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Warrriors season review: The significance of the Damian Jones Project

While Patrick McCaw made a somewhat immediate impact in his rookie season, it's harder to know what to make of Damian Jones.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Golden State Warriors will begin their 2017 NBA Summer League campaign today in Las Vegas and you could argue that no player under contract has more to prove than Damian Jones.

Patrick McCaw is already a future Hall-of-Famer rotation player, who has established himself as the heir apparent to veteran Andre Iguodala as a versatile sixth man who could probably start on quite a few teams. There are high hopes for Jordan Bell, but he’s a second round who deserves patience. Kevon Looney is a player that some Warriors fans are growing impatient with, but given that his age and struggles with injury it’s not hard to remain optimistic about him developing into a contributor.

But Jones, who just turned 22-years-old after completing his rookie season, didn’t show a whole lot to demonstrate that he could become a NBA contributor; more optimistically, perhaps he didn’t get the chance.

Prior to the 2016 NBA Draft, SB Nation’s Vanderbilt site Anchor of Gold described Jones as a project who could probably “use the time and space to develop into an effective pro.” Among the weaknesses noted in that scouting report were “production and consistency” and “foul trouble”, two knocks that can haunt young big men during their NBA careers. Despite having a NBA-ready body and athleticism to spare, Jones was entering the league as one of many raw NBA hopefuls that hoped to turn potential into production.

For the combination of alma mater, strengths, and weaknesses, Jones often drew comparisons to fellow Vanderbilt alum and Warriors front court predecessor Festus Ezeli. Yet digging beneath the surface, that was never really a good comparison -- by all accounts of those who actually watched both play, Jones was the more advanced offensive player and a little less disciplined on defense (you make recall that Ezeli made a name for himself in part by holding his own against Anthony Davis). Known as an intelligent guy off the court, there was a lot made about how there was hope that he could catch on to the Warriors’ offense and find a place for himself.

Fittingly, Jones entered the D-League with modest goals that reflected exactly what those familiar with his Vanderbilt career alluded to: according to Conor Letourneau of the S.F. Chronicle, his goals were “...give consistent effort, attack the glass and grasp the spacing necessary to become a reliable interior defender.” Unfortunately, his performance during his first year in the D-League was equally modest: he averaged 11.3 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per game in 26.4 minutes during his 31 games.

In fairness, Jones got off to a rough start in his rookie year due to injury, which is sadly becoming a trend among Warriors players drafted 30th in the draft as Jones was in 2016. Jones missed out on the opportunity for court time during last year’s summer league and didn’t get minutes in a NBA game until December. And he did end up winning D-League Player of the Month for his performance in March and April.

But we’ve been here before — we’ve seen bigs have solid runs in Santa Cruz and never end up turning that into success in Oakland. And Jones just didn’t seem to separate himself from a string of recent Warriors prospects.

Just prior to the 2017 NBA Draft, Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers mentioned to reporters in passing that the franchise’s draft record hasn’t always come up roses despite a good amount of praise from fans and media alike.

“Patrick McCaw is actually a success story,” Myers told reporters in late-June. “We haven’t gotten it right every time — there’s times we have bought a pick and it hasn’t worked out.”

And McCaw’s success story has already sort of overshadowed a mostly unsuccessful track record of buying picks since Myers was hired by the Warriors as an assistant general manager in 2011.

In 2011, the Warriors sent cash to the Charlotte Bobcats in exchange for the selection that turned into the Jeremy Tyler Experience, which certainly added some intrigue to Santa Cruz Warriors basketball once the franchise was relocated to Northern California. In March 2012, the Warriors bought a pick from the Atlanta Hawks that turned into Ognjen Kuzmic, who was never able to make himself a factor against NBA competition. Myers made a complex flurry of moves to buy a pick and ended up with Nemanja Nedovic in 2013 before watching him flame out after trying to develop him in Santa Cruz.

Similarly, McCaw overshadows 2016 30th pick Damian Jones, who is at risk of becoming part of a string of dubious outcomes for Warriors players drafted 30th during the Myers regime.

We can set aside the story of 2012 first round pick Festus Ezeli, who is more of a tragic story of promise undermined by injury. But Nedovic was also a 30th pick (by the Phoenix Suns before the Warriors bought his rights) in 2013. 2015 30th pick Kevon Looney has yet to become a consistent contributor, despite being young enough to hold out hope for as described by Sleepy Freud yesterday.

But here’s the thing about the Warriors during the Lacob-Myers era: we are no longer dependent on any of these picks. Had any of those guys panned out, it would've been a luxury. In fact, as much as people talk about the Warriors as a model of team-building, they’ve only offered long-term contracts to two draft selections since 2011 -- when you hit on Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, everything else is just kind of moot.

What makes these last couple first round picks — Jones and Looney — somewhat more important moving forward is that the Warriors do need players on rookie contracts to produce to help them manage a salary cap overflowing financial commitments to the star veterans that make up their championship roster.

What promise Jones did show came near the end of the D-League season, as described in Letourneau’s article.

After topping the 13-point mark only once in his first 20 games with Santa Cruz, Jones has averaged 18.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.5 blocks over his past 11. Two of his best performances came within the past two weeks: a 23-point, 12-rebound, four-block outing March 23 against Austin, and a 25-point, seven-rebound, five-block masterpiece Friday against Los Angeles.

What would be encouraging is if we could see more of that — or something even better — during this year’s summer league, something to suggest that Jones might turn into a contributor while on that rookie contract.

The Warriors’ championship hopes certainly aren't riding on Jones’ success as the latest first round pick, but if they want to keep this roster together every bit counts and getting any kind of production down the road from a young center who doesn’t consume a lot of cap space could make a big difference.


How would you grade Damian Jones’ 2016-17 season?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    (36 votes)
  • 9%
    (130 votes)
  • 34%
    (481 votes)
  • 25%
    (354 votes)
  • 5%
    (79 votes)
  • 23%
    (330 votes)
1410 votes total Vote Now

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