Between free agency drama and recovery efforts from some of the team’s top players, this summer was a busy one for the Mavericks. Heading into the preseason, attention has naturally been paid to those big storylines, but one of the most unheralded free agents, John Jenkins, has already made a big impact on the team and a positive impression on head coach Rick Carlisle.
Jenkins is averaging 20.3 points per game — fourth-highest in the NBA this this preseason — on 48.9 percent shooting in 29.2 minutes of action. A shooting guard by trade, injury-related concerns have left a large minutes void at the point guard position, and Jenkins is the player Carlisle has assigned to fill that role. As many as half of his minutes in some contests have come at the 1-spot, a position he has essentially never played at the NBA level. But his prowess as a playmaker has certainly not gone unnoticed.
“He’s been better with the ball than expected,” Carlisle said of the 24-year-old guard. “He’s doing a good job on pick-and-rolls, he’s doing a good job on transition situations.
“I think we’ve got to be careful about creating a level of unrealistic expectations for him as a playmaker,” the coach warned. “But he’s done more than a respectable job handling the point guard position in the absence of (Deron Williams) and (Raymond) Felton the last couple games, and we have him playing it the first two games too because we’ve been playing guys only so many minutes.”
Following his preseason-high 26-point performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night, Jenkins said while he has experience at the position, it’s taking time to grow completely comfortable with the role.
“Coach Carlisle has allowed me to do a lot of things that people haven’t seen me do since high school or college,” the 6-foot-4 guard said. “It’s like I’ve had those things in my repertoire, but it’s been on the bench a little bit and hidden. So I’m just getting used to (playing) point guard. Every day, I’m getting better with it, doing reps in practice and in the games just going over that. I’m doing the best I can with it.”
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Scoring leaders this preseason
What’s stood out in particular is Jenkins’ ability to create for himself off the dribble. According to Synergy Sports, so far this preseason he’s scored 0.933 points per possession in the pick-and-roll, 17th-best among players with at least 10 chances. For reference, that places higher than players like Kevin Durant, Lou Williams, and even Chris Paul — although many of Jenkins’ chances have come against reserve players late in games, not against starters in the opening minutes.
That said, not every NBA player can create off the dribble. Coming into camp, Jenkins had a reputation as a sharpshooter, but not many expected him to be able to score moving to his left.
Or to his right.
Jenkins doesn’t possess the cat-like quickness of smaller point guards like Paul or Damian Lillard, and he doesn’t have the top-end speed of All-Stars like Russell Westbrook or John Wall. But he does have the ability to stop and pop, and his 6-foot-8.5 wingspan makes it very difficult for back-pedaling big men to contest his shot with any authority.
Regardless of direction, Jenkins is usually able to decisively step into a pull-up J all while maintaining his balance, resulting in a smooth, picturesque shot. Carlisle has mentioned that he’d like to see Jenkins get more reps at the shooting guard position between now and the beginning of the regular season, as he likely won’t be playing any point guard once the games start counting in the standings, but his ability to shoot has never been questioned.
“He’s really stepped up his aggressiveness just in terms of when he steps into the gym, he’s a threat to score,” Carlisle said. “I’ve loved his mindset in all three games. But the challenge going forward is to maintain this. Teams are gonna be gameplanning more, they’re gonna be sticking closer to him. He’s got to keep that same aggressiveness.”
It will be interesting to see, once everyone is healthy, if the Mavericks implement any opportunities into the offense for Jenkins to receive a ball-screen with a chance to get a shot off for himself. Dallas runs plenty of pick-and-rolls as it is, so it could certainly be a possibility. And if you combine Jenkins’ off-the-bounce dribble with the catch-and-shoot savvy of a pick-and-pop partner like Dirk Nowitzki, opponents could have a real headache on their hands.
Should he continue playing at this level, not only will Jenkins guarantee himself a spot on the final 15-man roster, but he’ll make it awfully difficult for Carlisle not to place him in the rotation once the regular season begins. He’ll get another chance to wow the coaching staff tonight against the Atlanta Hawks, his former team.
“He’s making a case,” Carlisle said. “He was a guy fighting for a spot on the team. I tell all these guys you should set the bar high on what you’re trying to achieve. If you’re in here, one of 20 guys, it shouldn’t just be to make the team. It should be to play. My hope is that’s how all these guys are viewing it.”
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