Leading Las Vegas
By Jon Cooper
Beginning your professional career on Friday the 13th is ominous, to say the least.
Yet that is what Atlanta Hawks rookie and 2012 first-round pick John Jenkins did when the Atlanta Hawks opened their five-game Summer League slate against the Washington Wizards at COX Pavilion in Las Vegas.
Jenkins isn't superstitious, nor is he a "gamer" in the Vegas sense of the word, but he is a player and offered a bit of advice for those laying odds on him in the summer proving ground.
"I don't gamble," he said, with a laugh, "but I would play No. 12."
Jenkins hasn't disappointed. He lit up the Wizards for 19 points and shot 7-for-13, 4-of-5 from three, and in his first three Summer League games has averaged 14.7 points per game, on 43.9 percent shooting (18-for-41), 36.4 percent (4-for-11) from three — although the latter has taken a hit, as he was 0-for-3 from behind the arc in games against San Antonio and Boston.
It's too early to draw conclusions about Jenkins, but calling him a long-shot isn't as bad a description for him as it might sound.
It's one he'd probably embrace, as his propensity for the long shot contributed to the Hawks using the 23rd overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft on the sharpshooter from Vanderbilt.
Jenkins led the SEC in scoring in each of his last two college seasons and in 2011-12, was far and away the most dangerous three-point shooter in the conference, making 134 field goals (3.8 per game), 24 more than the conference runner-up, Florida's Kenny Boynton.
While Jenkins put up 305 threes, his success from three was hardly based on volume of shots taken. He converted 43.9 percent of his attempts. Only Arkansas' Mardracus Wade shot a better percentage but took only 147 attempts.
The 21-year-old Nashville, Tenn., native knows that college success won't help him in the NBA, either in Las Vegas or once he comes back to Atlanta for training camp. He knows what will, however.
"Just play hard," said Jenkins, the fourth No. 1 pick in Vanderbilt history and first since Will Perdue in 1988. "It's a lot more competitive [than college], maybe, but not too much more. Everybody's going out there fighting for spots and playing time. I'm kind of used to that aspect of basketball. So just play hard."
As Jenkins headed out to Vegas ready to face his brave new world, he wasn't going as a wide-eyed kid. He actually knew a lot about what was coming.
"I watch film all the time. I watch Synergy (Sports Technology) almost every day," said Jenkins, who shot in the neighborhood of 47 percent and 44 percent from three in his three years as a Commodore. "I did that all of last year on who I was guarding. It was big for me to play defense last year. So I kind of wanted to get the upper hand out there so I used to watch film on the guy I was guarding. I think it's really big on tendencies and understanding how guys move."
He knows that teams have been watching film on him and that they'll be ready to take away his spot-up J and make him work to create his own shot. That challenge fires up the rookie, although he remains cool on the outside.
"It's just working hard on it, adjust to the game, get used to everything and I'll be alright," he said.
Jenkins also knows that being an offensive threat won't be enough to make it on the NBA level and that he needs to shore up his defense, a knock which has followed him around.
"Defensively I've made strides already," he said. "I have to continue to do that to be a good player in this league."
It all comes back to playing and working hard.
"What you put into this game is what you get out of it," he said. "So I play hard every time I'm on the court. That's what every ballplayer needs to do and that's what I like to do."
Jenkins also liked to wear the No. 21, but was reminded that number is retired in Atlanta. He was happy to take No. 12, his high school number.
"They asked me right after the Draft and at that time my mind was everywhere," he recalled, with a laugh, adding, "I wasn't even thinking about 21, Dominique Wilkins. But when they said, '21 is retired,' I said, 'Oh, I'm stupid for asking.'"
Chalk it up to a rookie mistake.
But Jenkins has moved on and started making No. 12 his own.