Coming into the season, Danuel House was getting most of the draft buzz out of Texas A&M. While House is a good player and I think he has a chance to play at the next level, I’m starting to think that his fellow fifth-year senior transfer Jalen Jones is really the key to their team and the guy with the best chance to be an impact NBA player.
At 6’7 225, Jones is a prototype combo forward and his versatility on both sides of the ball is what has allowed A&M to take a big step forward this season. A&M plays him as a small-ball 4 and he presents a huge mismatch for most traditional 4’s who can’t punish him inside on defense and who can’t stick with him on the perimeter on offense. The key for Jones is that he has improved as a 3-point shooter, which has opened up the floor for freshman big man Tyler Davis and made Jones almost impossible for bigger players to guard.
Jones has improved as a shooter
The biggest positive for Jones when projecting him to the next level is how his shooting percentages have steadily increased in his four seasons in college:
Freshman: 27.5% on 1.3 3PA, 59.9% on 4.5 FTA
Sophomore: 34.8% on 0.7 3PA, 74% on 4.8 FTA
*Transferred from SMU to A&M*
Junior: 30% on 1.8 3PA, 72.8% on 5.2 FTA
Senior: 37% on 3.2 3PA, 74.4% on 5.5 FTA
There’s still not a huge sample size of him being a good long-range shooter but the way that his free-throw shot has improved is a pretty good sign that his shooting mechanics are getting better and he’s becoming more reliable from deep as he has gotten older. The way the game is going, there’s really no point in any non 5’s to declare for the draft until they have become consistent 3-point shooters at the NCAA level. That’s become a must to play professional basketball at its highest level and that’s exactly why you should be in college – to work on your game and develop your skills.
He’s not afraid to let it fly from really deep too:
Traditional big men have a very hard time guarding Jones
Kentucky really missed Alex Poythress in their loss to A&M because none of the rest of their big men could deal with Jones on defense and they couldn’t punish him on the other end of the floor either. There’s just not much a shot-blocker like Skal is going to be able to do to stop a 6’7 wing taking a pull-up J:
And there’s no way a stretch 4 like Derek Willis has any chance of staying in front of Jones when he faces him up in the mid-post:
Jones plays bigger than his size:
The key to being a wing who guards a big man is having a strong and sturdy frame and the toughness and athleticism to bang with bigger players in the paint. Watch how high he gets up to snatch this defensive rebound out of the air:
Jones can jump with bigger players and win balls in traffic. It does you no good to go small upfront, make a stop and then be unable to clear the defensive glass:
Jones can stay in front of smaller guards on the switch
This is where the rubber meets the road when you are evaluating small-ball 4’s. Kentucky has been absolutely roasting teams over the last month by moving a stretch 4 in Derek Willis into the starting line-up, opening up the floor and repeatedly putting Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis in ball screens. A&M was able to keep them relatively in check because they just switched every screen with Jones in them. He’s long and fast enough to at least stay with NBA guards like that and that’s a super big deal.
Tyler Ulis is one of the fastest and most skilled guards in the country and Jones can still stay in front of him in 1-on-1 situations:
The future is wings who can guard 4’s, switch on 1’s and shoot 3’s
The Golden State Warriors have a lot of guys like that and if you are going to defeat the Warriors you have to have guys like that. Given how much space they play in the NBA and how skilled guards have become, I don’t see any real way to guard modern offenses unless you have multiple guys with the versatility to switch pick-and-rolls on defense. It’s more important that your 4’s can move their feet on the perimeter than it is that they bang in the post – in the modern NBA, 3’s are the new 4’s. That’s the type of player Jalen Jones can be.
I keep coming back to this quote from Ron Adams in SI’s profile of Harrison Barnes from last season’s playoffs:
“He likes guarding people in the post,” says Adams, who foresees a league full of Harrison Barnes’ in the future. [Emphasis mine] “I think the way our game is progressing it’s going to be demanded of a lot of people,” he says.
Jones isn’t super skilled and he’s never going to be a primary option on the next level. If he was playing primarily as a 3, he would just be a guy and he would have a tough road to make the league considering that he’s a fifth-year senior who has been pretty far off draft boards for most of his career. His ability to guard bigger players, though, gives him a chance. Every team in the NBA needs a guy with his skill-set and there aren’t many guys with his skill-set in this year’s draft.