Tennessee’s Bone dazzled at combine and expects NBA will draw out his athleticism

Tennessee’s Jordan Bone headlined a group of six who worked out for the Pistons on Thursday with the NBA draft a week away.
Tom Lynn/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – The Pistons go into the off-season with a few different horizons at play for their future at point guard.

Jordan Bone probably isn’t a candidate to address the first of those, but he could be a part of solving the second.

The most immediate Pistons need is to replace Ish Smith with the second unit. Free agency is the most likely means to do so with Smith – himself a free agent – among the candidates in the mix.

If the Pistons can find someone who can take on Smith’s role for 2019-20 with the possibility of shouldering more of the burden going forward – perhaps someone capable of starting if Reggie Jackson, a free agent in 2020, signs elsewhere – so much the better.

They’ll also need to add a No. 3 point guard this off-season with Jose Calderon hitting free agency and that’s where Bone – who headlined a six-player workout group the Pistons hosted on Thursday – comes in. He spent three seasons at Tennessee, 2½ as the starter, and his improvement last season was a big reason why the Volunteers finished 31-6, spent four weeks at No. 1 and all season in the top 10.

On a team with SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams and another all-conference player, Admiral Schofield, it was Bone who led the Vols in minutes played at 33 per game. In an offense geared to the scoring of Williams and Schofield, Bone was charged with being a facilitator and catalyst, so his numbers aren’t dazzling although his scoring went from 7.3 in 2017-18 to 13.5 in 2018-19 and his assists from 3.5 to 5.8. He’s a capable 3-point shooter, hitting .353 in 95 career games.

And he’s the most athletic guard in the draft, a status that the NBA draft combine settled for good.

Bone finished first in lane agility, shuttle run and standing vertical leap and second in the sprint and maximum vertical leap, surprising even himself with his dominance.

“I knew I was fast. I knew I could jump. But I had no clue I was going to jump that high or run that fast,” he said. “Most of those drills, I wasn’t familiar with. So I just went hard and it was a good outcome.”

Did the eye-popping testing numbers elevate Bone’s draft stock in the eyes of NBA personnel evaluators?

“That’s something you’d have to ask them,” he said.

But as he elaborated, Bone made clear that he feels his athleticism is better suited to the NBA than it was the college game.

“Spacing, physicality, pace – everything,” he said. “It’s two different games and I feel like my athleticism and my speed doesn’t really show as much on my college film because there’s a lot of space taken up. The lane is always clogged, but at the NBA level it’s much more open. I feel like having that athleticism and speed and the decision making that I have is going to be much more evident on the NBA level.”

While Bone, ranked 56th by ESPN.com, surely helped his stock at the combine, it still seems less than a slam dunk that he’ll be drafted. The Pistons have the 45th pick and could wait until undrafted free agency to try to find a young point guard to develop with an eye more toward 2020-21 than next season. Bone came to his Pistons workout aware that Dwane Casey helped Fred VanVleet go from undrafted free agent to critical member of a team one win away from an NBA championship three years later.

If there’s a position that NBA front offices still find challenging to properly project, it’s point guard where the evaluation is complicated by the systems in place and the roles players are asked to play. It’s still a place where shrewd front offices can uncover undervalued prospects.

“It wasn’t my role to be a scoring point guard at Tennessee,” Bone said. “But that’s definitely something I can do. Looking at my college film, there’s many things a lot of outsiders still don’t know about my game. I feel like that’s going to translate well on the next level.”

If it sounds like Bone couldn’t wait to bolt Knoxville, guess again. At the combine, he said he was taking his decision to the May 29 deadline. He clarified his stance after working out for the Pistons.

“Not many people know this, but throughout that process I was stuck on my decision for some time,” he said. “I was just so attached to Tennessee and the fans and Knoxville, my teammates, my coaches. I just wanted to wait until that date to make a proper exit because I cherish everything that I had from there. I loved every moment I had there, so I didn’t want to do it the wrong way.”

  • Others who worked out for the Pistons on Thursday were Zach Norvell of Gonzaga, Charlie Brown of St. Joseph’s, Jalek Felton of Union Olimpija (Slovenia) by way of North Carolina, Trevor Manuel of Olivet College and Derek Pardon of Northwestern. Norvell is ranked 63rd by ESPN.com.
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