It may have been largely a developmental season for rookie Kai Jones, but what he did showcase on the floor indicated there’s plenty to be excited about surrounding the long-term potential of the uber-athletic, bouncy big man.
Jones appeared in 21 NBA games this past season, posting averages of 1.0 point on 64.3% shooting and 0.5 rebounds in 3.0 minutes, while rarely playing in situations where the final outcome wasn’t already decided. More specifically, he went 8-of-12 on 2-point attempts (66.7%) and 1-of-2 from long distance (50.0%).
Making multiple assignments to the Greensboro Swarm as well, Jones averaged 16.5 points on 61.4% shooting – 31.7% from 3-point range – 9.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.1 steals and 2.1 blocks in 32 total G League outings. Amidst 15 total double-doubles, his best performance came on Feb. 4 against the Wisconsin Herd, when he tallied 27 points on 11-of-14 shooting, a season-high 17 rebounds and three blocks.
“I think I’ve improved in every aspect of the game,” said Jones during exit interviews. “From my overall feel for the game, my knowledge, my patience, my pace, my physicality and on the defensive end, learning how to play in coverages and in the post. I’ve just improved so much, just continuing to take steps in the right direction and build championship habits.”
The Hornets traded back into the first round of last July’s NBA Draft to snag Jones with the 19th overall pick out of Texas, sending a protected future first-rounder to New York, which has since been rerouted to Atlanta. High draft picks can sometimes be a bit lukewarm to the idea of spending the majority of their rookie season in the G League, but that wasn’t the case for Jones.
“Coming into the season, I didn’t think I was going to be down there, but God had a plan and I’m glad that I did go,” recalled Jones. “I learned so much about myself and grew so much. It’s a blessing. The biggest thing for me was walking in gratitude. I think that’s huge. Learning how to be so grateful for playing the game every day and with the opportunity you have in front of you, making the most out of it.”
Possessing clear-as-day athleticism and a tireless work ethic, Jones is capable of someday playing all three frontcourt spots, with center possibly being his primary position. From an on-court playing perspective, much of Jones’ rawness smoothed out over the course of the season, largely in part to the ample reps he got down in Greensboro.
“I got so much better just with my efficiency there, especially from 3-point range because I was taking the right shots and finding the balance,” he said. “Defensively, playing in the post, my positioning, being able to absorb contact and understanding it’s a battle, really. I just got so much stronger throughout the season, so I became more comfortable with boxing guys out, hitting guys and imposing my will on people. I got a lot stronger really, mentally and physically.”
Relative to many of his NBA peers, the 21-year-old Bahamian native still hasn’t really been playing organized basketball for all that long. All in all, Jones has only begun scratching the surface in terms of what kind of player he can be in the league.
“I bought in out of the gate,” he said. “I love basketball, so once I was told about the opportunity to play 30 minutes (in Greensboro) because I wasn’t playing up here (in the NBA), I was jumping. I was so excited and ready to go. It gives me extreme confidence. Coming in, I believed I could have an impact on this team on both ends. Now, it’s just that I think I can have a greater impact. I know there’s no ceiling for me. Just continue to work.”