The good and bad of Vanderbilt’s offense with John Jenkins
Vanderbilt is a team that is eliciting a lot of praise in the pre-season, mainly due to their star John Jenkins, but also to their supporting cast led by Jeffrey Taylor and Festus Ezeli. Taylor and Ezeli are excellent complementary players but Jenkins is the fuel of Vanderbilt’s offensive engine. He lead the team with 19.5 points per game last season while posting a 123.5 offensive rating, good for 32nd in the nation.
In this breakdown, we are going to look at Vanderbilt’s offense with an emphasis on the use of John Jenkins (or lack thereof in some cases). Vanderbilt can do some great things with Jenkins as the focal point but they are prone to some bad mistakes when they rely too much on Jenkins to get open and
Jenkins off screens
One of Jenkins’ biggest strengths is his ability to rub his defender off screens and get open for a jump shot. He is one of the best player in the country in going to shoulder to shoulder with the screener and slowing his defender down. Jenkins needs only a moment to get his shot off and with his ability to use screens, he often has more than enough time.
Take a look at the following frame that shows Jenkins coming off a screen. He cuts hard off the screen and runs his defender right into the screen. This allows him to curl to the foul line and create space to get his jump shot.
Here is the full play. Jenkins starts his cuts off-screen but you can see the end result of the play and the space Jenkins has to get his mid range jump shot off.
Here are two more examples of Jenkins getting his shot off a screen. The first one shows his ability to create a shot by pump faking and taking one dribble past his defender to get a jumper after a screen. The second play is a simple baseline cut by Jenkins and shows his quick release.
Creating space for teammates
Defenders have to respect Jenkins on the perimeter, which gives his teammates space to create. In the following frame, look at Jenkins’ defender in relation to the ball handler. He cannot provide help on Jeffrey Taylor by digging on his drive, as he needs to shadow Jenkins so Jenkins does not have an open look. We saw his quick release above, so it is crucial his defender stick close.
This allows Taylor to penetrate the lane and finish his drive with a bucket. Help defense came from other places Jenkins’ defender would have been more effective at providing help by digging down on Taylor.
Here are two more examples of how the defense cannot help off Jenkins, giving space to his teammates. Although Ezeli does not convert the isolation opportunity in the first play, you can see the defender is hestitant to help so as not to allow the kick out to Jenkins. In the second clip, Erving Walker does not even turn to look at the drive by Taylor, as he stays chest to chest with Jenkins.
The attention given to Jenkins by his defender often opens up space for his teammates which gives them the opportunity to score without facing the help defense. This will be crucial to the success of Vanderbilt this season, as the supporting cast needs to be there when the defense is focused on Jenkins, as we will see below.
Turnovers when Jenkins cannot get open
Vanderbilt had only an 18.6 turnover rate last season, which was 4th best in the SEC, but they showed a tendency to turn the ball over if Jenkins was not open when he came off a screen. Let’s take a look at a few plays to illustrate my point.
In this first play, the passer tries to force the ball to Jenkins coming off a screen, which results in a Tennessee steal. Skyler McBee does a solid job of fighting through the screen, which forces Jenkins to pop to the top of the key instead of curling to the foul line. However, the passer anticipates the curl and turns the ball over. A bad pass that was made because of the passer trying to force the ball to Jenkins.
In our second play, Jenkins cannot make himself open for a pass to put him in position to score. With Taylor on the bench, Vanderbilt has no other threat to score. Brad Tinsley tries to penetrate but gets stripped. The defense is happy that they forced someone other than Jenkins to try to create, as they are not as strong of offensive players as Jenkins or even Taylor.
I talked above about how the presence of Jenkins is a benefit to the Vanderbilt offense as he can open up space for teammates. However, with the exception of Taylor (and Ezeli to a lesser extent in the post) this is not always a good thing for Vanderbilt, as it leaves players who are weak on the offensive the job to score. As I said, the supporting cast will need to become better offensive players to complement Jenkins.
Here is a second example of the point guard, in this case Kyle Fuller, trying to penetrate after Jenkins was unable to get open only to get stripped. Point guard play on the offensive end is something Vanderbilt needs to improve to challenge for the SEC title.
When Jenkins runs off a screen or two and is defended, Vanderbilt often has troubling creating a good shot, especially if Taylor is on the bench. They need to develop another secondary scoring option for those possessions when Jenkins can’t get free or they will continue to make these mistakes.
No secondary option
One thing I noticed about the offense of Vanderbilt was that they often lacked a viable second option when Jenkins could not get open. If Jenkins ran off several screens but found himself defended, the offense often fell into a game of hot potato between guys who didn’t want the ball with the shot clock running out. Here is a very good example of that.
Here is a second example. The defense is doing a great job of not giving Jenkins any room, while they have cut off the lane for penetration by Taylor. With the shot clock winding down, Tinsley is forced to hurl up a bad shot that had little chance of ever going in. This point ties back to my previous points, which calls for a role player to increase his offensive production. However, Kevin Stallings also has to have second and third options built into his plays after the option to Jenkins breaks down.