ORLANDO, Fla. — Perry Jones looks like a totally different player.
The wide array of skills and the bursts of world-class athleticism are still there.
They were seen throughout the Thunder’s debut on the opening day of the Orlando Pro Summer League. Jones stepped into a rhythmic mid-range jumper on one possession and knocked down a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer on another. He finished a play in transition with an explosive layup on one sequence and later blew by his defender in a halfcourt set with a two-dribble drive that ended in a powerful dunk.
But there were two major differences.
Confidence and assertiveness.
In his first two games in Orlando, Jones competed with a spirit that’s been seen only in spurts over his first two seasons in Oklahoma City. His aggressiveness was relentless. His hustle was contagious.
Jones got the night off in the Thunder’s 98-84 win over Brooklyn on Monday, but he showed enough in those first two days to make you think his motor might no longer be a concern. That, of course, has been the biggest knock on Jones since his college days, and little has changed in the two years since Jones left Baylor.
But it appears Jones is striving to shatter that pesky perception once and for all this week.
“It’s a lot easier with a lot more freedom,” Jones said.
This summer league setting is indeed a far cry from what Jones will return to with the Thunder. The challenge for the third-year forward is to bottle up the self-belief he’s displayed down here in Orlando and transfer it back to Oklahoma City.
Jones has averaged 12 points and five rebounds thus far, modest numbers but stats that don’t show how impressive he’s looked. Jones has been decisive offensively, making quick decisions to shoot or drive once the ball lands in his hands, and engaged defensively, taking advantage of his lanky 6-foot-11 inch frame to be a pest at all times.
His performance thus far should help him preserve a high level of play when he rejoins Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
“Definitely,” Jones said. “This also gives them a chance to have confidence in me. If they send me the ball and I do something, they’ll know it’s not out of the ordinary. They’ve seen me do it before, and if they’re comfortable with it then it’s going to be a lot easier for everybody.”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks and the team’s front office has shown confidence in Jones. His size and length, as well as his athleticism, makes Jones a perfect fit as the Thunder’s preferred type of player. Brooks added Jones as a 10th member of the rotation last season and labeled him the team’s utility defender.
But on such a talented team, Jones still isn’t sure where he fits.
“I can’t say right now,” Jones said. “All I can do is go out there and play my game, and hopefully everybody will fit in with me.”
Jones hasn’t just been described as a utility defender. He’s also been called a capable 3-point shooter and the most athletic player in the league by teammates. But those descriptions only mean no one truly knows who Jones really is as a player and what his role will be. Versatility has a funny way of being a gift and a curse.
Two games in Orlando, though, showed that Jones is eager to find his place. Despite being one of the more experienced players on the Thunder’s roster, he’s taking summer league serious. And it’s showing in his play.
“I’m just trying to get myself better for what’s to come and not just go out there and get up a lot of shots because it’s summer ball,” Jones said. “I want to get better chemistry-wise with Steven (Adams), Andre (Roberson), Jeremy (Lamb), all the young guys and just be a better player all around.”