The experience helped motivate the rookie guard to make sure he has the chance to do more than just watch in the playoffs.
Jenkins has posted his only two 20-point games since his return. He scored a career-high 23 points at San Antonio on Saturday and had 21 in Wednesday night’s win at Philadelphia. Atlanta’s last rookie with two straight 20-point games was Josh Childress in 2005.
Jenkins was hurt when hit by a pick set by Boston’s Paul Pierce’s on March 29. He missed the four games while following the NBA’s concussion protocol.
“It was a tough process, watching my team and not being out there and watching from home,” Jenkins said Thursday. “I told myself when I got back I was going to give it all I’ve got.”
Jenkins couldn’t have predicted he would return with back-to-back 20-point games. His previous high was 15 points.
“It’s definitely not really expected,” said Jenkins, the former Vanderbilt standout who was Atlanta’s first-round pick in last year’s NBA draft.
Jenkins said he wants to show coach Larry Drew he deserves to be part of the team’s playoff rotation.
“That’s very important individually, to play in the playoffs as a rookie,” Jenkins said. “I know rotations can be pretty stingy in the playoffs. I want to be part of the rotation. I’m just trying to prove to him that I can do that.”
Drew said Jenkins has a chance to play a big role in the playoffs.
“He has gained experience to the point where you’re starting to see him look more and more comfortable out there on the floor,” Drew said. “That’s how we’re trying to use him down the stretch, get him as many minutes as we can, because come postseason there’s a chance he’s playing a big part of that.”
Jenkins isn’t the only Atlanta rookie making a strong late-season statement.
Forward Mike Scott, has set scoring and rebounding highs the last two games. He had a career-high 22 points at San Antonio and 17 points with a career-high eight rebounds against the 76ers.
The rookies’ late-season surge is well-timed for Atlanta, which needed a lift after losing three straight games. The Hawks, who play Milwaukee tonight, are in a tight race with Chicago for the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The rookies can expect significant playing time in the final three regular-season games.
“I want to give these guys as much experience as we possibly can because you never know, we’re probably going to need them during the postseason,” Drew said. “I’m very confident with those guys in there and they’ve responded very well.”
Jenkins needed time to deliver on his billing as one of the top 3-point shooters in last year’s draft. He did not play in 15 of Atlanta’s first 26 games, but he has earned more playing time in the second half of the season.
“I think even before he had the concussion he was starting to play with a real good rhythm,” Drew said. “At least I saw a level of confidence in him that I had not seen before. I thought he was really starting to find his niche. I thought he was starting to understand a lot of our concepts. I thought he started to play with a lot of confidence just prior to him getting hurt up in Boston.
“It seems like when he came back he just took up where he left off, looking for his shot.”
The Hawks’ perimeter game took a hit when high-scoring guard Lou Williams suffered a season-ending knee injury in January. Atlanta needs Jenkins and Devin Harris, who returned from a foot injury on Wednesday night, to join Kyle Korver, Jeff Teague and DeShawn Stevenson as outside threats.
Stevenson played only 17 minutes against the 76ers as Jenkins played a season-high 33 minutes and made three of four 3-pointers.
“I just want to come in and provide energy,” Jenkins said. “My job is to make points and play defense and provide a spark off the bench. Whenever I get in there, I just try to play as hard as I can.”