Pistons’ Jennings looks healthy in Grand Rapids start

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Walker, Mich. — Brandon Jennings wasn’t playing in the familiar surroundings of more than 20,000 fans at The Palace.

There weren’t fancy fireworks or large HD video boards to show his highlights.

But there was Jennings — playing basketball again, at the DeltaPlex for the Pistons’ NBDL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Drive, on Saturday night. Jennings played his first competitive game, just less than 11 months after suffering a torn left Achilles tendon in January.

For all the things Jennings didn’t have in his 2015-16 debut, he did have some familiar faces, as Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy and stars Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson made the trip west on I-96. Pistons teammates Darrun Hilliard and Reggie Bullock were assigned to play with the Drive.

With so many familiar surroundings, Jennings felt right at home. That included on the court, where he showed flashes of the way he was playing before his season-ending injury against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Jennings finished with 11 points — including two 3-pointers — and 12 assists in 27 minutes for the Drive, who won the game, 130-104, over the Iowa Energy.

But as Van Gundy said this week, the numbers didn’t matter. It was more about getting Jennings some good run in a structured setting and seeing how the left Achilles would hold up to some extended game time.

Jennings excelled throughout the game, but he had his moments.

“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 said.

After he got his first rebound, he dribbled on offense, only to have the ball go off his foot and out of bounds.

That was one of the few low points, though.

One a 2-on-1 fast break, Jennings threw an alley-oop off the backboard to Devin Ebanks for a highlight-reel, two-handed dunk.

“It was a little weird playing pick-and-roll again for the first time,” Jennings said. “It’s something I have to work on tomorrow in practice. I feel good. If coach wants me to play (Wednesday) in Miami, I’ll play.”

Jennings made his first shot, an open 3-pointer, then assisted on baskets by Hilliard and Bullock. In Jennings’ first six minutes, he had five points and four assists.

Playing to the crowd, Jennings made a couple of flashy passes that resulted in turnovers, but the fans didn’t seem to care, they just seemed happy to see him back and playing.

“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.”

Throughout the latter part of his rehab process, Jennings has targeted a return date in the last week of December — and from his initial game, it looks to be realistic. The Drive have another home game on Wednesday and if he’s healthy, Jennings could be back with the Pistons Dec. 26 at The Palace against the Boston Celtics or Dec. 29 at the New York Knicks.

The sellout crowd at the DeltaPlex had a warm welcome for Jennings as he was announced in pregame introductions, but the best welcome was his return to basketball.