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Friday, April 8, 2011

Hate it or Love it the Underachiever is on Top

But will he shine until his heart stop?

Or does he even have a heart?

The opening lines are a doctored version of the lyrics sung by 50 cent in the song "Hate it or Love it". The subject in question is Perry Jones.

Perry Jones has been a fixture at the top of draft boards the entire year. With his athletic gifts, he would almost have to intentionally perform poorly to drive his stock out of the lottery. There is no teaching a player of his size (6'11 with close to a 7'4'' wingspan) to do the things he does. He can be a dominate player - one who can handle and move like a guard, but kill smaller defenders in the post. He has shown flashes of doing that exact thing and the reality is, his numbers are actually really solid for what is being labeled as a disappointing year.

In his first season at Baylor, Jones averaged 13.9 points and 7.4 rebounds on 55% shooting. Considering Jones likes to venture outside of the paint more than your average big man, 55% percent shooting is great. He was 16th in pace adjusted scoring (per 40 minutes) among freshman and only one player ahead of him had a better shooting percentage (Joshua Smith).

To add to that, Perry Jones did that with a overall selfish supporting cast, bad point guard play, and also was forced to play out of position. One thing you can't call Perry Jones is selfish - that is not the reason why Jones has question marks. From all accounts, he is a great teammate and while he does take some questionable shots, he doesn't demand the ball.

For a role player, you can chalk that up as a positive. It is what scouts call "role playing potential" since not everyone can star in the NBA. But for Jones, its not what scouts want to see. He CAN be a star in the NBA. The question goes back to the top of the article - does he have the heart?

Lack of heart and passiveness can go hand in hand. You can see it when he plays. For a guy with all his athletic capabilities, he gets less than a block and a steal per game. That is passiveness. You can get a steal a game just by being attentive and playing hard.

The steals and blocks also bring up another concern that doesnt get mentioned enough. Sure he could improve those numbers by being more attentive and playing harder, but a high basketball IQ can help just as much. For an 18 year old kid, I think there is more hope in him finding a drive to get better than there is for him to transform his poor instincts from a weakness to a positive.

Why?

He is 19 years old. So far in his life, he has been praised for his basketball skills and has had everything given to him. His athletic gifts got him a scholarship at Baylor - it wasn't because he averaged 12 points per game and his team was nothing more than mediocre. His athletic gifts got him into the starting lineup in college. His athletic gifts will get him money now (pause before someone mentions they already have) and drafted in the lottery. But in the NBA, playing time will not be handed to him. He will learn that quickly. Its a different game. It will be the first time that he will be forced to work in order to get what he wants and that may be a good thing.

His defense, though, bothers me. Its hard to justify his reactions and positioning when he is playing in one of the outside thirds of the 2-3 zone. Time and time again I've watched players sneak right by him as he is too busy focusing on a guy 20 feet away from the hoop. No adjustments are ever made. He prefers to stay outside and avoid having to be physical. Its extremely frustrating watching a guy with a terrible feel defensively, especially when they fail to even make obvious adjustments after the fact. He doesn't box out. His help side defense is all or nothing - either he gets the block or he gives up a bucket. Its pure athleticism he relies on for that kind of stuff, he doesn't ever make good reads to get in position before hand to prevent a shot attempt from even happening. Lacking a good basketball IQ and being passive aren't a good combination on the road to becoming a good defender.

His defense is why I think teams should consider playing him at small forward in the NBA. He has played center most of the time at Baylor and looked terrible doing it. It is obvious he dislikes contact and awareness and discipline is more vital to interior defenders than perimeter defenders. Give Perry a chance to play where he wants to. Tell him if he proves he can do it, he can remain at small forward. Give him something to strive for and work on. I think he could make the transition. Think about it, this is a guy who moves like a guard and has an enormous 7'4'' wingspan. He could give opposing small forwards fits.

The advantage could be carried over to the offensive end. While his first step could kill power forwards and teams should still attempt to get him matched up against one as much as possible, he could develop into a fine small forward too. He has a smooth mid-range game and would be able to get his shot off whenever he wanted to. He will be playing more on the perimater, which is where he would venture to anyway if he was playing power forward. Jones has good court vision and could deliver good passes over smaller defenders heads. The size advantage his team would have would cause so many matchup problems. After all, that is what the NBA is about anyway.

I'm not saying he should be an exclusive small forward because a lot of the time in the NBA teams are already running small lineups that Jones would have a size advantage even at PF, but it would be a different look that could involve into something more.

He could turn into another Tim Thomas out there, or he could end up into an Anthony Randolph at PF, who is more worthless when it comes to winning. Of course, if he finds that fire in his belly, this is all a moot point and he could become a Chris Bosh or Kevin Garnett.

It all is up to Perry Jones. If a team takes him in the top 10 and he busts, does that mean he is a bad pick? Certainly not. Jones offers more upside than anyone available and its worth the risk over a solid starter. From the other side of the spectrum, teams shouldnt be ridiculed if they pass on Perry Jones in the top 5 and he ends up being a star. Harrison Barnes, Derrick Williams, and Kyrie Irving are much safer picks that should all end up as above average starters.

Perry Jones is a big time high risk/high reward guy, but in a way, he is a guy whose draft stock should be most stable. It is just a matter of which team will swallower their scouting pride and pull the trigger; letting nature take its course.

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