Potential vs. Production

Baylor’s Jones a ‘video game’ ideal, but results don’t measure up

(Editor’s note: True Blue Pistons continues a 14-part series leading to the June 28 draft with a look at Perry Jones III, one of seven big men who could be on the board when the Pistons pick at No. 9. Coming Monday: Jared Sullinger.)

The players held up as the model for what Perry Jones III can become range from LaMarcus Aldridge to Tracy McGrady to Paul George and every other very tall, outrageously athletic and ridiculously talented player the NBA has recently seen. It’s a pretty short list, because players who come with a ribbon wrapped around that tantalizing package are few and far between. The player he says he most resembles: Kevin Durant.

“Not so much scoring-wise – he’s the greatest scorer,” Jones said at last week’s Chicago NBA draft combine. “I’m not going to put myself on that level. But just because of my height, my length and my skill. Kevin Durant can put it on the floor and he loves to get to that mid-range game.”

So why is Perry Jones III, who was lauded as perhaps a No. 1 overall pick before ever suiting up at Baylor in the fall of 2010, suddenly in danger of sliding out of the top 10 after two college seasons?

Because the production very rarely matched the potential. And nobody knows exactly why. But after two college seasons of relatively flat, modest totals – 13.5 points, 7.6 rebounds as a sophomore – the bloom is off the rose of unlimited potential.

There’s still a chance that Jones blows the doors off in an individual workout, where his breathtakingly fluid athleticism on an ideal frame – 6-foot-11¼, 234 pounds with a 7-foot-2 wing span as measured at the combine – are destined to shine.

But while it seemed ludicrous not so long ago to think the Pistons would have a shot at Jones with the No. 9 pick, it’s probably at least 50-50 that he’ll be on the board for them in the June 28 draft. There is no buzz for any team picking ahead of the Pistons, save perhaps the Golden State Warriors at No. 7, connecting them to Jones.

It only takes one team, of course, to have their knees buckled by Jones and have him go unexpectedly early. One factor working in his favor is the fact that freshman teammate Quincy Miller – another physical wunderkind who came touted as highly as Jones – also struggled with consistency and productivity, leading some to conclude that the two were mishandled or, perhaps, couldn’t shine while sharing the stage with the other.

Miller is convinced Jones will star in the NBA.

“If you created a player on a video game, Perry Jones would be that player,” he said. “He’s got everything you’d want in a basketball player.” Ask him why the numbers didn’t match the talent and Miller says, “Perry, it doesn’t matter to him as long as we’re winning. If we win, he doesn’t care how many points he had. If we lose, that’s when he cares. He feels like he could have done more, just like I do.”

Jones doesn’t argue when the suggestion that he wasn’t used to his best advantage is raised.

“That’s a fair assumption,” he said. “Whatever my coaches needed me to play, that’s where I played. I didn’t really give them too much grief. I was being coachable. … I think most of us (at Baylor), like (second-round prospect) Quincy Acy, Quincy Miller, we sacrificed for the team. We know our numbers weren’t spectacular, but we did win 30 games and that’s what we’re looking at. We’re looking at team success more than individual success.”

The Bears, for all their NBA-caliber talent, didn’t fare particularly well in marquee games. Against conference rivals Missouri and Kansas, they lost five of six, and in a game against Kentucky to go to the Final Four, they lost by double digits as Jones did little until late in the game. In a February showdown with Kansas and Thomas Robinson at home, where the two players went head to head much of the time, Jones scored five points and had three rebounds as the Jayhawks won by 14.

Jones has admitted to issues with playing consistently hard, one of the constant nagging issues scouts have with him. Some also compare him to another highly touted high school player who had spotty NBA success, Tim Thomas.

“The hardest question I’ve been asked is what kept me from playing as hard as Quincy Acy,” Jones said. “To be honest, I didn’t have an answer to that. Quincy Acy is a monster. I don’t think anybody in this draft can match his intensity.”

Even if he could adequately satisfy questions about his motor, others about how he really fits on an NBA roster remain. In some respects, Jones is a victim of his versatility. Perhaps because he can do a little of everything – including handle the ball and shoot with range – he hasn’t mastered anything. He doesn’t have a back-to-the-basket game, his mid-range jump shot is erratic and he doesn’t shoot it from the arc well enough to be a credible stretch four at the moment.

He can be devastating in wing isolation situations – in one moment that surely made the pulse of scouts race, Jones went from the wing to the rim in a nanosecond against Kansas’ Robinson and dunked with his left hand – but those moments come in, well, isolation.

Jones’ size and fluidity didn’t translate into defensive dominance, either. He averaged less than a blocked shot per game despite playing near the rim almost exclusively in Baylor’s zone, which the Bears used extensively.

Question marks aside, though, somebody is going to take Jones, most likely in the lottery, and perhaps, still, even in the top 10. The Pistons will have to look long and hard at him, because a virtual 7-footer with a great frame and screaming athleticism is exactly what they need. They’ve seen every game tape of Baylor’s last two seasons and Joe Dumars and every member of the front office know the way to Waco. Rest assured they have as much knowledge of Jones as it’s been possible to cull.

When they’re on the clock with the ninth pick, though, it’s still going to come down to a gut call: Will Perry Jones III as an NBA player more closely approximate the video game star he appears to be than he did in two years at Baylor?