Analysis: David Jenkins is star scorer UNLV needs

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Wade Vandervort

Rebel player David Jenkins (5) practices at Mendenhall Center at the UNLV campus, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019.

Sun, Jul 5, 2020 (2 a.m.)

Expectations are sky high for David Jenkins in 2020-21.

As a sophomore at South Dakota State two years ago he scored 19.7 points per game and drilled 45.3 percent of his 3-point attempts, making him one of the country’s most efficient offensive players. After that flamethrower campaign, Jenkins transferred to UNLV and sat out a redshirt year, giving him ample time to acclimate to his new team and refine his own game. And as he's playing under his old coach from SDSU, T.J. Otzelberger, there are no worries about a system fit with the Runnin’ Rebels. Jenkins should be good to go.

So what should Rebels fans expect from Jenkins?

First and foremost, he is truly an elite scorer. He averaged 1.059 points per possession in 2018-19, according to Synergy Sports data, which would have been tops on last year’s UNLV team by a huge margin.

It wasn’t a fluke — Jenkins’ jump shot is for real. As the raw percentages suggest, he absolutely cannot be left alone behind the 3-point line. Among players with at least 50 catch-and-shoot attempts in 2018-19, Jenkins ranked 16th nationally by making 49.5 percent. That was good for 1.485 points per possession.

He is automatic when in rhythm:

Jenkins is not just a standstill shooter, though, and that’s what makes him such a good offensive player. He can create his own shot off the dribble, and his accuracy shooting off the bounce is also elite.

As a sophomore he attempted 114 jumpers off the dribble and nailed 53, good for 46.5 percent. That ranked him 13th in the country among players with at least 50 attempts. Among players with as many attempts as Jenkins, he ranked fourth; he is a high-volume, high-efficiency shooter in all situations. Defenses have to respect him at all times, from all areas of the court.

That includes the mid-range area. It’s not a focal point of Otzelberger’s offense, but Jenkins can create space and make in-between shots when the situation calls for it:

In 2018-19 he took 68 mid-range jumpers and drilled 35 of them, which works out to 51.5 percent. That’s about as good as anyone can shoot it from the mid-range area. Given Otzelberger’s predilection for “efficient” shots, it’s ironic that the 2020-21 Runnin’ Rebels will feature two of the nation’s best mid-range players in Jenkins and junior guard Bryce Hamilton.

Jenkins’ effectiveness in the mid-range comes by necessity. He’s not especially quick off the dribble, and he doesn’t change direction or turn the corner with much burst. Driving all the way to the basket is a chore, and at 6-foot-2 Jenkins is strictly a below-the-rim player.

As a sophomore, there were times when Jenkins struggled to beat his man off the dribble, even when slower big men were switched onto him. Jenkins also had difficulty finishing due to his size and lack of lift:

Jenkins mitigates that problem somewhat by inviting contact. He is a physical, well-built player, and once he starts his drive he seeks out contact the entire way. He earned 7.1 free-throw attempts per 100 possessions, which would have ranked third on UNLV last year behind Donnie Tillman (10.6 attempts) and Hamilton (9.2).

And seeing as Jenkins is a 79.6-percent free-throw shooter for his career, that ability to draw whistles can offset his struggles around the rim:

As a ball-handler, Jenkins is serviceable. It didn’t appear South Dakota State utilized a “true” point guard in 2018-19, instead running a more free-flowing system with Jenkins and other guards equally tasked with initiating offense and moving the ball.

Jenkins can execute that sort of system. He’s not a standout passer, but he can do what's necessary to keep things humming. He’s got a good feel for pick-and-pop type passes, which was a staple of Otzelberger’s offense at South Dakota State but something the Rebels couldn’t run last year (for a variety of reasons).

There weren’t many passing highlights in the games I watched, but Jenkins is okay in that regard:

Jenkins has said on multiple occasions that his top priority during his redshirt year was improving his defense. He was graded as South Dakota State’s worst defender in 2018-19, according to Synergy Sports data, but the good news is that it wasn’t due to lack of trying.

Jenkins gave an honest effort at that end of the court, but he has some physical limitations. He’s got a short frame and short arms, and his stocky build makes it harder for him to get around screens or move laterally. Whether it was a personal choice or a team strategy implemented by the coaches, Jenkins often played conservatively – dipping under screens and sagging off ball-handlers, giving opponents ample space to operate.

When Jenkins was attacked, opponents were able to drive around him pretty regularly, often forcing Jenkins to commit fouls or cede a path to the basket:

For the 2018-19 season he allowed 1.071 points per possession. He’s got to get better at that end of the floor, and Jenkins seems to know that.

Defense isn’t the reason UNLV is so excited to add Jenkins, however. He is an elite offensive player, and every available metric — including the video — says he is going to be an electrifying scorer for the Rebels, especially with a redshirt year to work on his individual game.

Jenkins will take a lot of 3-pointers and he will make a lot of 3-pointers, in all kinds of situations, and the fact that defenses can’t leave him open for even a second should make life easier for teammates like Hamilton, who rely on space to attack the rim.

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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