“The Shot” lifted Villanova into immortality and etched the Wildcats’ a permanent place in the history books as 2016 National Champions.
Kris Jenkins, who hit the dream-like buzzer beater, was praised for his heroics. While the 4.7-second play has put him and the ‘Cats amongst some of the top finishes in college basketball history, NBA front offices aren’t exactly sold on the 2016 championship hero.
With the NBA Draft looming on the horizon, will he hear his name called?
Jenkins shot is so fluid, enough that his teammates have confidence in him and so does Villanova head coach Jay Wright, who calmly said “bang” on the buzzer beating shot even before the ball had sailed through. He’s a big shot taker and a big shot maker, who rises high up in elevation and follows through with a sweet stroke. He embodies the Wildcat motto of “shoot ‘em up, sleep in the streets” with the way he lives on the three-point line. Over his four year career at Villanova, he has taken about two-thirds of his shots from beyond the arc. He excels in catch-and-shoot and spot up situations. This can translate over to the NBA, where three-point shooting is always appreciated. In fact, there have been various three-point specialists who have cashed checks based on their long range shooting ability alone. Jenkins can be a bit streaky, but when he’s on—he’s on. Well before the buzzer beating shot, he was on an exponential upward trend in the 2015-16 season. In non-conference play of that season, he was a pedestrian 10.4 points per game, shooting 38.7 percent overall and a horrid 30.1 percent from deep. Over the 27 games that followed it, he shot up to 15.2 points per game, an impressive 48.7 percent on the floor, and a much better 42.6 percent from deep. While his numbers took a hit during his senior year, shooting is always welcome, and he can do it from deep or in mid-range.
Although I personally find it somewhat ludicrous and a bit laughable for people and various media personnel to praise an athlete for “staying or getting in shape”—because it’s their job—Jenkins is very deserving of those compliments. He arrived at Villanova overweight and out of shape, coming in at what he says was close to the 280-pound range, to transforming his body and leaning out at 235-240 pounds. It’s a journey that took the entirety of his career, and he noticeably seemed to be in his best shape for his senior year. It’s a testament to his work ethic and discipline. It wasn’t an easy transformation, one that required a lifestyle change and enhanced focus in the weight room and on the court. Wright preaches about “attitude” and Jenkins’ off the court work translated to the way he carried himself on the court. He proved to have a high motor and a tenacity to keep up with the competition that may have been bigger or faster than him. While he wasn’t the most athletic player on the court, for what he was lacking physically, he made up for it mentally. He has a great basketball IQ and found technical ways to compensate for what he was lacking, such as maneuvering his body in a way to create space offensively, using a smooth pump fake, or utilizing certain angles of attack or pursuit. Jenkins also has great court vision, and that probably came with the team-oriented idea of “passing up a good shot for a great one.” He sees the floor well for a big man, and it’s come through in a pinch a few times.
What was a blessing for Jenkins in college, may be a curse in the NBA. Versatility is a great concept, being able to cover a wide array of skill sets and positions. At the college level, it’s not uncommon to see a player engage in a variety of roles. Throughout his career at Villanova, Jenkins fluctuated between playing the ‘three’ and the ‘four’. He was an asset on the wing, but he could also battle as an undersized, but stretch big man down low. At 6-foot-6, and a stocky 236 pounds, Jenkins is a tweener—which doesn’t usually pan out well for players trying to make the jump for the NBA. It may have worked in college, but not necessarily in the NBA—with Draymond Green being a prominent example of a player who was able to defy the odds, one out of very many who didn’t. Jenkins has the ideal height for a shooting guard, and the weight that would make him one of the heavier small forwards and just touching the average of a power forward. Well, Jenkins isn’t a shooting guard, and he was able to get away with dealing with college power forwards, but he might struggle against those from the NBA. He will have to figure out his position and role, as will which ever team decides to scoop him up.
Outside of a few instances—one of which, is a baseline drive topped off by a reverse slam in the 2016 Big East Tournament championship game against Seton Hall—Jenkins isn’t going to blow you away with his athleticism. Jenkins doesn’t really have the ability to dribble and create his own shot. He’s not particularly quick or explosive, overall, so he’s not going to blow by many defenders. This has also hurt him on the other end of the court, defensively. He lacks the length to help him invade passing lanes or to help in covering his man. He’s shown that he’s had a hard time of keeping up with quicker wings, due to just not having the ideal lateral quickness. He’s found ways to compensate for this, however, on both of ends of the court, utilizing his body and strength to create space offensively or to be a tough bruiser on defense. Whether or not this will sustain itself in the pros remains to be seen, but given the cases that have come up again and again, Jenkins may be hitting a wall.
The odds aren’t looking too good for Jenkins, who isn’t on many Mock Draft lists. Neither was Darrun Hilliard, but ultimately, this loaded draft class doesn’t seem like it’ll have room for Jenkins hearing his name called on Thursday night. He’s completed workouts for the Dallas Mavericks, Philadelphia 76ers, and his hometown team, the Washington Wizards. He’ll definitely get a few calls and looks as an undrafted free agent, and he’ll have to prove his worth over the summer. A player with Jenkins’ skill set would thrive on an offensive-minded team, one with a system and those that are particularly good at the catch-and-shoot, a list that includes the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Clippers, and the Portland Trail Blazers—all of which were amongst the top teams in catch-and-shoot, which Jenkins’ playing style feeds off of.