With the 23rd overall pick on Thursday, the Atlanta Hawks selected Vanderbilt guard John Jenkins, the Southeastern Conference’s leading scorer for the past two seasons whom the Hawks brought in for a second workout just a day earlier.
With the departure of Jamal Crawford after the 2010-11 season and the trade of young shooting guard Jordan Crawford, the Hawks had a void in terms of a player who could provide scoring from that position. Veteran Kirk Hinrich, whom the Hawks acquired in February of 2011 in a deal involving Jordan Crawford, was brought in more for his defense and struggled offensively this past season after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery. Hinrich will be an unrestricted free agent as of Sunday.
As a result, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Jenkins, a native of the Nashville area, could have a chance to start immediately. He averaged 19.9 points per game, shooting 47.4 percent from the field and 43.9 percent on 3-pointers last season. He helped lead the Commodores to the SEC championship over eventual national champion Kentucky, which had three players drafted ahead of Jenkins in the first round on Thursday.
With the 43rd overall pick, the Hawks took 6-foot-8, 237-pound forward Mike Scott out of Virginia. Scott, a four-year player, averaged 18.0 points and 8.3 rebounds as a senior. Hawks coach Larry Drew said in the in-person workouts he saw of Jenkins, two in Atlanta and one in Los Angeles, he was impressed by Jenkins’ natural shooting ability. He likened Jenkins to Orlando’s J.J. Reddick, a player who, similarly, is not terribly athletic but nonetheless shot 41.8 percent on 3-pointers for the Magic last season.
“He can really come off screens,” Drew said. “It’s just a matter of him getting a little bit of daylight to get his shot off. He has range and, as I said, when you play against guys like that who can shoot the ball, if you’re the opposition, sometimes your defensive principles won’t apply.
“You just have to make sure with a guy like that on the floor you have to be with him at all times. With him out on the floor, he just gives you a weapon that – you can work on your shot as much as you can as an athlete, but there are just some guys who have that knack for making shots and knocking down shots and he’s one of those guys.”
Jenkins said he has worked hard on his ball-handling and also his physical training to get himself into better shape. Despite the holes in the Hawks’ lineup that would appear to line up for him, Jenkins said he has no illusions about earning a spot in the starting lineup.
“I’m not looking forward to that, I just want to get better every day,” Jenkins said. “I have a lot of work to cover and a lot of work to do.”
Jenkins said the only other team that invited him for two workouts was Denver, which had the 20th pick and took French guard Evan Fournier, whom the Hawks also worked out earlier this week. Jenkins said he was not overly familiar with the Hawks but that he has family in the Atlanta area.
The draft is the first for new Hawks general manager Danny Ferry, who was introduced on Monday. Rick Sund handled the Hawks’ past four drafts and Ferry appeared to go with the work performed by the staff Sund hired.
On Wednesday, Hawks assistant general manager Dave Pendergraft said that Ferry did not blow up their draft board. That took on an air of truth when the team invited Jenkins back for that second workout and then picked him on Thursday.
The Hawks, who finished fourth in the Eastern Conference this past season in making their fifth straight playoff appearance, ranked fifth in the NBA last season in three-point shooting percentage (37.0), but the organization felt that it can never have enough shooters, as All-Star small forward Joe Johnson will always draw a double-team. Ferry said “the whole team will function better when he’s out on the court.”
“I like players who can shoot and he can definitely do that,” Ferry said. “He plays hard, he’s a competitive kid. Really tries to play the right way and he’s one of those guys when he’s on the court, he’ll make shots, to make it almost like a 4-on-4 game because you can’t leave him.”
When addressing how Jenkins would play defense, Ferry said that Jenkins “cares” and that he’s smart.
Drew said that in a conversation with Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings that Stallings told him that Jenkins was a “very, very hard worker” and that Jenkins would probably go to the gym to get some shots in after he found out which team was drafting him.
In fact, Jenkins said that was exactly what he planned after his fellow Vanderbilt teammates Festus Ezeli and Jeff Taylor were drafted. Ezeli went 30th overall in the first round to Golden State and Taylor was the first pick of the second round, 31st overall, to Charlotte.
“Once they get called,” Jenkins said, “I’m going straight to the gym to get some shots up. It’s not enough for me to get drafted. I want to be a great player in this league and so hard work is what it takes.”
Because the Hawks have so few players under contract – just six – Ferry said it was important to build a roster for the coming season with players who can contribute like Jenkins and Scott. Ferry said Scott will play the power forward and has strength and can rebound. He called him a good 16-foot player who can pick-and-pop and finish around the basket.
Since taking over, Ferry said it has been a “fast and furious” four days. Delving deeper into personnel issues, Ferry said ownership has given him permission to exceed the league’s luxury tax “when appropriate” but he said that he wants to have flexibility on his roster and so exceeding the luxury tax threshold should be done “judiciously,” especially because of trade restrictions and exceptions available under the league’s new collective bargaining agreement.
Nonetheless, he said there was a “good chance” that would happen in future seasons. As he builds a roster going forward, he seemed to cite trades in particular as a potential avenue.
“I think right now, building the roster, maintaining some flexibility with it, is really my focus,” Ferry said. “… Right time, right trade, right thing. Ownership, Bruce Levenson, has told me if it’s appropriate and it’s right, and it would really make a difference, then we would have the ability to do so (exceed the luxury tax). I want to say with that, that I don’t always think it’s the right thing to go over the tax because of the rules and because of the way things operate. Most teams are never one player away.”