The Thunder didn’t get a steal with Perry Jones III at No. 28 in the NBA Draft on Thursday. Too early to say that. But the Thunder absolutely got a free pick. At No. 28, you’re drafting a guy that, odds are, rarely will start and would be a rotation player for awhile, not necessarily long.
Jones might be that. He also could be much better than that. The Baylor forward has incredible skill for a big man (6-foot-10), which is how Jones got mentioned a year ago as a likely lottery pick but who fell, fell, fell, all the way to the bottom of the first round.
The knocks against Jones were health (he’s got a knee problem) and motor (he doesn’t seem to play with a ton of energy).
But here’s the beauty of those potential problems, as far as the Thunder is concerned. Sam Presti and Co. can take their time addressing whatever the problem is.
If it’s health, give Jones all the time he needs to work on the knee. Surgery, rehab, rest, doesn’t matter. Let him get well, even if that means sitting part or all of next season. Certainly the Thunder didn’t draft Jones to make an impact in 2012-13.
If it’s the motor, if Jones needs to learn to play hard and concentrate, needs to learn to harness and expend energy, needs to learn to work harder, well, what better classroom than Thunder U? Let him hang around with earlybirds Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Let a little Kendrick Perkins intensity rub off on him. The Thunder will know soon enough if Jones has an energy crisis.
Presti brought assistant general manager Troy Weaver to the post-draft press conference Thursday night — Presti probably won’t do that again; Weaver said more than Presti usually does. Weaver said other teams “probably had questions about (Jones’) medicals. I would think that maybe that had something to do with it. Maybe people didn’t do their homework as well. I’m not sure. But I would think that the medical had something to do with it because he was projected to be picked higher.”
This is why this was a free pick. The Thunder didn’t really have a roster spot for anybody. At least not in the rotation. I was betting on the Thunder, if it stayed at 28th, to draft an international player and stock him away for awhile. But with Jones available, the Thunder got a player that might force his way into the rotation.
“We didn’t enter this draft thinking that Perry Jones would be there at 28 for us,” Presti said. “Perry Jones obviously is an extremely talented individual and somebody that we feel very fortunate to be able to add to our team.”
If Jones is just a solid NBA player, he helps the Thunder on a variety of fronts.
* He’s a potential replacement for Serge Ibaka, in case the Thunder can’t get Ibaka signed. Who knows what will happen, but the Thunder at least has to have a contingency plan if Ibaka leaves next summer for free agency.
* He’s a potential backup to Durant. Think about it. Durant hasn’t had a real backup since February 2011, when Jeff Green was traded to Boston. Green started at power forward for OKC, but he also was Durant’s backup at small forward. With Green gone, the Thunder’s replacement for Durant often has been Daequan Cook. When Scotty Brooks played his second unit, it was a three-guard alignment that included Eric Maynor (or Reggie Fisher or Derek Fisher), James Harden and Cook. Against certain matchups, Jones looks like he’s capable of playing small forward.
* Versatility. Jones is a skilled big man, who can handle the ball and shoot. That makes him versatile, and that fits in perfectly with a Thunder roster full of multi-position guys.
“We won’t pigeonhole him,” Weaver said. “We think he can play anywhere on the front line. He’s a versatile player. The coaches will handle that. But we see his versatility as a strength.”
Jones appears to have the Thunder’s DNA, at least in the deportment department. He’s a low-key guy. Presti repeated spoke of Jones’ humility. Presti said Baylor coach Scott Drew used three descriptions of Jones — “great teammate, caring and humble.” That’s right up the Thunder’s alley. “Those are traits that we feel are really important to our program here,” Presti said. “Additionally, we just feel like he blends with us as an organization on and off the floor.”
Weaver said Jones wasn’t a dominant college player primarily because he was so selfless. “Everybody looks at his talent and says this guy should be dominant,” Weaver said. “But he plays within a teamwork and tries to blend with players and help his team win ballgames. We’re not that concerned about how assertive he is because he has a tremendous work ethic. He brings his hard hat every day. But he’s just a guy that just tries to fit in and help the team win. I remember people saying that about different players like Tayshaun Prince and stuff like that. But Tayshaun just tried to help his team win and Perry is the same type of guy. He just tries to help his team win.”
Again, there’s no downside to this draft pick. If Jones is a bust, he’s not a bust, because you can’t bust at 28. If he’s a solid player, well, that’s just what the Thunder hopes for. If he’s more than solid, if he proves to be that player some said could go in the high lottery, then the Thunder has struck gold.