The Golden State Warriors knew Damian Jones was a project when they drafted him with the last pick of the first round of the 2016 draft. An athletic center with size and bounce, he was still very raw on skills and awareness.
Over his first two years, and even the preseason of this third, Jones didn’t show much promise. Despite his great tools, he did not show NBA awareness on either end, and was generally lost. He was good but not great in the G-League, and barely played in the NBA.
The Warriors lost three good centers this offseason in Zaza Pachulia, David West, and JaVale McGee. With DeMarcus Cousins still out due to injury rehab, Jones is the only other player on the roster with true center size. He won the starting job, despite considerably less experience than Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell.
I was very hesitant on Jones’ ability to play NBA ball, but he’s proved me wrong. When surrounded by the Warriors’ other stars, he’s been a good rim-runner and solid defender. He’s averaging 6.0 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.1 assists in 16.2 minutes through the first 10 games.
There’s a lot to like: he’s shooting 76.5% from the field, passing the ball well, and rarely turns it over. His eleven blocks in nine games leads the Warriors, and he’s been quick enough to defend a variety of situations. The advanced stats largely support him: his Win Shares, Box Plus-Minus, and Value Over Replacement Player are all quite good. He’ll be fine as starter until Boogie returns.
However, he needs to cut down on his fouls: he’s averaging a foul about every six minutes, which is typical for young bigs. He especially struggled with this against Anthony Davis on Wednesday, though most centers do. His rebounding has been weak so far—with his frame and hops, he really should be corralling more boards. I think that these should improve with experience.
Jones recently had the option for his fourth season picked up, so he’ll be on the team next year. He’s doing as well as anybody could have asked so far, and if he continues his good play, should be expected to play playoff minutes.