve his shooting percentages each year so I do believe he’s improved his shot-making ability.

      Now would his shooting suffer if he’s a higher volume guy? Sure. In taking more shots he’ll take fewer wide-open shots, etc. But even if he dropped his 3 pt pct from 46 to 36 but increased his shots per game from 7 to 13. It would still be a win for Clemson, imo.

      Jennings has to shoot more even if it causes his rates to decrease.

      I don’t think he’s going to develop into a go-to scorer during his final 15 ACC games – I think Booker has a better chance – but they both must be more active scorers/shooters. I think Filer is a guy who could develop into that role, like Stitt, as he develops.

  2. I think one problem with Jennings perception is, he just seems to take time off. I have seen him give outstanding effort and I have seen him seem as though he was in a daze, just walking through a possession. He and Booker are the laziest passer I have ever witnessed at a college level. I think the perception of Jennings is, unfortunately or accurately, based on those moments when he appears to be going through the motions. Those are the moments that seem to stick out in my mind.

    • JDM, I wasn’t trying to suggest Jennings has become the perfect player. And you’re correct to note he has energy/focus lulls on the court … but I do think he’s become more useful than he’s given credit for.

      He’ll never live up to the 5-star label, but he needs to become a consistent No. 2 scoring option who can stretch the floor during Clemson’s final 15 ACC games.

      • Agree and I didn’t mean to imply that he hasn’t improved, he has. I like Jennings and he has some skills. Most of the time he seems to care. I think he just lacks that lazer focus for an entire game. Based on the information you cite, he is incredibly effecient on offense. I don’t know many guys that can shoot like he can that has that kind of conscious about taking a shot early in the clock, regardless of the offensive philosphy. :)

        • Agreed. Jennings’ temperament is perplexing at times. Most good shooters like to shoot.

          If I’m Brownell, I almost institute a no-pass rule with Jennings. If you catch you shoot, or dribble and create. No passing (unless Booker is open in the post)

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