The potential of a player is a hell of a seductive trap.
Teams are intrigued by it. They invest money, time, and energy into it, and some try in vain to force their “what if’s” into “what is.”
In reality, potential is static. Nothing happens on its own, and the only thing that the Golden State Warriors can bank on is what’s happening in this very moment.
And in this moment, regardless of his flashes of athleticism, Damian Jones isn’t the Warriors’ center of the future.
Before going down with a torn pectoral injury he sustained against the Detroit Pistons, Jones played inconsistently at center. In the 7-foot, 240 pound Jones, the Warriors see an athletic, vertical spacer in the same vein as JaVale McGee. But the only thing that Jones was constantly able to replicate was McGee’s storied habit of “Shaqutin a Fool.” With Cousins expected to sign elsewhere in July, the Warriors really don't have a choice but to mold their young bigs consisting of Jones, Jordan Bell and Kevon Looney. Currently, Looney is the big that is the closest to putting it all together and turning himself into the center that the Warriors need.
But the Warriors’ heart will want what it wants, and if it could, will what it wants to.
When Jones is healthy again, don’t be surprised if the Warriors continue to pour energy and resources into him with the possibility of it all being for naught. Why? Because the Warriors believe in the idea of Jones rather than his current reality.
In order for Jones to live up to the potential that he has, the work doesn’t start with his rehab from his pectoral injury; it starts with reflecting on his play this season and recognizing ways to get better. A good start is identifying his weaknesses and fixing them even before he returns to the court.
Lack of awareness
If the biggest knock on Jones is his lack of aggression, his lack of awareness should be a close second. In fact, you can make an argument that most of Jones’ passivity could be mistaken for his lack of awareness on the floor.
Look at Jones’ delayed reaction as he attempted to defend the pick and roll. He recognized what was going on but at the five second mark, Nurkic breaks through and scores in the lane regardless. Jones didn't recover nor did he attempt to contest the shot.
Here against Oklahoma City, Jones appears to bite a little on the double screen, but he was a beat too slow as Russell Westbrook found Steven Adams on the lob.
Jones seems to play better on defense with Draymond Green on the court with him to communicate and to be a second pair of eyes out there. However, Jones must find a way to develop his own instincts. It starts with stronger fundamentals. In these two examples, Jones was slow to recover. As Jones rehabs his torn pectoral, he should also consider taking a look at his footwork and find a way to improve his speed as a defender.
Moving without purpose on offense
While the Warriors coaches believe that Jones can be a McGee-like center — a long and athletic big who can provide vertical spacing and much needed rim protection — they should also consider developing Jones as a solid playmaker and passer out the post in the vein of what David West was.
In an offense that thrives on chaos and constant motion, Jones should move with purpose in this system. Constant, mindful movement. Be it screen setting,’ or hustling in the post, Jones should move with aggression and assertiveness.
In this sequence, the problem isn’t with Jones being on the perimeter. The problem is his indecisiveness. After receiving the pass from Kevin Durant, Jones didn’t know whether or not he wanted to pass the ball back to Durant and set a pick or dribble outside and pass it to Quinn Cook or what. I don’t know what he was trying to do here but what I do know is in that moment of his indecisiveness, the Magic forced a turnover and got the easy bucket. Here, Jones should have followed his instincts and pass the ball back to Durant and set the pick to either roll to the basket or to get Durant free for a jumper.
This also may be why Green and DeMarcus Cousins are always in his ear about being aggressive. Being a purposeful big in this system is more than just catching lobs and throwing them down. Jones must develop his playmaking. Kerr might want to develop Jones’ playmaking by letting him pass out of the post to set up shots for others. When it’s time to move out on the perimeter, Jones must know what he wants to do on it. If Jones want to set the pick, set it. If he wants to drive the lane, do it. He just can't afford to be indecisive in an offense like this one.
Potential in sports as in life is betting on what might happen based off of conditions and attributes. For the Warriors, the conditions and attributes are there for Jones to be a solid center. I also believe that Jones himself wants to be great but in order to turn this “project” into a solid product for the future, the work starts now.