NEW ORLEANS — With the Hawks short-handed at the guard position, rookie John Jenkins has been pressed into action the past four games.
Not a problem.
Jenkins’ recent play prompted coach Larry Drew to pronounce following Tuesday’s win over the Hornets: “I’ve got to find some minutes for him.”
Jenkins, the first-round draft pick (No. 23 overall) out of Vanderbilt, has been used sparingly this season. However, with guards Devin Harris and Anthony Morrow injured Drew looked to the far end of his bench. Jenkins responded by averaging 9.3 points in 17 minutes. He shot 68.2 percent from the field (15 of 22), including 75 percent (6 of from 3-point range.
“I was just trying to be a spark out there,” Jenkins said. “I know we are short-handed and somebody has to step up. I’m just trying to step up.”
Drew noted before the season that with the veteran guards on the Hawks’ roster it would probably take an injury for Jenkins to get extended minutes. He is getting the chance now with Harris (sore left foot) and Morrow (right hip strain) not able to travel on the recently completed road trip.
Jenkins’ offensive ability was never in question. He was considered the best pure shooter in last year’s draft. He leads the Hawks with a 47.6 3-point field goal percentage (10 of 21) and his shooting 55.3 percent (26 of 47) overall.
Jenkins scored a then career-high 10 points against the Pacers on Dec. 29 and topped it with 15 points against the Rockets Monday.
The biggest challenge would be how long it would take Jenkins to learn the Hawks defensive system and adapt to the speed of the NBA game. Jenkins made Drew take notice with his defense, particularly in the past two games when he had to guard the Rockets’ James Harden and the Hornets’ Eric Gordon.
“He has shown me what I’ve always thought, that this kid is an NBA talent,” Drew said. “It’s just a matter of trying to find minutes for him. It’s a matter of getting him in the rotation. Getting him to really learn what we do.
“Defensively, he has shown that he can move his feet. I like what I saw against Gordon. He had Gordon isolated a couple times. I like what I saw when Gordon tried to reject the screen, John was there.”
Jenkins was likewise pleased with his effort.
“As a rookie, that’s tough,” Jenkins said of guarding the likes of Harden and Gordon. “All in all, I think I did a great job of staying in front of those guys and making them take contested shots. That’s all I can do because guys are going to make shots. They are in the NBA so my job is to stay in front and contest.”
Jenkins said he now is comfortable in both aspects of his game – but it took some time. He said the game moved fast when he reported to training camp but after a few months of practice and film study the game has slowed.
In his 15 games played, Jenkins has averaged 4.4 points, 1.1 rebounds and 0.7 assists in 8.2 minutes. Those numbers figure to increase if Drew finds more minutes for Jenkins even with the returns of Harris and Morrow.
Many Hawks fans have expressed their desire to see more of Jenkins. The rookie said he is aware of the sentiments.
“I kind of just stay in my little zone, my little way, but I definitely hear it and I definitely appreciate it,” Jenkins said.
- Chris Vivlamore
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