Coming out of college, Perry Jones III’s most valuable asset was his versatility. He’s 6’11”, but he could score both inside and outside. While that versatility hasn’t translated to immediate success so far in Oklahoma City, he’s seen an increased role thus far this year. How can Scott Brooks turn his broad skill set into productivity off the bench?
Jones was one of the top recruits from the class of 2010 and stayed in his home state of Texas for college, attending Baylor. It’s not often that a school like Baylor pulls in five-star recruits, so his presence helped change the culture of basketball in Waco. His freshman year met those sky-high expectations, as he averaged a whopping 33.9 minutes a game, putting up 13.9 points and 7.2 rebounds. He led his team in shooting percentage, and led all Big 12 freshman in scoring and field goal percentage. He was honored as second team All-Big 12 and as second team Freshman All-American. After that year, his draft stock was sky-high — like top five overall-high. A guy with that much skill and potential doesn’t come around that often, especially as a true freshman. But Jones III decided to forgo the NBA draft for a year and return to school.
His sophomore year was riddled with drama and dissatisfaction. He started the season suspended for six games after receiving improper benefits (less than $1,000 of loans that were all paid back — ugh NCAA), but had a strong season nonetheless. His stats didn’t really jump up from freshman year, as he averaged 13.5 points and 7.6 rebounds a game. His usage rate went down from freshman to sophomore year, which caused some NBA scouts to question his motor. Jones disappeared in big games way more than someone of his talent should, especially in Baylor’s tournament loss to Kentucky in 2012. It became clear that Jones was good in every aspect of his game, but great in none of those aspects. His post game was a work in progress, just like his jumper. In addition, it was announced that Jones had some knee issues, which scared away most NBA teams.
I distinctly remember watching his fall during the 2012 draft. He dropped all the way to No. 28, where the Oklahoma City Thunder picked him up. It seemed like a nice pairing in theory: OKC had no real weaknesses at the time, position-wise, and Jones was arguably the most versatile prospect, position-wise. But because the Thunder were so deep at the forward spot, Jones barely scraped the rotation in his rookie year. Jones only logged 280 minutes in 38 games that year and spent many spells in the D-League for the Tulsa 66ers. He didn’t blow the competition away down there, but didn’t blatantly struggle. He started all 15 games he played, averaging 14.3 points and 7.3 rebounds in 32.5 minutes a game. Those were on par with his college numbers, so he was at least consistent there. But defensively, he was able to use his otherworldly length to alter shots and disrupt passing lanes. He put up 1.2 steals and 0.6 blocks per game, which isn’t mind-blowing, but proves that he can defend on an elite level.
Before this season, a debate raged over whether Jones should spend solid time in the D-League this year. This article lays it all out quite well, but Scott Brooks apparently didn’t agree. Jones has spent the entire year with the Thunder so far and hasn’t seen a huge role (as to be expected). Right now, he’s averaging 3.6 points in 9.2 minutes per game. He’s been a healthy scratch in plenty of games, but has seen crunch-time minutes a few times this year. Brooks trotted Jones out late in the Toronto loss to match up with their athleticism on the wings. When Jones was out there, his man didn’t put up a point. Offensively, he didn’t add much to the Thunder’s comeback, but it’s important to see him play well against tall and quick forwards. He’s as tall and as quick as anyone in the league and has proved he can use his length to disrupt his man on the other end. Jones hasn’t shot the ball terribly so far either; he’s actually shooting 54 percent from the field and 42 percent from 3 (watch out Ray Allen).
But the Thunder don’t need him to score — they need his athleticism and defensive length. He’s proved thus far that he can provide that skill in small doses, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario where he gets legitimate minutes this year. Without solid minutes in the big leagues, he’ll still be a mystery as a prospect. He’s in a similar position to Andre Roberson (both guys with strong defensive potential), but unlike Roberson, he has a more challenging path to see the floor. Scott Brooks would have to really shuffle the lineups, but would most likely force Durant or Ibaka to sit for Jones III. He could try throwing those three on the floor at the same time for an explosion of wingspan, but that’s a risk.
Jones’ identity is a tough one. Just like in college, he’s good at a lot of things, but not great at anything. I’m not opposed to sending him back to Tulsa at least for a bit this season, just to see what he can do in 30 minutes a game. If he tears it up, then he’s clearly too good for the D-League, and deserves more playing time in OKC. Until that happens, Jones’ potential remains a mystery.