The NBA Draft is a week away, and Vanderbilt stands to have three players drafted in the first two rounds for the first time in school history on June 28th. Jeffery Taylor, John Jenkins, and Festus Ezeli have all been projected as late first round picks in multiple mock drafts leading up to next week's event, putting them all in a great position to join a contending team right away and contribute. Today, we'll take a look at one of the purest shooters in Commodore history, John Jenkins.
When our friends over at Blog-a-Bull came asking for a quick preview of Jenkins's skill set, they already knew the bulk of what teams will get with Jenkins; three-point shooting in bunches. While the junior locked him self in the gym for three years in Nashville to round out his game, his elite shooting will always be his calling card. Jenkins could start his NBA career with a dozen straight dunks from the free throw line and opposing coaches would still make stopping his threes their priority.
He came to Memorial Gym as the best shooter in his national recruiting class and will leave the NCAA as the best shooter amongst 2012's eligible players. He has good hands and an ultra-quick release that gives him a Ray Allen edge coming off of screens. He can pivot, catch a pass at his knees, square up to the basket, and get his shot off in a fraction of a second, making him a dangerous scorer despite lacking ideal height or athleticism as a shooting guard. This ability also earned him plenty of trips to the free throw line for three shots.
The rest of his game is less heralded. He began his career as a below-average defender, but worked hard to improve that status and become a reliable backcourt player for the Commodores. His lateral movement is just average for a guard, and he has had trouble defending quicker 2s in the past. He took a big step forward after working with Matt Painter and the Team USA under-21s between his sophomore and junior years. He improved as an on-the-ball defender and his help defense also leveled up as he grew as a player at Vandy.
Jenkins is a hard worker on the court who rarely gets caught flat footed or behind a play. However, he may have trouble adjusting to the jump in competition at the NBA level defensively. Despite his improvements and his commitment to rounding out his defense, I'm not sure that he'll ever be more than an average player on that end of the court.
As far as his offense goes, he's worked hard to diversify his game, but a well-rounded approach is still a work in progress for Jenkins. He developed from a one-dimensional shooter to become a player who can put the ball on the floor and drive to the basket, but those drives were largely set up by his threatening presence behind the arc. He showed the ability to finish well at the rim despite not being much of a dunker, and his nearly-automatic status at the free throw line made him a dangerous player to foul in the paint. He's not great off the dribble and doesn't have great passing instincts, so there's no chance that he could be a combo guard at the next level.
His combination of basketball IQ and work ethic should make him an inherently coachable player. He was asked to handle the scoring load at Vanderbilt and while he relished the spotlight, that made him the focus of a lot of opposing defenses. If he lands in a position where he's the fourth option on the court at a given moment, his shooting and ability to fight through screens should make him more of a natural scorer than he was at Vanderbilt. That's not to suggest that he'd shoot more, just that he'd be able to fill seams without disrupting the flow of the game.
All in all, I think he has a solid future ahead of him as a scoring guard and three-point marksman. He will run into problems thanks to his average athleticism, but a flawless shooting stroke is enough to cancel out his negatives. He'll never be a slashing shooting guard but his presence behind the arc will be enough to keep opposing defenses honest. At a time where the NBA's best teams rely heavily on role players who specialize in dagger threes, Jenkins should be able to find a supporting role in the league for years to come.
There are plenty of teams in the latter third of the draft that could benefit from his services. The Bulls, who have been in need of a rangy shooting guard for years to play off of Derrick Rose, seem to be the most obvious fit. Memphis, who stands to lose O.J. Mayo to free agency this summer, should also be interested. If he falls into the second round, Washington would be a very interesting landing spot. The Wizards are in the midst of rebuilding and Jenkins could potentially push for a starting spot there against Jordan Crawford and Cartier Martin.
In terms of accomplishments, Jenkins is one of the most storied players to come out of Vanderbilt. In terms of potential and athleticism, he'll probably be selected third amongst his teammates in next Thursday's draft. That should only serve to motivate a player who made late-night shootarounds a tradition for three years in Nashville. Jenkins's elite shooting should serve him well for years in the NBA. Even if he doesn't develop into an upper-tier starter, he has the stroke to be a key role player for a championship team well into the future.