Of the hundred different storylines from the two games between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat this season, one of the most interesting is the play of Perry Jones III. The No. 28 pick in the 2012 draft, Jones has carved out a spot in the Thunder rotation, swinging between several positions on their second unit. And while he is averaging 12 minutes a game, he played 51 in the two games against the Heat.
At 6’11 235 with a 7’2 wingspan, Jones has a very unusual combination of size, speed and athleticism. At various points in the games against Miami, he defended LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. You can count the number of players in the NBA who can do that on one hand. Jones is a defensive prototype: he can get down in a stance 25+ feet from the basket and move his feet while also holding ground on the block.
That’s what makes him so useful against a team like the Heat, who like to play in transition and slide their best players up and down the line-up. Miami can go big or small with the drop of the hat; Jones allows Scott Brooks to match Erik Spoelstra’s machinations without making a lot of substitutions. Jones fits into almost any lineup - he can play as a small forward in a big line-up and he can play as a center in small one.
On the offensive end of the floor, Jones’ shooting ability means he doesn’t get in the way of OKC’s stars. He is a very efficient player, shooting 49 percent from the field and 37 percent from the three-point line this season. The defense has to respect his outside shot and he has the ability to put the ball on the ground and attack a close-out. Against Miami on Thursday, Jones had four points dribbling into floaters after being run off the three-point line.
He didn’t have a huge statistical outing against the Heat, but he was his usually efficient self. In 21 minutes, Jones had eight points, five rebounds and one assist on 3-5 shooting. In a game the Thunder lost by 22 points, Jones had a +/- of -6. It was the same story in their win over Miami in January, where he had three points, two rebounds, two assists and one block in 30 minutes. More importantly, he was +13 in his 30 minutes on the floor.
Jones is a force multiplier, with an impact that goes beyond the box score. When he’s on the floor, every line-up he is in is bigger, faster and longer than it otherwise would be. When Oklahoma City plays him with Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant, they have three athletic 6’11+ players who can stretch the floor and protect the rim. He’s the ultimate role player; he doesn’t demand the ball or interfere with the flow of the offense.
Coming out of Baylor, that was the big knock on Jones. While he was as talented as any player in the 2012 NBA Draft, he wasn’t able to impose his will on the game at the college level. Jones was blasted for being too deferential and not being aggressive enough, even though he averaged 14 points and 8 rebounds on 50% shooting as a sophomore. The pundits focused too much on what he didn’t do and not on what he could do.
The reality is that a 6’11+ player shouldn’t have to impose his will on the offensive end of the floor; he should have guards with the ability to utilize him and get him easy shots. The problem at Baylor was Scott Drew’s offense, which didn’t space the floor or move the ball properly. Drew allowed Pierre Jackson and AJ Walton to go 2-on-5 instead of using their three NBA big men upfront - Jones, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy.
Like Jones, Miller slipped in the draft because he wasn’t used correctly in Baylor’s poorly designed offense. The good news for both players is they ended up in NBA situations where they weren’t asked to do too much, with Jones going to Oklahoma City and Miller winding up in Denver. They’ve both shown flashes of greatness in their first two seasons while still being incredibly young. Jones should be a senior in college, Miller a junior.
That’s the part many people don’t understand when it comes to evaluating 6’10+ players. It can take guys like that longer to get comfortable and grow into their super-sized bodies. Jones is 22 years old, the same age as Doug McDermott. Instead of wasting his time bullying teenagers on mediocre Big East teams, Jones has spent the last two seasons practicing every day against Kevin Durant. He would be a lottery pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Most NBA franchises live in the moment; Oklahoma City has been thinking long. Rather than spending big money on win-now veterans to put around Durant and Russell Westbrook, they have been patiently building a young core who can grow with them. They have four first-round picks on their second unit - Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Steven Adams and Jones. Jackson is 23, Jones is 22, Lamb is 21 and Adams is 20.
All four are still learning how to be professionals and how to utilize their tremendous physical gifts within a team concept and there’s no better place in the NBA for a young guy to learn the game than at the feet of Durant, Ibaka and Westbrook. Even guys like Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher, widely maligned for their declining games, are well respected across the league for the way they carry themselves off-the-court.
If Jones had landed on the wrong team, there’s no telling where his career would have gone. In Oklahoma City, he’s being carefully groomed before being put into a featured role. The average NBA fan probably doesn’t realize how much talent Perry Jones has. Coming out of high school, he was a five-star recruit and a McDonald’s All-American, mentioned in the same breath as Harrison Barnes, Kyrie Irving and Terrence Jones.
Jones played high school ball in Duncanville, a suburb of Dallas. Over the last decade, the DFW metroplex has produced as many elite NBA players as any city in the country. I saw Chris Bosh at Lincoln, LaMarcus Aldridge at Seagoville and Julius Randle at Prestonwood Christian; Jones has as much talent as any of them. He’s as long, as fast and as skilled as Bosh, Aldridge and Randle and he’s more versatile than all three.
The difference is that he’s never been in a situation, in either college or the pros, where his skills were fully utilized on the offensive end of the floor. Jones is an unselfish player who moves the ball and doesn’t force the action. At 6’11 235 with the ability to shoot, pass, dribble and defend all five positions, he is the ideal fifth option. When he starts playing 30-35 minutes a night, Oklahoma City is going to be very hard to beat.