Hours before Thursday's NBA draft, news broke that Baylor forward Perry Jones III, a very talented forward prospect with a questionable work ethic, was sliding on draft boards around the league due to a red-flagged knee problem. It was unclear just how many teams would be scared off by fears about Jones' long-term viability, but the news figured to have an adverse effect on his draft stock.
It turned out to do more damage than almost anyone could have predicted. After hours of sitting in Newark without hearing his name called, Jones was finally selected by the Oklahoma City Thunder with the 28th pick in the first round. Jeff Latzke of the Associated Press reports:
''It wouldn't matter to me if they were a contender or not. They are somebody I could see myself playing with,'' Jones said at the draft site in New Jersey. ''They like to run the floor real well, and they are one of the best teams, and I know I can learn from them.
''What's better than learning from one of the best teams? They were in the finals. They have great players, great coach. This is just an opportunity for me to grow.''
Jones was particularly excited about the chance to play alongside Kevin Durant, who has won the last three NBA scoring titles.
''He's my favorite player,'' Jones said. ''So therefore, for me to be under his wing is going to (do) wonders for me.'' [...]
Part of his slide in the draft was attributed to reports that Jones has an issue with the meniscus in one of his knees, and he was asked if his decision to stay in college may have cost him.
''Maybe it did. Maybe it didn't,'' Jones said on television after his selection. ''I just know I'm going to play hard for the team I'm playing for right now.''
Jones was named among the 10 best prospects in the draft at various times over the past few months — ESPN's Jay Bilas even listed him as his 10th-best during Thursday's telecast — and his fall came as a surprise to many. Jones certainly isn't a perfect prospect, though some think his perceived motor problem is a physiological rather than mental issue. Yet for a player this talented to fall this far says more about the general tendencies and fears of NBA teams than any problems with Jones himself. More than anything, he fell because middle-of-the-road teams (i.e., the ones who know they need immediate help) usually want to draft sure things and not projects. And while those supposed sure things often end up crashing out just as much as the potential-filled maybe-stars, it doesn't change front-office behavior.
What that means, though, is that the Thunder had the chance to draft a high-reward player with very little risk. At No. 28, they were likely to get no more than a decent bench contributor; now, with Jones, they might end up with a player who can help them improve upon their conference championship this past season. With the Thunder, Jones can use his considerable athleticism and impressive skills for a big man to help anchor the second unit. He'll have to do a lot to get to a point where he can be a trusted contributor to a serious contender, but he's certainly saying the right things. In addition to the quotes above, Jones had this to say on his Twitter account:
There's no disappointment here, just acknowledgment of an opportunity. In many ways, the Thunder are the perfect team for Jones. They're a young, talent-driven group that values versatility, and their management has shown enough willingness to change that a rookie like Jones can carve out a role for himself based on merit. The draft might not have gone how Jones expected when he decided to forgo his final two seasons of NCAA eligibility, but NBA careers rarely go exactly as planned. If he continues to search for the positives in this new situation, and his medical issues turn out to be overblown, then Jones might find himself in a better situation than selection in the lottery ever could have given him.
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