With the 28th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, the Oklahoma City Thunder selected Baylor's Perry Jones III on Thursday night.
Jones, a 6-foot-11 combo forward from Duncanville, Texas, averaged 13.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.3 assists while helping the Bears to the Elite Eight in his sophomore season.
Many considered Jones, an ultra-athletic player, an elite prospect at the forward position. Concerns over alleged knee issues, however, caused Jones to slide out of the top 15 and into the Thunder's lap.
“I've watched the young man since high school,” said ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla immediately after Jones was selected. “Five of the first 10 picks this year were freshmen. Perry Jones would have been, at worst, a top 10 pick last year. It's a cautionary tale, because not every player who has a good freshman year should come back for their sophomore year. This young man lost a lot of money.”
Jones, who attended the draft in New Jersey, brushed off the notion in an interview with ESPN immediately after being selected.
“Maybe it did, maybe it didn't,” Jones said. “I just know I'm willing to play hard for the team I'm playing for right now.”
Draft analysts like ESPN's Jay Bilas were quick to call Jones and the Thunder a perfect match.
“Perry Jones has undeniable talent,” Bilas said. “He's got excellent size and athleticism and a terrific skill level. He's a versatile basketball player.”
The knock on Jones, aside from his reported knee concerns, is his drive. During his college career, Jones had a tendency to coast and, at least at times it appeared, turn it on and off.
“He's still figuring it out,” Bilas said. “I think his talent level suggests that he could be an All-Star in the NBA. His personality is of a starter and a blender. There's nothing wrong with that. He could make a lot of money and have a productive career as a starter in this league. But he's a terrific young man. His personality isn't necessarily that of an assertive player.
“But he can post up, he can face up, he's an excellent handler and his athleticism is tremendous. He's very good in the open floor. I think he's got a good future ahead of him if he continues to work as he develops and gets older. I think he does have to try to get more assertive and think of himself as that kind of player that can take over games. That was the biggest question mark of him at Baylor. Would he take over a big game? He didn't really do it in some of the games against Kansas and the like.”
Jones, meanwhile, already is being viewed as a potential replacement for Serge Ibaka should the Thunder be unable to re-sign the league's leading shot blocker. Jones is much more versatile than Ibaka but much less of a shot blocker. As a sophomore, Jones averaged just 0.6 blocked shots.
But Ibaka is eligible for a contract extension this summer, and if the Thunder can't retain him, the franchise now has Jones waiting in line.
“There's not a lot of difference,” said Fraschilla. “If Oklahoma City can't sign Serge Ibaka, they may have found a nice replacement for him in a young Perry Jones. I think this is a great place for him to go.”
Of course, it didn't matter to Jones where he landed. He was all smiles as he took the stage to shake NBA commissioner David Stern's hand and make his dream come true.
“I'm speechless,” Jones said. “My dream is to play in the NBA. It don't matter what number I got picked. I just wanted the opportunity to play.”
When it was time for the Thunder to select, plenty of highly rated talent remained available.
After Miami selected Mississippi State forward Arnett Moultrie with the 27th overall pick, the Thunder had its choice of Baylor forward Quincy Miller, Michigan State forward Draymond Green, Kentucky guards Marquis Teague and Doron Lamb, Vanderbilt forward Jeff Taylor and center Festus Ezeli, Memphis guard Will Barton and Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor.
In the end, after rampant rumors surrounded Oklahoma City in the 24 hours preceding the draft, the Thunder again delivered a curveball.
This one ended up being a promising big man.