Texas Longhorns sophomore forward Kai Jones announced Wednesday he would be declaring for the 2021 NBA draft and hiring an agent.
The 6'11", 218-pounder averaged 8.8 points and 4.8 rebounds during the 2020-21 season, shooting 58.0 percent from the field and 38.2 percent from three.
Jones looks like a real possibility to come off the board in the lottery. The Athletic's Sam Vecenie projected him to go No. 10 overall in his latest mock draft, noting that the young big man "probably made more plays this season that have just flat out made my jaw drop than anyone else outside of the top five."
He added that Jones "has some of the most functional athleticism you'll find in a center with his hand-eye coordination, balance and explosiveness. He's just an exceptionally difficult matchup for opposing centers."
The sticking point for Jones at the next level, at least early in his career, may be his defense. One Big 12 coach told Vecenie:
"I think he could use another year (in college). They're way better on defense with Jericho Sims than with him. You can get him out of position and bait him into fouls. But I totally get why the NBA likes him. With the way that league is going, everyone wants the next center who can stretch the floor and play with the ball in their hands. He can do that, and I think he's only scratching the surface of his game."
In other words, Jones is something of a project, albeit one with a high ceiling. That's the sort of player who makes a lot of sense later in the lottery.
B/R's Jonathan Wasserman compared Jones to Toronto Raptors star Pascal Siakam, noting that "reaching Siakam status will require a lot more development for Jones, but he shares similar tools, athletic ability, motor and scoring skills. There is upside if he can turn the flashes of shooting and driving into regular occurrences, just as Siakam did after a few years in the league."
The tools are in place for Jones to develop into an excellent NBA player.
If he can improve defensively to the point that teams feel comfortable playing him at center, his athleticism and shooting range will make him a difficult cover. Even if he never becomes that guy, he still may stick as a big 4. That will likely come down to how well he shoots from the perimeter.
Regardless, it's easy enough to see how NBA teams will be excited by his potential—and why he chose to enter this year's draft.