“Situational Analysis” is a series of articles that seeks to examine the circumstances that most often influence an NBA prospect’s success. Each player will be scored on a scale from 1-10 in four different categories: NBA-specific skill(s), fatal flaw(s), collegiate/overseas/pre-NBA environment, and ideal NBA ecosystem.
Kai Jones is a 20-year-old center from the Bahamas who averaged 8.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1 block per game in his sophomore season for the Texas Longhorns. He is expected to be selected in the middle of the first round and as high as No. 9. NBADraft.net currently has him projected at No. 15.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: There is an incredible physical specimen at the University of Texas who is extremely raw but could one day develop into an All-NBA caliber center.
Jaxson Hayes. Mo Bamba. Jarrett Allen. Myles Turner. Tristan Thompson. Going back a few years? Dexter Pittman. LaMarcus Aldridge.
Welcome to the club, Kai Jones!
What separates Jones from the more disappointing entries in this Longhorn lineage? Two things: his high-revving motor and an intriguing perimeter skillset that started to emerge his sophomore season. Jones plays every possession as if it’s a Game 7. This effort can lead to premature foul trouble, but a coach would much rather have a player who needs to dial it back a touch than one who constantly needs to be kicked in the butt.
Jones possesses every physical quality a team would want in a high-level dive man on the pick and roll. Between his impressive length (9-2.5 standing reach!), hand-eye coordination and bounciness, Jones can finish almost anything thrown near the rim.
Unlike other strict dive men, however, Jones has shown flashes of a perimeter jump shot and some nice ball-handling skills. He isn’t a 3-point bomber yet, but he did connect on 13-34 attempts this past season. The potential to develop into the rare athletic big man who can both dive and pop is there. Think Jaren Jackson Jr. or John Collins.
Defensively, Jones checks all the boxes. He has the length and footspeed to both protect the rim and switch onto the perimeter.
Out of all the prospects projected to go outside of the top-5, Jones has the highest upside. He has a long way to go before he gets there, but a brave, patient team drafting in the middle of the first round could be rewarded with the steal of the draft.
On a scale from 1-10, Jones’ upside and emerging perimeter skills rate at a 9.5.
If Jones is such an incredible prospect, why couldn’t he crack the starting lineup for an average Texas squad these last two years?
Jones averaged only 22.8 minutes per contest and started only four of the Longhorns’ 26 games this past season. Granted, Texas was loaded with experience in the front line with fellow NBA prospects Jericho Sims and Greg Brown, so Shaka Smart was forced to slot Jones as a backup power forward in several lineups.
Even so, a player with Jones’ talent should trip into more than five rebounds per game. At 6-11 and a shade under 220, Jones is awfully slight compared to most big men and will struggle to hold his position against grown men who will often have a 50+ pound weight advantage.
Jones only tallied double-digit shot attempts once this past season. That might have a lot to do with roster construction, but it might have more to do with Jones’ inability to assert himself.
Right now, Jones’ appeal is primarily theoretical – the promise of what could be. Right now, he is a foul-happy string bean who couldn’t start for a team that got bounced by Abilene Christian in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
On a scale from 1 (not a concern) to 10 (serious hindrance), Jones’ lack of production rates at a 9.
Jones is a relative newcomer to the sport. He grew up dreaming of becoming an Olympic long jumper in the Bahamas, but he started shooting hoops at 15 after undergoing a six-inch growth spurt. He hooked up with fellow Bahamian Deandre Ayton at a Basketball Without Borders event and decided to make a go of it as a basketball player.
After a solid prep career in Florida, most recruiting services gave him a 4-star rating and a ranking in the 50-60 range. He committed to Texas and flirted with the idea of declaring for the NBA draft after his freshman season, but decided to come back and hone the rest of his game – particularly his ball handling and shooting skills. He made the right call, as he is now a potential lottery selection.
By all accounts, Jones is a bright young man with a tremendous work ethic. He graduated summa cum laude with a 4.2 GPA in high school and practices relentlessly.
On a scale from 1-10, Jones’ pre-NBA career rates at an 8.
Ideal NBA Ecosystem
Jones would be best served by a team that can be patient and creative with their big-man rotation.
Jonathan Tjarks at The Ringer (get well soon!!) argues that Jones could be the Longhorns’ best draft prospect since Kevin Durant, but a lot of things have to break correctly for him.
NBADraft.net currently has him projected to go No. 15 to the Washington Wizards – not exactly a model franchise for growth and stability.
Oklahoma City owns a pair of picks in the middle of the first round. Jones would have ample time to grow and develop. The Thunder have a strong track record of player development, but only time will tell whether the extremely young Mark Daigneault will be as successful as his predecessors in this regard.
The San Antonio Spurs at pick No. 12 would be a nice landing spot – and he wouldn’t have to travel too far from his college campus, either.
On a scale of 1-10, Jones’ situational dependence is quite high – 9.5. If a franchise devotes the proper time and energy into his development, Jones could develop into a seriously valuable asset.