San Antonio Spurs Draft Prospect: Damian Jones

Jan 9, 2016; Columbia, SC, USA; Vanderbilt Commodores center Damian Jones (30) after fouling out against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the second half at Colonial Life Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 9, 2016; Columbia, SC, USA; Vanderbilt Commodores center Damian Jones (30) after fouling out against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the second half at Colonial Life Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports /

The San Antonio Spurs may seek to address their interior need via the draft. They have the number 29 pick, and could very well opt to select Damian Jones if he’s available.

Jones spent 3 years playing center for Vanderbilt. He’s got size at the position that projects well to the NBA. He’s 7’0’’ and weighs 245 LBS. He has a wingspan that measures at 7’3.75’’, and it allows him to function as a solid rim protector.

He boldly proclaimed before this season that he’d enter the draft in 2016, and didn’t back down from that promise.

He averaged 1.6 blocks per game last season at Vanderbilt. He also averaged 13.9 points per game and 6.9 rebounds per game.

A glaring flaw in his offensive game is his lack of free throw shooting ability. He shot just 53.6% from the charity stripe last season at Vanderbilt. If he doesn’t want to be exploited in the NBA and consistently sent to the line by an opposing team knowing that he’ll likely miss the free throws, he’ll have to put in the practice to improve.

Spurs assistant coach Chip Engelland has worked with numerous players to improve their shooting, and Jones would benefit from the aid of one of the best shooting instructors in basketball.

Despite his poor free throw shooting, Jones is an imposing physical force in the paint. He dominated smaller opponents at Vanderbilt, but the concern is that he hasn’t needed to develop any nifty post moves to score. He relies on pure athleticism, which can limit his scoring ability at the next level.

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He’s often baited into bad shots, and isn’t particularly skilled at passing out of the block. He often looks to go to work in the post once he gets the ball, but his offensive game isn’t skilled to the point that a team can rely on him to find versatile ways to score when he can’t overpower his opponent inside.

Jones also doesn’t have much range away from the basket. His midrange shot isn’t reliable, and his best bet to score is to try to assert himself inside and either dunk or finish strong around the hoop.

His lack of versatility down low sometimes impedes his ability to put his stamp on the game. He tends to go for long periods of ineffectiveness, largely due to being stymied by a defender who poses a tougher matchup for him.

Although he’s an impressive shot blocker, he’s a poor rebounder for his size. This can improve with proper technique, but it’s still concerning.

As a defender, he seems to lack awareness and acute anticipation in the flow of a possession, but the physical tools are certainly there. As an on-ball defender in the post, he’s very formidable. Switching on pick-and-rolls, he has the ability to stay with smaller players on the perimeter. His long arms and quick feet are assets that a defensive oriented team like the Spurs can utilize.

The irony with Jones is that although he’s brilliant off the court, he’s been knocked for having a low basketball IQ. He’s an Engineering Science major, and he has often been criticized for a distinct lack of intensity. Perhaps he doesn’t have the right mindset to ever be a consistent performer at the next level, and the lack of polish on his interior offensive moves is another warning that he’s a bit of a project at this stage.

The enigmatic Jones relies on physical dominance, yet has had his motor questioned in the past. He’s an underachiever right now, but clearly his off-the-court reputation precludes the notion that he’s in any way lazy. It’s more likely a confidence issue, meaning that any coach who is able to tap into his psyche could help him develop into an imposing force both both ends of the court in the NBA.

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The Spurs have a culture of work ethic, collectivism, and selflessness. Jones could grow as a player within this support system, because he certainly has the physical tools to succeed at the next level. He just needs to work on some of the mental and emotional intangibles that allow a player to thrive in the NBA.