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.
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.