If there was a standout in the first week of Thunder training camp it just might have been Perry Jones III.
The 28th overall pick out of Baylor has garnered gobs of praise from teammates and coaches all week.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks has said PJIII is “as fast as anyone on the team”. James Harden has said he’s “probably the most athletic on the team”. Reggie Jackson said the rookie “can do it all.”
It’s all high praise considering that this is a club that doesn’t get caught up in hyperbole (not to mention has a guy named Russell Westbrook).
“We’re excited about what he brings,” Brooks said. “We’re excited about his effort and his energy and the person that he is.”
Brooks then added a very important caveat, one that, thus far, seemingly has gotten trampled in this first week of training camp.
“But he’s also a rookie,” Brooks said. “It’s not easy to break into this league and also break in with our team, because he has guys in front of him that are young but are very good and have five or six years experience if he plays behind Kevin or Serge.”
It’s much too early to know how much playing time Jones will receive. He must first beat out returning players like Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward and Reggie Jackson for minutes. But beyond Jones’ physical attributes, the team has become enamored with Jones’ versatility.
“He’s a guy that can play multiple positions, and he can guard multiple players,” Brooks said. “And that’s always a big asset to our team.”
Jones still has an aw shucks demeanor about him. He’s clearly just happy to be here and eager to fit in. His humility prevents him from expressing exactly how he’s been able to turn so many heads so fast.
“I think I’ve been doing OK,” he said. “I’m just out here trying to compete with the rest of the guys. That’s one thing they do well, that’s compete. They’re the most competitive guys I ever played against so I’m just trying to keep up with them and just be just as competitive.”
One way Jones said he thinks he has been able to stand out is by jumping in every drill, whether it’s for the bigs or the wings. He called his feet his best asset and said he runs the floor as much as he can, as hard as he can.
“The main thing is just compete the whole time out there. Just be competitive,” Jones said. “That’s what KD told me. That’s what Russell told me. That’s what James told me. They want me to compete all the time and anytime I’m in between the lines. That’s what they want and everything else will fall through.”
Brooks earlier this week also called Jones a better shooter than he realized. And Jones said he already gets the sense that he’s got the green light from Brooks and teammates to fire away from 16 feet.
“Whenever I’m open they told me if I catch it shoot it,” Jones said. “That’s what I’ve been doing, just doing what I’m told by my teammates.”
Jones said Harden has expressed the most confidence in his shooting.
“Every time I’m on James’ team, as soon as I catch it he says shoot it,” Jones said. “So confidence from my team gives me confidence.”
It’s led to a successful opening week.
“I think he’s had a good week,” Brooks said. “But like I told the guys after practice, not one guy stood out in a bad way. Everybody really worked and challenged each other. I thought we had a great week of basketball. We’ve got three more to go.
A few nuggets.
- Brooks called today a “developmental day.” The staff did individual work with the players, went over a few team concepts and put them through some agility drills. “It was a great day,” Brooks said. “It wasn’t long. It was an hour and 15 minutes, but it was a lot of activity and the intensity was very high.”
- Today’s session, Brooks said, was a byproduct of having a full training camp and so many of the same players back. “(What we did today) we wouldn’t have been able to do last season just because every practice was so critical,” Brooks said.
- I learned something interesting today. The NBA doesn’t allow roman numerals on jerseys. Never has, apparently. Might not be news to some of you — especially if you followed the Robert Griffin III situation with his NFL jersey. But I never had a reason to pay attention. Even though PJIII has a strong preference to be called Perry Jones III, his jersey will just say Jones. But as PJIII said today, at least he was able to get the number three, which kind of helps the situation.
- Daequan Cook twisted his ankle yesterday in practice. But he was able to go through all the agility drills today.
- With so much talk about PJIII it’s made me wonder what that means for Cook. We saw in spurts last year how Cook can stretch the floor and what an asset that is to Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. But even Cook has talked about needing to be more consistent this year. Brooks today sympathized with how difficult that is for Cook. “That’s one of the hardest things about being in the NBA. If you don’t get consistent minutes, how do you become a consistent player?” Brooks said. “It’s hard. It’s a hard position. We have him come in for four or five minutes and take two or three 3s, and we want him to spread the floor, we want him to shoot the ball with confidence. It’s a tough position.”
- It sounds like Cook won’t be a staple in the rotation. Brooks essentially said as much today when I asked if his contributions last year puts him ahead of the pack fighting for minutes this year. “It’s too early right now, but definitely D.C. had a role last year and I thought he did a pretty good job,” Brooks said. “But there’s games where he’s not going to play many minutes. There’s games he’s only going to play in the first half. You just have to be ready. But we have three of four guys that can play that role and we just have to see which one starts off.”
- Brooks elaborating on the battle among the backup swingmen: “We have a good team,” Brooks said. “There’s only so many minutes, and Kevin plays a lot of minutes at that spot. So it’s hard to get consistent minutes when you have a good team like we have with Kevin playing the minutes and Russell and James and Thabo. That position, you just have to be ready. We have guys that can fill that role, D.C., Lazar, Perry, those guys are very capable of playing those minutes.”
- Brooks was complimentary of Lazar Hayward, another guy who’s in the precarious position of having to battle for limited minutes. “He’s really done a great job of coming back in great shape,” Brooks said. “You can see just appearance-wise he’s lost a few pounds. He looks great. He’s working…I like what I’ve seen the first week out of him.”
- Jones on defending Durant: “I just try to use my length. Try the best that I can to use my length and just try to stay in front of him. And just make it hard for him to make shots.” Asked if he’s blocked any of Durant’s shots, Jones said “I blocked one, one out of like 80.”
- Brooks briefly talked about the transition game today, specifically how much it’s improved over the last few years. “Our transition offense has improved every year,” Brooks said. “Four or five years ago, you didn’t really know what you were going to get. You just knew that we had a bunch of athletes running the floor and a lot of times it didn’t look good and it ended up in a turnover. But now you know what you’re going to get. You’re going to get a guy that’s going to attack the basket, you’re going to get a wide open 3 or you’re going to get a pick-and-roll.”
- The Thunder will take tomorrow off before resuming practice on Monday.