Regardless of whom the Oklahoma City Thunder tab as their new coach, the team should strongly consider an increased role for Perry Jones next season. The 23-year-old forward has been buried on the bench for most of his three-year career, but his unique blend of size, shooting touch and athleticism could make him a valuable asset in the Thunder rotation.
Under former coach Scott Brooks, playing time was hard to come by for the Baylor product. In three seasons, Jones has never logged more than 14.7 minutes per game. In fact, despite injuries decimating the Thunder roster throughout this season, Jones' minutes dwindled with each passing month, with him being passed over by Lance Thomas and Kyle Singler.
Injuries played a role in Jones being unable to crack the rotation, as he dealt with knee and ankle troubles throughout the year. The inability to stay healthy has hindered Jones for his entire career dating back to the 2012 NBA draft, when concerns about his knee dropped him from a potential lottery pick to the bottom of the first round.
|Perry Jones' Decreasing Role in 2014-15|
|Month||Games||Minutes Per Game||Points Per Game|
That made for a disappointing end to what started out as a potential breakout year. Jones averaged 15 points in his first five games as Kevin Durant's fill-in, but all of the fire he built up was extinguished by a knee contusion suffered on Nov. 4.
When he returned a month later, the lack of a consistent role made it tough for him to regain the same rhythm he found earlier in the season. Still, in his exit interview, Jones was confident he can still make an impact in the pros:
"I still think I can be an impact (player) in the league. That's just with all the hard work I've been doing after practice, during practice. I've been gaining confidence during practice guarding Russ and things like that over the past month or so. So, I'm very confident still."
Next season should give Jones a second lease on life in the NBA. The uncertain health of Durant's surgically-repaired foot opens up a need for a quality backup, and the coaching change gives Jones another chance to make a first impression after failing to seize that key reserve role the team needed him to fill during his time in OKC.
Jones' hot start this season was a glimpse of what he can do when he's healthy and given an increased role. He still has some work to do to become a more complete player, but the flaws in his game can be fixed with the right amount of commitment from the new coaching staff.
At 6'11" and 235 pounds, Jones could almost pass as a stunt double for the 6'9", 240-pound Durant. While he doesn't possess KD's freakish scoring ability (and, really, who does?), Jones has the same unique traits that would allow the Thunder to utilize him as a floor-spacing tweener capable of posing matchup problems for the opposition.
Jones' length and quick release allow him to shoot over smaller defenders on the perimeter, as seen below.
Now, compare that play to this one from Durant.
Jones also has uncanny quickness and ball-handling skills for a man his size, which allows him to get by slower forwards and use his athleticism to finish at the rim.
The key to Jones becoming a versatile scoring threat will be more consistency in his outside jumper. He shot 36.1 percent from downtown in his second season, but that rate dropped to 23.3 percent last year. However, those sophomore numbers are proof that he can still be a weapon from behind the arc.
Jones will also benefit from working with a coach who can shore up his defensive skills. His defended field-goal percentages leave much to be desired, but they can be fixed with improved focus, increased confidence and better fundamentals. With his speed, length and athleticism, Jones can be molded into a versatile big man who can hold his own at various positions.
|Perry Jones' Defended Field-Goal Percentages|
|Area||With Jones Defending||Normal||Differential|
|Less than Six Feet||71.9||60.2||+11.7|
|Less than 10 Feet||60.0||54.8||+5.2|
|Above 15 Feet||43.2||36.6||+6.6|
PJ3 has the potential to be a factor on the boards, as well. While it has yet to translate in the pros, he averaged at least seven boards per game in each of his two seasons of college ball. The Thunder don't need him to be the second coming of Dennis Rodman, but, with some added bulk to his lanky frame and more time on the floor, he can easily improve upon his career clip of 1.8 rebounds per contest.
When you add up all of Jones' physical gifts, you get a big man who can dribble like a guard and shoot like a small forward. That kind of unique skill set needs to be unleashed on the NBA. His game doesn't have any glaring holes that can't be fixed by the new coaching staff showing a greater commitment to his personal growth.
Perry Jones III has all of the physical attributes to be a quality role player and spare the Oklahoma City Thunder from having to use other resources to improve the small forward position. Jones' failures in the past stem from a combination of inconsistency, injuries, lack of confidence and the absence of a concrete role.
At one point in his college career, Jones was considered to be a possible top-five draft prospect. The skills are still there, and with a greater opportunity to showcase his talents, Jones could be an intriguing piece to the Thunder puzzle.