With the 14th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft the Oklahoma City Thunder select Tyus Jones, Guard Duke
The Thunder are different from most of their fellow teams in the lottery. They didn't miss the playoffs because of a lack of talent or roster chemistry. In fact, they only just barely missed the playoffs, losing a tie-breaker to New Orleans for the 8th seed in the West. They also don't need to draft a superstar. Their core is set with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka. As Justin Danzinger from Welcome to Loud City pointed out, what the Thunder need coming into this season is a health, Sam Presti appears to be targeting players that can serve as backups and plug roster holes in the near term, without really worrying about long term impact. To really understand my pick, I think we need spend some time talking about who I didn't select.
Where the Thunder need the most help is at shooting guard. The position has been manned (or not) by a combination of Anthony Morrow, Andre Roberson, Jeremy Lamb, and the man who needs no introduction-Dion Waiters!
Though Morrow has provided decent production, he is limited defensively and they haven't gotten much out of the players behind him. The obvious answer here is Devin Booker, but with him already off the board (and unlikely to fall to 14 anyway), there are no clear targets. R.J. Hunter and particularly Justin Anderson are intriguing prospects, but don't provide enough value at no. 14. I would expect to see Presti trade down and try to collect some additional assets if either player was their primary target because both should be available in the early 20's.
In addition to shooting guard, the Thunder are also targeting players to provide backup minutes for Durant and Westbrook. At small forward, Sam Dekker is the best option left with Kelly Oubre off the board. Though he was a monster finishing around the rim, he shot 63.9% from two-point range (2nd among all 1st round prospects), his 33.1 three-point percentage leaves a lot to be desired. In addition, I question his ability to serve as more than a backup in Oklahoma City. I have no doubt that he would be an immediate upgrade over Perry Jones and Kyle Singler, but he is too streaky a shooter to provide reliable spacing around Durant and Westbrook.
At the point guard position, there are a bevy of prospects for the Thunder to choose from including Cameron Payne, Jerian Grant, and Tyus Jones. Though Grant has the size and athleticism to contribute at shooting guard, his 3-pt shooting percentage flagged his senior season enough to give me concerns about his ability to adjust to NBA range. As a 22 year-old senior, he is also likely to be closer to his ceiling than some of the younger players, and I don't know that he has what it takes to be more than a capable backup. I think the Thunder should be after more than that.
Though Payne is the favorite here, with rumors circulating that Presti promised to pick him, I think Jones is the better option and here's why. Both prospects had nearly identical anthropomorphic (words are fun) measurements at the combine, coming in at 6' 2'' in shoes with wingspans of 6' 5'' and 6' 7'' for Jones and Payne, respectively. Payne has more lateral quickness and profiles as a better defender, but neither is likely to be a good defender at the NBA level as they both have average athleticism. Payne struggled with consistency, especially given his offensive load. Jones struggled with effort (as in giving any) in addition to his lack of quickness, and will need to correct this to make it in the NBA.
Offensively though, I believe that Jones outpaces Payne. Payne is a good shooter (50.7% 2pt and 37.3% 3pt) and showed the ability to hit shots from NBA range. However, his funky mechanics lead to a low release in which he is often pushing the ball. This will make it easier for defenders to get blocks on closeouts because his release is not particularly quick either. He also struggled at the rim primarily relying on his ability to hit floaters in traffic. This was in the extremely weak Ohio Valley Conference, not in the much better ACC that Jones competed in. Adding to that, Payne had a usage of 32% at Murray State, meaning that he will have to adjust to a reduced role in the NBA, particularly if he hopes to spend any time on the floor at shooting guard beside Westbrook and Durant.
Jones possesses nearly identical shooting percentages (44% 2pt and 37.9% 3pt), and also showed the ability to hit from NBA range. More importantly, Jones is much more prepared for his role in the NBA. At Duke he played on what was essentially a pretty good Summer League team, and he showed that he was more than willing to defer to others and make the smart play with a usage of only 18.7%. In addition he often played off the ball along with Quinn Cook using his shooting ability to space the floor.
Where Jones really sets himself apart is his abilities as a point guard. He is an expert at pushing the ball in transition and had the highest assist percentage in transition of any point guard in the NCAA. He also frequently operated in the pick and roll and showed great instincts for making the right play. He was able to pull up and shoot from range, go around his defender to the basket, or hit the roll man in stride. He also showed the best ability to change pace and dribble in traffic of any of the point guards I've watched, including Russell. He uses both sides of the court, and showed excellent ability to thread passes with one hand or both. While doing all of those things, he took care of the ball posting the third lowest turnover percentage of anyone slated for the first round.
There are very few knocks to his actual game outside of his lackadaisical approach to defense. However, he is not an elite athlete in speed, agility, or jumping ability. To his credit, he did not seem to shy away from contact in college, which I think contributed to his low 2pt shooting percentage. Scouts also think that he will struggle to turn the corner on his defender, and to get clean looks at the basket. I understand these concerns (and I think he can easily overcome them with his craftiness), but in my opinion, athleticism is often nothing but pyrite (that's fool's gold for my non-Coloradan friends). Players with poor athleticism and poor skills aren't getting drafted. Players with athleticism that lack skill may make it if they can develop those skills, but they are going to be capped by their ability to do so (Hi, Kenneth Faried!). I am much more in favor of players with elite skills that lack athleticism because, even though they can't get more athletic, it rarely matters because those skills transcend what athleticism can provide.
Jones also possesses one other elite skill. His confidence is off the chart. When Duke needed a player to step up and close out a game or spark a comeback, it was usually Jones that did so, despite the fact that two of the other players on the team are likely going to be drafted in the top five.
It's hard to quantify "clutch" ability, but it can't be argued that the kid has ice in his veins. At 19, Jones also has tons of room to grow, literally and figuratively. He came into the NBA combine an inch taller than his college measurements. Ideally you want skill and athleticism, but those players aren't available at no. 14. For my money, Jones is the best value at this spot for what the Thunder are looking for, and I think that anyone looking for a point guard in this range that passes on him is going to end up regretting it.
*Westbrook and Durant personally welcomed Tyus to the the Thunder by giving him his own hipster fashion set complete with square framed glasses, very tight leather pants, and oversized patterned shirt and high tops that stretched beyond the ankle.*
The Community Mock Draft board (click here for pick explanations):
|2015 Mock Draft||Player Taken||Team Pick||GM|
|2nd||D'Angelo Russell||Lakers||RKY MTN Way|
|9th||Devin Booker||Hornets||The LAW SON|
George Karl Marx and the Atlanta Hawks (via a prior trade with Brooklyn) are on the clock.