Another Kentucky Blueblood

Brandon Knight’s ex-teammate Terrence Jones a Pistons possibility

Terrence Jones could join his former Kentucky teammate, Brandon Knight, on the Pistons.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images Sport
(Editor’s note: True Blue Pistons continues a 14-part series leading to the June 28 draft with a look at Terrence Jones, the last profile among the seven big men who could be on the board when the Pistons pick at No. 9. Coming Friday: A look at prospects who could slip out of the first round and be available when the Pistons pick at No 39 in the second round.)

Among the headliners of John Calipari’s annual haul of McDonald’s All-Americans when the 2010-11 college basketball season opened, it wasn’t Brandon Knight who immediately broke out of the gate looking like a sure-fire 2011 lottery pick. It was Terrence Jones.

Jones was sensational at the 2010 Maui Invitational, opening with a 29-point, 13-rebound game against Oklahoma and averaging 23 points, 11 rebounds and 3.3 blocked shots over three games in Hawaii. A few weeks later, he punished a good Notre Dame team with 27 points and 17 boards. At that point, Jones was widely expected to be another of Kentucky’s one-and-done stars with buzz that he was solidly in the mix to be the No. 1 overall pick in a 2011 draft that didn’t have a clear-cut top player, a la Kentucky’s Anthony Davis in 2012.

Though Jones certainly has the physical tools to be an impact player, his draft stock has never quite regained that early momentum. Indeed, 12 months after his gangbusters college debut, Jones had NBA talent evaluators scratching their heads.

After a particularly lethargic outing at Indiana in December – a game in which Jones played 28 minutes and compiled four points and a solitary rebound while committing six turnovers as Kentucky lost its only game of the regular season – there was open debate whether Jones had made a grave error by returning to Kentucky and risking being overshadowed by Davis and an even deeper crop of McDonald’s All-Americans.

Jones rehabilitated his image somewhat over the second half of the season, playing well enough to log 29 minutes at Davis’ side. He averaged 12.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. If those numbers don’t light up a scoreboard, taken in the context of a Kentucky roster that drips with NBA talent, they show an ability and willingness to fit among talented teammates.

Where will he fit in the NBA? Good question. Of the seven big men we’ve profiled on as potentially in play for the Pistons with the No. 9 pick in the June 28 draft – Arnett Moultrie, Meyers Leonard, Perry Jones III, Jared Sullinger, John Henson and Tyler Zeller the others – Terrence Jones is the one most likely to wind up playing the bulk of his career at a position other than center or power forward.

Despite impressive physical measurements at the Chicago draft combine earlier this month – Jones was a ripped 6-foot-9½, 252 pounds – you’ll find a divide among talent evaluators whether Jones is best suited to play power forward or small forward. He’s been compared to other players who’ve walked that line while fashioning fine NBA careers, including Al Harrington and Lamar Odom.

“I’m just trying to show both, my versatility, skills,” Jones said in Chicago. “Wherever a coach wants to play me is just where I’ll play.”

Jones is a capable ballhandler, willing passer and a powerful athlete with a wing span of 7-foot-2¼. He shot just 33 percent from the shorter 3-point college arc, but wasn’t shy about shooting from deep. If he improves his accuracy – and adding range and consistency to the jump shot is the area scouts most readily anticipate improvement – Jones could breathe new life to the Harrington-Odom comparisons.

Jones came in for his share of criticism from Calipari, who didn’t hesitate to yank him from the lineup during Kentucky’s championship season, when the Wildcats were a deeper team than they had been the previous season after losing five first-round picks to the 2010 NBA draft. There have been no indications that Jones is a character risk or uncoachable, but concerns over his level of maturity, focus and basketball IQ.

Some find the story of how Jones came to enroll at Kentucky telling with regard to his maturity. His recruitment dragged out well past the November and April signing periods. Finally, Jones called a May 1 press conference to decide among five finalists. He chose Washington, near his Portland, Ore., home.

After the announcement, he spent 15 minutes on the phone with Calipari and failed to follow through on signing his letter of intent with Washington. Nearly three weeks later, he committed to Kentucky. By all accounts, Jones appeared pained by the decision-making process and spoke of the disappointment he caused by choosing one school over others.

How teams interpret that – nothing more than a naïve and well-intentioned kid learning how the world works, or a young man who lacks conviction and grounding – might go a long way toward determining who chooses to gamble on Jones’ impressive array of physical tools and who decides to pass.

Jones admitted he had mixed feelings about his decision to return to Kentucky early in the season when he struggled to find his place on a team suddenly built around Davis, the freshman widely expected to be the No. 1 pick of New Orleans.

“Especially seeing the (NBA) season start, just wondering, what if I would have done this?” Jones said. “But I was just happy with being at Kentucky and enjoying going to school and still being in college – and then I definitely enjoyed the season.”

He kept in touch with Knight, a part of the 2010 Kentucky recruiting class that also included Enes Kanter, who never got to suit up for the Wildcats as the NCAA ruled him ineligible, Kanter eventually going No. 3 to Utah in 2011.

“All through the year,” Jones said of correspondence with Knight. “That’s who I started with, him and Doron (Lamb, a potential late first-round or later pick). He said it was a lot of traveling. His season turned around real fast. It would be great to play with someone from Kentucky, especially someone who I started college with and built a great relationship with.”

The first logical landing spot for Jones in the draft is Golden State, which picks seventh. Jones already has worked out for the Warriors, who are fairly well set up front with Andrew Bogut and David Lee entrenched as the starters and Andris Biedrins available off the bench. Jones could get minutes at both forward spots.

If the Warriors go in another direction, the Pistons likely would have to be comfortable that Jones’ future is at power forward. With Tayshaun Prince already in tow, Kyle Singler expected to arrive from Europe, Austin Daye looking for a bounce-back season and Jonas Jerebko capable of playing both forward spots, the more pronounced need for the Pistons is at power forward in a draft with at least a handful of options at that spot.