Thunder make a statement by drafting Jones
JUN 28, 2012 10:32p ET
Oklahoma City isn't interested in letting James Harden go anywhere. Serge Ibaka, on the other hand? Well, stand by for that.
That, more than the upside of drafting Perry Jones III of Baylor at No. 28, or the bad knee Jones sports, or even the potential Jones seems to have plenty of, is what we should take away from the NBA's version of Project Runway.
So when the Thunder drafted big, instead of small, they clearly made a statement that they were sticking with Harden and weren't looking to get any additional insurance. Likely Derek Fisher will not re-sign with the Thunder. He is a free agent. Eric Maynor, coming off an ACL injury, should resume his role as backup to Westbrook and Reggie Jackson will be available as well.
So, back to Jones.
Chomping on gum and walking through a once-crowded staging area, vacated by the well-dressed, suited-up draftees and their families who went well before Jones was picked, the Thunder's only selection in 2012 won't have any pressure to perform.
Not yet, anyway.
Jones was projected as a lottery pick a season ago after his freshman year. He returned for his sophomore season with the Bears, led the team to the Elite 8, but seemed to be hampered by a lack of want-to more than a balky knee, which may have been another reason he slipped to the end of the first round. ESPN's Chad Ford reported that multiple leagues sources say NBA team doctors showed concern about a meniscus issue.
Clearly the Thunder weren't concerned about any past injuries. They could have selected Vanderbilt shot blocker Festus Ezeli. And by passing on a number of other guards, like Jeffrey Taylor of Vandy and Kentucky point guard Marquis Teague, it was obvious the Thunder weren't interested in backing up Harden.
So, that left Jones, who no one denies is extremely talented. And he looks to be a perfect fit to play behind Serge Ibaka. By selecting Jones, a 6-foot-11, 234-pounder, the Thunder seem poised to fill a spot that could end up being a big hole a season from now.
Jones will have a whole season to learn the system and should be a competent piece to fill the void if Ibaka decides to not come back to the Thunder. Ibaka will be a free agent after next season.
Meanwhile, despite some unsubstantiated rumors the Thunder were looking to shop guard James Harden, nothing came about. Harden is signed through next year as well, and the thought is the Thunder likely won't bring back both Harden and Ibaka to go along with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, both of who are signed through the next four years.
Jones has great size and is athletic. Can run the floor and do a lot of things. But really, he's a flier of a pick. Jones shot 50 percent last year and averaged 13.5 points and 7.6 rebounds.
He'll join a team where he won't be asked to do much of anything. Expect Jones to fill in behind Ibaka and then Nick Collison on the bench. If Nazr Mohammed doesn't re-sign, Jones could find himself a bit more playing time. While, he's more of a scorer and certainly more athletic than Collison, Jones will be good to watch and learn from Collison's ability to play with constant desire. Don't expect Jones to do much more than blend in next season.
That's a good thing. The Thunder have great success building through the draft and have seen improvement in all their stars – from Durant to Ibaka, Westbrook and Harden. Oklahoma City is hoping the same holds true for Jones. He'll need to improve.
"It wouldn't matter to me if they were a contender or not," Jones said from the draft site in New Jersey. "I can learn from them. They have great players, great coach. This is an opportunity to grow."
He'll need to. Because with the potential free agency of Ibaka upcoming, Jones could be counted on as soon as next season.
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