It wasn’t that long ago that Los Angeles native Brandon Jennings left high school go play in Europe for a year rather than go to college on a path to the NBA.
At the time, it may have seemed like a boneheaded move, but in his defense, he’s turned out to be a mature young player with a bright future and crazy amount of game.
In every conversation I’ve had with Jennings, he’s told me he relishes the opportunity to come home and play in front of his friends and family. He may even still hold onto his boyhood dream of playing for the Lakers.
But he’s playing in Milwaukee, and as a consolation to rarely having the opportunity to come home, he’s one of the best young guards in the league and on the NBA’s unofficial “hardest to guard” list.
For that reason, it’s only fitting that Kobe Bryant at his advanced age of 34 years-old was tasked with shadowing the man who once looked up to him, both literally and figuratively up and down the court for the better part of 48 minutes. Yes, Jennings is 11 years Bryant’s junior, but here’s the kicker — Bryant won the matchup handily and held Jennings to just 12 points, well below his season average of 18.5.
That alone wouldn’t be news, but the fact of the matter is that Bryant hasn’t been great defensively this season. Whether it’s been effort, too much energy devoted to offense, poor team chemistry or all of the above is unknown.
For at least one night, the sports world got a glimpse of how dangerous the Lakers can be when Bryant decides he’s going to be a two-way player. The Lakers will need every bit of that effort on a nightly basis. Fortunately, if Dwight Howard plays the way he did, then it’ll take a lot of pressure off Bryant on offense,, freeing him up to focus on locking down defenders like Jennings.
So is it irony that it was Jennings’ idol that spoiled his homecoming? Is it a coincidence that each player spent some of his most formative years learning the sweet nuances of the game in Italy?
No, it’s just basketball. Welcome home, Brandon.