If the Hawks opt to go big in the upcoming NBA Draft, then keep an eye on Damian Jones from Vanderbilt University. In his junior season with the Commodores, Jones helped his team to the NCAA Tournament while averaging 13.9 points and 6.9 rebounds.
At the NBA Draft Combine in May, the 20-year-old center measured 6' 11.5" in shoes. He also posted the third-best standing vertical leap (36.0 inches).
What does Damian do well?
Physically, Jones may have one of the best body frames in the NBA Draft. He’s a legitimate seven footer who will have a playing weight between 240-250 pounds. Jones has excellent mobility to move from box to box in the paint, meaning he’ll rarely get beaten down the court by the opposing post player. Despite averaging fewer than two blocks a game, which could be considered a lower number than expected, he did help Vanderbilt produce one of the most efficient defensive units in the nation this past season. He uses his feet well on defense.
Offensively, Jones has the ability to make a mid-range jumper from inside 20 feet in pick-and-roll sets, which are crucial in today’s NBA. He is a solid finisher around the rim, averaging nearly 14 points and shooting 59 percent from the field last season.
What can he do to improve?
Two statistics from Jones’ junior campaign show his biggest weaknesses coming into the NBA.
Last season, Jones grabbed only seven rebounds a contest, which isn’t a high number for the amount of time he spent in the post. Physically, he will gain mass while developing into a professional but the tangible ball skills to grab rebounds are raw and undeveloped. Secondly, Jones hit only 53.6 percent of his free throws last season. His shooting skills from the perimeter make this an unacceptable number. There isn’t a reason why Jones can’t be a 70-75 percent shooter from the free throw stripe. Many players have come into the NBA as poor shooters and improved through their career, which means Jones still has a chance. Overall, Jones’ biggest flaw has been his inconsistency. In Vanderbilt’s SEC Tournament game against Tennessee that had major NCAA Tournament implications for the Commodores, he scored only 12 points and grabbed two rebounds in 29 minutes of action. Against Wichita State in the first round of the NCAAs, Jones scored only five points with five rebounds in 26 minutes. The Commodores lost both games to conclude its disappointing season. Jones wasn’t the only reason Vanderbilt underachieved, but the lack of assertiveness in the team’s most crucial contests is concerning.
What style of play suits his game best?
Jones has the look of a potential “stretch-four” that has become the vogue prospect that many NBA teams are looking for. However, his shooting ability isn’t strong enough from long distances for this classification.
Jones would work best within an offensive system that allows him to use his athleticism to find open spots for his jumper and even finishing on fast breaks near the rim. He’s a traditional post-up player who has his back to the basket.
Defensively, Jones works best guarding forwards outside of the paint because he’s respectable closing in on shooters. He can also help out, getting blocked shots coming in from the weak side.
Jones could be selected in the second part of the first round, most likely in the 20’s. This spot would be a good development for his career, as he would most likely go to a playoff team from the previous season. He can come off the bench and provide some offense and potential rim protection for a second unit.
To which current or past NBA player would you compare him?
Jones’ maximum comparable player is LaMarcus Aldridge of the San Antonio Spurs in a larger lineup where he’s in the power forward spot or Al Horford of the Atlanta Hawks as a center in a small lineup. While Jones doesn’t post up as much as Aldridge does, both guys have the ability to hit an outside shot inside the three-point line. Horford developed into one of the top outside-shooting centers in the NBA this past season, incorporating the three-pointer. Jones has the potential to do this as well by his second or third year in the NBA.
As for a player from the past, Jones has the look of a more-athletic Vin Baker for offensive production.