Atlanta’s John Jenkins, right, played just 13 games last year because of a back injury, but he is on the court with the team this summer and gearing up for a come-back season. (Reuters)
LAS VEAGS — It’s almost like starting over for John Jenkins.
The Hawks guard is back playing summer league for a third year as he tries to recover from a disastrous season. His sophomore season was derailed by a back injury that limited him to 13 games before surgery was finally required.
There is plenty to prove this season and Jenkins knows it.
“My rookie year, I wanted to build on that,” Jenkins said. “Then I got hurt. You are kind of an afterthought when you are not playing and you’re hurt. I definitely have something to prove.”
Jenkins, a first-round draft pick in 2012 from Vanderbilt, averaged 6.1 points and 1.5 rebounds in 14.8 minutes in 62 games as a rookie. Last season, his back flared up during the offseason and he missed most of the summer. He returned for training camp but missed most of the preseason when the injury worsened. He played sporadically and his averages dropped to 3.1 points and 1.7 rebounds in 12.2 minutes in his limited chances.
His final game came on Dec. 20, when he had seven points, three rebounds and two assists in 17 minutes of a lopsided win over the Jazz. He sat out the next game against the Heat on Dec. 23 and following a Dec. 26 game with the Cavaliers, he was listed as inactive. Merry Christmas. He underwent surgery some six weeks later.
Jenkins has plenty to prove to the Hawks in his third season. First, he has to get and stay healthy. He has to regain the confidence in his sharp-shooting ability. He must work his way back into the rotation since Mike Budenholzer did not see much of him in his first year as head coach.
Then, the Hawks have a decision to make following the season. Jenkins will make $1.3 million this season and the Hawks have a team option of $2.2 million for 2015-16.
“I don’t really feel any pressure,” Jenkins said. “I just feel like I need to be healthy.”
The return to health begins the month with another trip to summer league, a tournament with rosters mostly consisting of rookies and second-year players. Jenkins said he was idle for five months following the surgery on Feb. 3 and was only cleared for full-contact play a week prior to summer league.
The rust from the long layoff was apparent. Jenkins had two points on 1-of-4 shooting, including 0-of-2 from 3-point range, in a 90-74 loss to the Wizards in last Saturday’s summer league opener. He was a minus-28 in 21 minutes.
“It’s going to take some time,” Jenkins said. “I haven’t played in a game in eight months. This was a test for me. … My body felt OK, not like I wanted it to feel. My game is way off right now. That was obvious. I think if I keep playing and getting my rhythm back, I will be fine.”
Despite limited experience in the Hawks’ ball-movement offense, Jenkins looks at the blueprint for the system and feels like he is a fit. He also sees the Spurs, where Budenholzer spent 17 seasons as an assistant before taking over the Hawks.
“I shoot the ball,” Jenkins said. “I feel like I move the ball, am a good passer and I rebound good for a guard. I feel like that is perfect for me. Look at Danny Green and Marco Belinelli on the Spurs. I feel like I can do those same things.”