Grading the Jazz: What the Jazz learned about Damian Jones in 7 minutes and 40 seconds
Editor’s note: Fourth in a series evaluating and grading every player that was on the Jazz’s final 2022-23 roster.
The Utah Jazz have four players that have player options for the 2023-24 season — Jordan Clarkson, Talen Horton-Tucker, Damian Jones and Rudy Gay. Out of those four, there was one player, who during exit interviews seemed more certain about his future than the others.
Damian Jones — Grade: B+
The Jazz acquired Jones from the Los Angeles Lakers in the trade deadline deal that sent Mike Conley to the Minnesota Timberwolves. That night, Jones quickly made his way to Utah then joined the team in New York where they were continuing a four-game road trip.
Jones’ first minutes with the Jazz came in the final game of that trip, against the Memphis Grizzlies.
That night, Jones played just seven minutes, 40 seconds and finished the game a +10 in boxscore plus-minus with seven points and two rebounds. That’s all it took — 7:40 to see that Jones should be getting backup center minutes ahead of Udoka Azubuike.
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Jones’ value though wasn’t just about being better than the next guy on the depth chart. With rookie Walker Kessler cementing himself as the starting center of the future for the Jazz, it was easy to think about the skillset that Jones offers as a way to fill in some intriguing gaps.
While Jones can play a more traditional drop-big style, he quickly showed that he can handle himself on the perimeter and in switching situations and the Jazz coaching staff appreciated that versatility. Those are going to be things that Jones continues to focus on as he works through this offseason.
“They want me to do a lot of switching,” Jones said. “Being able to switch one through five, maintaining and keeping my man in front of me but also have a presence at the rim. Just keeping that in mind and then just doing what we need to do offensively. Seeing what Walker’s been doing and trying to follow suit but create my own element.”
Though Jones is 27 years old, he plays more like a 24-year-old, which has its ups and downs. He’s agile and hungry and bouncy and moves really fast both laterally and on long closeouts. But he’s also prone to fouling.
The concerns that someone might have about Jones’ game mostly revolve around fouls and being able to play strong in the post. That’s a difficult balance for anybody at that position — play physically on both sides of the ball without fouling — but it’s one that can be learned and refined.
Offensively, Jones has proven that he can stretch the floor and is a solid finisher. He shot an unbelievable 71.4% from 3-point range with the Jazz and incredibly that was his shooting percentage from everywhere else on the court as well. And while he isn’t a volume shooter and nobody is expecting him to sustain such a high shooting percentage from deep, he is reliable and seemingly getting better every day.
Jones said that it’s likely he’ll be back in Utah next season and is willing to pick up his $2.5 million player option. What his role might look like is less certain.
If the Jazz don’t draft a center or go after another one in free agency or get one in a trade, the center rotation could end up being a mix of Kessler, Jones and Kelly Olynyk. You could definitely do a lot worse, especially considering the team-friendly contract that Jones will be on.