The Warriors seem to have a type when it comes to backup centers. An intriguing interior presence from Vanderbilt is just way too strong of an allure for the Warriors to pass up.
With the signing of Kevin Durant this offseason, the salary cap implications were such that the Warriors would basically have to forfeit the rights to their own free agents if they weren’t willing to accept the league minimum to stick around.
Festus Ezeli had shown enough ability over the course of his career that for him to accept those terms seemed profoundly unrealistic.
There had been buzz around the league that he could be a starter elsewhere, and while it doesn’t look like he has that guarantee in Portland, he’s getting over $7 million per year from them.
The Warriors couldn’t have feasibly matched that. In fact, with their payroll so heavily concentrated within their core group of stars, Ezeli would have been the 6th highest paid player on this squad for $7 million.
The free agents that the Warriors were able to re-sign mostly had to take 1 year deals for the league minimum.
Anderson Varejao, James Michael McAdoo, and Ian Clark all signed 1 year deals for the minimum, as did newly acquired free agent David West.
Zaza Pachulia was able to be brought aboard with the team’s room exception for about $2.9 million.
Pachulia took a steep discount to join this team, because a rebounder as proficient as him could have gotten way more money from another team.
It’s part of the benefit of being such a successful franchise; players who care about being a part of something potentially remarkable will bend over backwards to find a way to join.
The depth on this team is still very impressive despite the roster turnover that occurred this offseason.
The Warriors are the type of team that has the luxury of being able to draft more for long term needs than short term fixes.
Also, being as low in the 1st round as they’ve been in recent years, the likelihood of finding even a future rotation player isn’t particularly high.
However, the Warriors drafted Ezeli at 30th overall and Draymond Green at 35th overall. Bob Myers has proven that he can find overlooked gems that late in the draft.
The circumstances surrounding the drafting of Damian Jones is bizarrely similar to that of Ezeli. Both are towering Commodores and each was selected 30th overall.
Jones is raw, but might have more upside than Ezeli ever possessed. That’s not to say that Ezeli wasn’t talented, because he definitely served as a great backup to Andrew Bogut.
The concern with Jones is compounded by his pectoral injury, but it’s telling that even with the knowledge of him likely requiring surgery and missing at least part of the 2016-2017 season, he was still viewed largely as a 1st round talent.
The Warriors are seeming to develop a trend with how they approach the end of the 1st round. Kevon Looney was similarly a guy who fell in the draft due to injury concerns.
It’s all about value at that stage, and both Jones and Looney based purely on talented were much more highly regarded prospects than where they eventually got selected.
The downside of this thinking is that the injuries could very well prove to limit the amount of production they can contribute at the NBA level.
However, based on statistical probability, it makes sense to swing for the fences at that stage of the draft.
The Jones pick makes sense, because he’s explosively athletic at 7 feet tall and could potentially develop into the rim protector that this roster currently lacks.
Jones attended Scotlandville Magnet High School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and ultimately decided to play college ball at Vanderbilt University.
H played 99 games over 3 seasons at Vanderbilt, and made the First Team All-SEC as a sophomore and junior.
He finished second all time in school history in blocked shots, and averaged 13.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.69 blocks, and shot 56.6% from the field.
Jones decided to leave school a year early and declare for the draft. During a workout for the 2016 NBA Draft, he tore a pectoral muscle in his right arm, which required surgery.
Because he was considered a bit of a project anyway, the injury didn’t dip his draft stock as much as would probably be expected for most players.
The physical tools are certainly there. He’s 7 feet tall, 245 LBS, and has a wingspan of nearly 7’4’’.
Like Bogut and Ezeli, a concern with Jones is his lack of free throw shooting ability, which could make the Warriors vulnerable to “Hack-a-Jones” tactics from opponents.
He shot just 53.6% from the free throw line during his junior year at Vanderbilt, so teams can be physical with him inside and know that he’s not likely to cash in at the line.
He doesn’t have a vast array of post moves right now, but instead relies on his natural athleticism to finish inside.
He’ll also have to work on his passing skills, which is something that the Warriors have enjoyed from their big men like Bogut in recent years.
Jones also doesn’t have much range away from the hoop, which goes back to his tendency to rely on explosiveness inside to score.
He’s often baited into bad shots, which is a bad combination when put together with his lack of multidimensional scoring ability.
If he isn’t physically superior to the guy guarding him, he’s probably in for a long game, just because he doesn’t yet have the post moves to resiliently find ways to score when he can’t overpower people.
With the tremendous athletes in the NBA, this is a real concern for Jones, and the coaching staff will need to polish his post game in order for him to more easily thrive at this level.
He’s actually a better shot blocker than rebounder right now. He struggles controlling the glass for a guy his size.
It’ll be interesting to see how he develops on defense with a team like the Warriors who put a lot of emphasis on it.
He can stay with smaller players on the perimeter while switching on pick-and-rolls, which is becoming an increasingly necessary skill for big men in today’s NBA. His long arms and quick feet can be a nuisance for opposing offensive players.
He possess the physical tools to be a very formidable interior defender, although he needs to learn the nuances of the defensive game.
There’s concerns about a lack of intensity for stretches of time, which is a shame considering the athletic ability he has.
It’s hard to determine whether it’s due to a lack of passion, but his motor has looked surprisingly underwhelming for such an intimidating physical presence.
He has also been knocked for having a low basketball IQ, which is especially odd given what he’s like off the court.
The description of Jones might evoke images of lazy underachievers, but like fellow Commodore center Ezeli, he’s a brilliant guy and an intensely hard worker.
As an Engineering Science major, it’s not as if Jones lacks the work ethic to be able to be successful as a player.
It might be more of a confidence issue, and if he’s able to work on those mental and emotional intangibles, he could truly be a solid center in the NBA.
Of course, his injury also tempers expectations for what he’s able to contribute as a rookie, yet he was going to take some time to polish regardless of the injury.
The Warriors are expecting him to be healthy enough to return to the court sometime in November, and it’ll be interesting to see what he’s got.
He’s a fascinating prospect. The type of athleticism he has for a guy his size is rare, and if the coaching staff is able to work with him to develop a more well-rounded interior game, he could be an important piece for this team going forward.