2012 Atlanta Hawks Player Preview: John Jenkins


Photo: David Goldman / AP

Every draft night I wait for the Hawks to do something stupid.

I’m sorry, but it’s true. I’ve seen nothing but wasted talent melt its way through Atlanta’s rosters ever since I was born, and even if the talent showed flashes of greatness, it wasn’t until later, on another team of course, that such talent was cultivated. I’d grown accustomed to taking the beating– to taking Marvin Williams over Chris Paul and Deron Williams, to taking Shelden Williams over anyone who can dribble, to taking taking the same position over and over again when the need for it was non-existant. I’ve been through every high and low that every diehard Hawks fan has been through.

It’s just too bad there aren’t that many highs. We can look back and say the Josh Smith pick in 2004 was a steal (17th overall), we can say that drafting Jeff Teague at 19 was probably the best move available, and we can say that landing Al Horford was one of the greatest bouncings of a ping pong ball anyone has ever experienced in Atlanta. But other than that, what do we have to our name? Josh Childress? Acie Law IV? Shelden? Marvin? Boris Diaw? Mike Bibby for a boatload of picks?

What about John Jenkins? 5 years from now,where will he fall into this? Taken at pick 23, is he a steal or is he just going to be another late first rounder who doesn’t turn out? Would the latter really surprise anyone? There are so many questions, and with a regime change in the works for Atlanta, I can’t peg his failure like I might have been able to do with others (cough Acie Law cough). In fact, I’m doing just the opposite: I’m predicting something positive.

Still, just because the guy can the shoot lights out doesn’t mean he’s Reggie Miller. Jenkins has his deficiencies that may very well hold him back from a successful NBA career, and it’s best to get those off my chest before the love fest begins:

  • He is a terrible rebounder for a guard
  • He is an unproven defender with poor lateral quickness and physical limitations
  • His athleticism is lacking
  • He can’t consistently, if ever, create his own shot
  • He’s primarily a one-trick pony

Now as to why Atlanta didn’t waste their first round pick:

Jenkins has skills that translate to any style of basketball and give him a defined purpose at all times. He’s a shooter. His stroke is golden, beautiful, perfect, and he doesn’t need much space to get it off. His release is freakishly quick, and he comes off screens beautifully with footwork perfectly executed. He’s a willing passer who doesn’t get enough credit for his vision, and while he can’t create his own shot, he can handle the ball from time to time.

The good news for Jenkins is that while there are several things that might hold him back, there is one thing that propels him forward: the rim is 10-feet tall in every gym, in every arena, and on every court. The basket isn’t changing. If he’s open he will hit his shots, and he’ll hit them at a clip that will surprise almost every casual observer. And the footwork, the release? His are perfect. He doesn’t need a 40-inch vertical to curl off a screen and square up for a three-pointer on the move. He needs what he already has, and in an offense that at the time was beckoning for a shooter or two, the selection, even if it was a reach, shouldn’t really be questioned.

So what are the expectations on day one? We all saw him light it up in Summer League, and by we I unfortunately mean like 6 people because no one actually watches Summer League other than bloggers and journalists, but, nevertheless, his performances there don’t mean anything. Anthony Randolph has looked like Michael Jordan every year he has hit that Vegas floor, and let’s not forget the magical summer of Donte Green and his explosive 42-point outing– guys dominate Summer League all the time, but most of them never even make a name for themselves in the NBA.

I wish I could jump to conclusions based off Jenkins’ Summer League play, because if I could, I’d be saying watch out for a potential rookie-of-the-year candidate. Against defenses that are much less structured and talented, Jenkins showed an ability to handle the basketball and occasionally use a pick to get to the rim. However, no one is sold that he’s going to be able to do that against defenders who are longer, stronger, more experienced, and better.

It’s just hard seeing him having even close to the effect that Thomas Robinson or Austin Rivers will have right off the bat. The ball won’t be in his hands as often as it will be in some other rookies’, and when it is, it will be because he’s put himself in a position for a catch-and-shoot. He moves so well without the ball that at this point, while his handle and decision making are still developing, it doesn’t make much sense to use him in any other way. Plant him in the corner, run the spread pick-and-roll offense, have the defense collapse on the driver or role man, and then let Jenkins stroke open threes from outside. It’s a simple formula that the Hawks will likely turn to again and again, whether it’s Korver, Morrow, or Jenkins who is waiting for the open look.

The best part about this situation is that Jenkins is useful from day one. We’ve seen young players who don’t have a specific niche or skill, but are immensely talented, come into the league and never develop a useful aspect in their game (looking at you Marvin Williams). There may have been talent and a baseline skill set to build on, but the confidence was never there because they were never elite at one thing. It helps so much to come in with a defined role, and then work to expand that role as the years roll by.

Jenkins will be tossed in the fire of an NBA game and he’ll know what he has to do. He’ll know his role. The only hope that we need have as Hawks fans is that that does not force him into complacency. If Jenkins were to find a way to get into the lane other than pump-faking defenders out of their jockstraps, then he’d be a nightmare for opposing defenses. The scariest part about John Jenkins, however, is that he already is.

So 5 years from now, what will we call him? Another Acie Law? Another Marvin Williams? Or will we remember him as the first draft pick of the at the time new and smart General Manager who proved that he was indeed as smart as advertised? No one is asking for Jenkins to be an all-star, but his skills give him the ability contribute instantly and progress from there. If he can do that, he’s looking at a long and successful career.