The timing of this post couldn’t have been any worse.
I had been working on this for a few days, and felt that the player who would have the biggest contribution off the bench for the Thunder this year was not James Harden, but in fact would be the rookie Perry Jones III. I thought it was going to be a bold pick that would generate conversation, and make Grant question giving me the freedom to write about whatever I wanted, and then Saturday night, October 27 happened.
James Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets.
Now Harden won’t make any impact off the bench for the Thunder. He won’t even qualify for sixth man of the year, because he’ll be starting in Houston. PJ3 will make a bigger contribution because anything is greater than zero.
But, that’s beside the point – I believe that Perry Jones III gave Sam Presti more comfort in entertaining the thought of trading James Harden because Presti believes in the system they have established in OKC and in the potential that Jones III has.
Here’s a quick preview of what Jones III brings to the Thunder. He’s a 6’11″ power forward with speed, who specializes in running the floor in transition (1.571 ppp) or scoring on cuts to the basket (1.254 ppp). He has great ballhandling, NBA range from the 3-point line, and can defend well in part to his size and quickness. No one in the draft, perhaps outside of Thomas Robinson, has as much risk/reward attached to him.
He’s also been criticized for an inconsistent motor, the dreaded “soft” label, and for taking too many jump shots. Jones had a bad habit of fading in and out of games, and did not rebound at a high rate for his position.
Enter Scott Brooks and the Oklahoma City roster. On a team with Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison, Jones has two more experienced players who can provide an example of toughness and rebounding. Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha can help provide an example of defense and hard work. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are two of the best one-on-one scorers in the NBA, and can provide an example of how to use superior athleticism to produce points.
Jones was often asked what position he played coming into the draft. Was he a small forward with a back-to-the-basket game? Was he a power forward who wants the ball on the perimeter? Was he a talented prospect who just can’t put the physical tools in line with the mental difficulties of the game?
Now that he is on a NBA roster, he won’t have to worry about that. The league is learning to take advantage of players inside a system, while eliminating traditional positions. Jones athleticism gives Thunder coach Scott Brooks the opportunity to play a lineup of Ibaka, Jones, Durant, Westbrook, and Sefolosha. That lineup is long (average wingspan of 7’2″), fast, able to defend multiple positions while protecting the paint, and devastating in transition.
That’s what this Wilson Chandler/Luol Deng hybrid of Perry Jones III gives the Thunder. The Thunder add another scorer to their lineup, and their second unit will likely consist of Maynor-Martin (Lamb)-Jones-Collison-Thabeet. Martin has only played a full season twice in his career, and the Thunder will need Jones and Lamb to lead the scoring for the bench.
How loud will PJ3 growl? I don’t think it’s too crazy to expect him to average double digit points, a few boards and assists, with a block or steal thrown in each game. While he won’t be scoring at the same level of Harden was in the previous season, I think that Jones will have enough opportunities to average 14.0 points per game, a mark that would be similar to his college career.
If he doesn’t, he can join Anthony Randolph on the “all potential, no production” list of NBA players who have the talent but can’t figure out the professional game. There is plenty of room for one more.