Does Perry Jones III Deserve More Minutes for the Oklahoma City Thunder?

It has been a quiet season thus far for Perry Jones III, but it might not be his fault.

The first-round draft pick out of Baylor is averaging just 3.8 points per game and 1.9 rebounds. But the startling statistic—at least to me—is that he averages only 10.4 minutes per game. 

Jones has all of the tools necessary to be a solid player in the NBA: strength, quickness, intelligence, size and shooting ability. 

In the limited time he’s been on the court this season for the Thunder, he has shot 55 percent from the field, so wouldn’t it make sense for Thunder head coach Scott Brooks to try and get him more minutes in games? After all, there’s only so much a guy can do if he’s only given 10.4 minutes per game. 

Let’s take a look at the Thunder’s game against the Utah Jazz just a week ago.

Jones was given 19 minutes. Not a lot, but it’s a step in the right direction. He ended up 5-of-7 from the field and 3-of-3 from three-point land. He ended the game with 13 points, three rebounds, one assist and one steal. 

So, after that game, Brooks surely gave Jones more time, right?

In the two games since Jones’ impressive performance, he has not played a single minute by coach’s decision. 

Um, what?

Before we start pointing the finger at Brooks, though, let’s take a deeper look into the situation. 

If Jones is going to get more minutes, that means other players will have to receive less minutes. Unfortunately, the only other small forward who gets time for the Thunder is Kevin Durant, and there’s no way he is getting less minutes.

However, there is the option for Brooks to play around with his lineup by going small and having Durant and Jones both on the court at the same time. But then there’s still the question of who Jones will come in for.

Royce Young of noted the dilemma Brooks is facing in getting Jones more playing time with so many bench players already contributing in games:

Brooks is in a bit of a pickle with Jones. He’s been really effective when he’s played, but there aren’t too many situations where he fits. But he needs to play, and not just in the first half. If he’s going to drop those corner 3s, and he’s going to finish inside, he’s got to find the floor for some run every night.

Brooks is in a tough spot because while his bench isn’t overly outstanding or anything, it certainly is deep. There are 11 guys on this team that could see minutes any given night and with three guys penciled in to take around 35 each a night, that makes it tough to find time for guys like Jones.

As far as Brooks’ decision to keep giving Jones limited minutes in games goes, it is hard to argue against it when the team is winning.

To Brooks’ credit, he has been more open-minded with his lineup this season than any past season in his career.

It’s beneficial for the Thunder to use 10 or more players on a given night. And even though Jones isn‘t getting the minutes he probably deserves, there’s no telling how many minutes he’ll be getting by the end of the season. 

Until then, we can all sigh whenever we see him taking up space on the Thunder bench and imagine what it would be like to have him standing in the corner of the perimeter, just waiting to sink threes. 


Follow @JaredPorter_BR on Twitter for more Thunder news and analysis. 

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Kansas Basketball: Why Perry Ellis Is Jayhawks X-Factor

Perry Ellis’ freshman season averages were 5.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.3 blocks and 0.4 steals in 13.6 minutes of playing time. Ellis shot 48 percent from the field and 74 percent from the foul line, while committing 1.3 fouls as a reserve forward.

Though only a small sample size, Ellis appears to be one of the most improved players in college basketball, making a major sophomore leap.

Through two games this season, Ellis is averaging 18.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.0 block and 1.5 steals in 32 minutes of action. He is shooting 67 percent from the floor and 79 percent from the charity stripe, while committing 2.5 fouls with his increased workload.

Though Ellis appears older than his sophomore status, he plays beyond his years with a high motor and great basketball IQ.

Ellis came to Lawrence as the 24th ranked player in the Rivals class of 2012. Only top-ranked class of 2013 star Andrew Wiggins has scored more points than Ellis through two games, while Ellis leads the squad on the boards. In Tuesday’s win over Duke, Ellis, not Wiggins, was the star, scoring 24 points and grabbing nine rebounds.

While Ellis has clearly improved and become more assertive, his increased production shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. Last season, Ellis played behind senior bigs Jeff Withey and Kevin Young, while also competing with current Jayhawk Jamari Traylor for minutes off of Bill Self‘s bench.

The Jayhawks also lost their trio of starting guards from the 2012-13 team, Ben McLemore, Travis Releford and Elijah Johnson, leaving Ellis as the team’s top returning scorer and rebounder. While being overshadowed by Wiggins and freshman Wayne Selden Jr., it’s not crazy to think Ellis could indeed lead KU in scoring, rebounding or both.

Traylor, highly touted yet raw freshman Joel Embiid and Memphis transfer Tarik Black will all play alongside Ellis in the frontcourt this season, hoping to bring home a tenth straight Big 12 title. With plenty of talent and NBA potential on this roster, Bill Self has formed a mini dynasty during his decade at KU.

According to, Ellis is currently projected to be picked 19th overall in next June’s NBA draft. Despite being a fringe lottery pick, Ellis is actually the fourth Jayhawk projected to be selected, after Wiggins (1st), Embiid (4th) and Selden (12th). Black is also slotted at 46th, a second-round selection.

While it’s clear Ellis has the upside necessary to play in the NBA, it’s too early in the college basketball season to truly project who will be gone and who will be back a year from now. Should Ellis return to Lawrence, he and Cliff Alexander, who committed to Kansas on Friday afternoon, would form arguably the nation’s top frontcourt in 2014-15.

The Jayhawks next play this Tuesday against Iona. The team’s nonconference slate is far from easy, as KU will play Colorado, Florida, New Mexico and Georgetown in succession during December. Ellis will continue to have opportunities to show the college basketball world, as well as NBA scouts, that he is the most important player to Kansas’ success.

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Meet Perry Ellis, the Kansas Jayhawks’ Other Superstar

LAWRENCE, KAN. — It was an early morning in mid-October, and 10,000 or so folks had made their way to Allen Fieldhouse to get a sneak peek at Andrew Wiggins. 

But anyone with an appreciation for fundamentals and the finer details of basketball left the Fieldhouse that day most impressed by Perry Ellis. 

Ellis, a sophomore who labored through a good part of his freshman season, played with a sense of calm confidence, providing a distraction to Wiggins Mania midway through the scrimmage.

He began this preseason clinic by catching the ball on the right block with his back to the basket and turning over his left shoulder to begin an up-and-under move. When his defender anticipated what he was doing, Ellis adjusted and finished with a lefty hook.

The next possession, Ellis missed in close—something he struggled with a year ago—but teammate Wayne Selden tipped him back the ball and he finished with his left hand under the basket. Several possessions later, Ellis had the ball in close, missed again, quickly rose to get his rebound and finished his third straight bucket with his left hand.

It’s stretches like this that explain how Bill Self could say repeatedly heading into this season what seems unfathomable with Wiggins in Lawrence: Perry Ellis could be KU‘s leading scorer.


Ellis is the guy who would have received most the preseason headlines for Kansas this fall if Wiggins had not decided to become a Jayhawk in mid-May.

This is typically how things have worked in Self’s program. The stars wait their turn. Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich, Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey all started their careers coming off the bench. Even Ben McLemore had to wait a year before he could play, although that wasn’t by choice.

The Jayhawks lost all five starters off last year’s Sweet 16 team, and Ellis was the designated star-in-waiting. He broke out in March, averaging 10.7 points per game (26.5 per 40 minutes) over KU‘s final seven games.

“At the end of the year, I think he showed the country what kind of player he can be at the college level,” Ellis’ coach at Wichita Heights, Joe Auer, said. “He’s always taking incremental steps.”

One of those incremental steps since he arrived at Kansas has been turning himself into an athlete who can dominate at this level.

Ellis has added six inches to his standing vertical since last November and recently hang-cleaned nearly 100 pounds more than his max in high school, according to strength coach Andrea Hudy.

Hudy says that the hang clean and standing vertical are two ways she measures explosion and quickness, and that’s what looks different about Ellis this year as opposed to last year.

“I’m jumping so much better than I have been,” Ellis says. “I feel so much more explosive and am finishing a lot easier.”

That’s more than just preseason lip service. Those words matter to the success of the Jayhawks this year as much as how well Wiggins adjusts to the college level.

Self has made adjustments to his offense to highlight Wiggins’ skill set—look for a faster tempo, lots of lobs and trying to get Wiggins the ball in the post. But Self’s offense has always been at its best when he has a reliable scorer in the post to highlight in his high-low offense.

Ellis’ numbers suggest he can be that guy. In his limited minutes last year, he took a higher percentage of shots than any Jayhawk other than Ben McLemore. He also had an impressive offensive rating of 114.1, according to (subscription needed).

That offensive rating was better than other highly-ranked big men in his class: Nerlens Noel (109.0), Steven Adams (109.8), Kaleb Tarczewski (102.2), Brandon Ashley (105.8), Mitch McGary (113.0), Isaiah Austin (103.2) and Anthony Bennett (114.0), the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA draft.

After an impressive showing at the Adidas Nations camp this summer, Ellis put himself on the NBA’s radar as well. He’s projected to go 19th in the 2014 draft by

But there was a reason Ellis was not a starter as a freshman. He struggled to finish around the basket, making only 45.8 percent of his attempts at the rim through KU‘s first 30 games, according to’s data.

That’s what changed in March. Ellis shot 72.7 percent at the rim over KU‘s final seven games, including making all four of his attempts in the Sweet 16 against Michigan. 

“He’s a natural scorer,” Self said. “(He needs) confidence and having the confidence to make plays like he did toward the end of the season last year. I think last year he was trying to fit in and be one of many. I think this year he has got to have more of a hungry attitude, which I do think he has.”


No one in college basketball has ever experienced the pressure that Wiggins is under right now, but if anyone on KU‘s roster can sympathize, it’s Ellis.

Ellis had Wigginsian hype in the Wichita area heading into high school. He had not graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, but he appeared in Sports Illustrated for Kids as an eighth grader and in Dime Magazine and Slam Magazine the next year as a freshman.

Ellis lived up to the hype. He became the first player ever in Kansas to win four straight state titles at the highest classification, and he was named a McDonald’s All-American.

He was the highest-profile player the state had produced since Wayne Simien, who wound up Big 12 Player of the Year and a first-team All-American as a senior at Kansas.

Those lofty expectations awaited Ellis at Kansas, along with a spot in the starting lineup last year. After Thomas Robinson left for the NBA following KU‘s 2012 run to the national championship game, the expectation was that Ellis would start right away, and he did.

He started the first two games for the Jayhawks and led the team in scoring in an exhibition opener with 15 points. He scored 10 in KU‘s second exhibition game and scored 15 in his regular-season debut against Southeast Missouri State.

The narrative of the home-grown star was taking shape nicely. 

Then, the Jayhawks traveled to Atlanta for a Champions Classic game against Michigan State.

Ellis was wide-eyed and scored four points on 2-of-6 shooting in 17 minutes. He would only start one more game (at TCU) the rest of the season.

“He was going against guys much bigger and stronger, and I think it got in his head a little bit,” Auer said.

Saying Ellis lost his job is not exactly fair—former Kansas forward Kevin Young started the year injured and ended up as a better fit next to Withey—but Ellis’ confidence wavered. That’s an explanation for his struggles around the rim.

But something obviously clicked at the end of the year, and how it may have happened explains why Self sees such great potential for Ellis.


Up until last season, one of the few times Ellis ever dealt with failure in his life was during his freshman year at Wichita Heights in a game against Hutchinson.

Ellis got matched up against Geneo Grissom, who is now a defensive lineman at Oklahoma. Hutchinson was not a great basketball team that season, but the school had won a football state championship and played a physical brand of basketball.

It worked, as Hutchinson gave Wichita Heights its only loss of the season.

“They just beat the tar out of Perry,” Auer said. “Physically battered and bruised him the whole game.”

The next year at a tournament in Dodge City, Wichita Heights played Hutchinson again, and Ellis got a rematch against Grissom.

The game started with Heights winning the tip and running a lob play for Ellis on the first possession. Grissom tried to break it up and Ellis dunked it hard and then stood over the big man.

“He got T’ed up,” Auer said. “Here’s a kid that never has a cross word to say to anybody, and the first time he acts in a cocky fashion, he gets a technical.”

Ellis is extremely reserved. Self jokes that he’s made progress this year, and “he will come into the office and we’ll sit down and have a 30 or 45-second conversation.”

“He’s just guarded in terms of his communication,” Auer said. “He doesn’t say things for the sake of saying things. Most of his words have a purpose, and he’s pretty thoughtful in what he says. He likes to think before he talks.”

Auer said that Ellis’ peers have always tried to get him to adopt a superstar personality, a sort of tough-guy-look-at-me persona.

But that’s just not Perry. He’s more of a thinking man. He was valedictorian of his class.

So when Ellis struggled last year, KU‘s coaches took Ellis to the classroom.

He had the worst stretch of games of his life over six games in February. He went scoreless three times, made just one of seven shots at the rim and averaged 1.8 points. The Jayhawks began that stretch losing three straight games.

Around that time, Kansas coaches started showing Ellis tape of former Kansas power forward Marcus Morris, who averaged 17.2 points and was Big 12 Player of the Year as a junior in the 2010-11 season.

Ellis and Morris have some similarities to their games. Both can shoot from the perimeter and score facing up or with their back to the basket. Ellis started to study how Morris scored in Self’s offense and picked up a move that Morris regularly used.

“I started facing up and sweeping through, and it really helped out,” Ellis said.

Ellis also figured out that he was worrying too much. Self had been on him hard all year.

“He’s going to get after you,” Ellis said. “He wants to teach you as fast as possible.”

Auer had taken a different approach. When Ellis was a freshman at Wichita Heights, Auer wanted to find a way to connect with Ellis, so he taught him how to play chess.

Auer and Ellis would play every lunch hour. It was Auer‘s way to get his quiet freshman to open up. But it also helped Ellis’ game. He looked at the court as a chess board.

“Just trying to think the game out,” Ellis said. “Don’t just play.”

But thinking can be a freshman’s biggest flaw, and Ellis had a lot going through his head. He just wanted to fit in and didn’t want to step on any of the seniors’ toes.

“I think he put too much pressure on himself trying to stick to the team concept too much,” teammate Andrew White III said. “Our style of play is not really strict on what he can do, so he’s just being aggressive and thinking less about the game. I think that’s going to take him a long way this year, being comfortable, relaxing and playing.”

That’s what teammates see now because Ellis has looked so smooth on the court. Everything seems to be instinctual. That may be the case in some capacity, but Ellis says the game has slowed down enough that he’s finally able to get his head and body to work cohesively.

“I feel in rhythm,” he said. “I feel like I can definitely think the game and just outsmart people now.”

That has been evident in KU‘s early games. Every time Ellis catches the ball it appears he’s already made his first step.

He’s challenging Wiggins, as Self predicted, for KU‘s leading scorer. He had 17 points in that October preseason scrimmage, second only to Wiggins’ 21 that day. He led KU in scoring in two exhibition games, averaging 14.5 points in 21.5 minutes per game. Ellis was second to Wiggins in KU‘s opener on Friday, scoring 12 points to Wiggins’ 16. And as for his work at the rim, he’s perfect so far, making all nine of his attempts in the two exhibition games and regular-season opener. 

On Tuesday night in the Champions Classic in Chicago, Ellis, not Wiggins, will likely be matched up against Duke freshman star Jabari Parker.

All eyes will be on Wiggins and Parker.

But watch out for Ellis. He’s faster, stronger and he’s no longer a starry-eyed freshman. He’s the old veteran now, finally playing a thinking man’s game.

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Perry Jones III Is Critical to Success of OKC Thunder’s Bench

The Oklahoma City Thunder are devoid of two major things as the 2013-14 preseason gets underway.

First, they are without Russell Westbrook for the next 6-8 weeks after the star point guard underwent knee surgery yet again—according to

Second, they are without an athletically gifted big man on their bench who’s capable of giving the Thunder a serious spark off the bench. 

Well, actually they aren’t without a player like that. The player who can fill that void just hasn’t fully realized his potential yet. That player is Mr. “I should’ve been drafted higher” Perry Jones III.

All of the focus on the Thunder’s second unit is on Reggie Jackson and his playoff production last year and Jeremy Lamb and his summer league highlights. 

While both players are deserving of significant attention regarding what they can bring to the Thunder’s otherwise underwhelming bench, the real focus needs to be on Jones.

Why? Because he’s the kind of player who can give defenses headaches with his rare mix of size, athleticism and agility. He also brings something to the floor that the Thunder haven’t had in a while—bench production from a big man who has range and athleticism.

Last season, Jones was a complete mess. 

He ended the year after being “the steal of the draft,” with averages of 2.3 points and 1.6 rebounds in just 7.4 minutes per game. That’s not exactly the kind of production the Thunder’s front office expected from the big man out of Baylor. 

If you’ve forgotten just what Jones is capable of—thanks to his dismal rookie year—take a trip down memory lane and check out his highlights from his years dominating the college ranks.

The two biggest components of Jones’ game are his ability to spread the floor with his range and his athleticism at and above the rim.

That is exactly what the Thunder need coming off the bench because it makes them a much deeper and more versatile team.

Versatility off the bench makes teams difficult to match up with, and it throws off other teams’ rotations.

With Westbrook going down again and missing the first 4-6 weeks of the regular season, Reggie Jackson will be in the starting lineup for the first part of the season.

That leaves Jeremy Lamb to be the Thunder’s primary scoring option off the bench. If he doesn’t pan out, the bench responsibility falls squarely on Jones’ shoulders.

That’s a lot of pressure for the unproven hybrid forward, but it’s the exact opportunity he needs to prove his value in this league.

Without Jones stepping up his game, the Thunder will remain a “one-trick pony” kind of team with a lot of firepower in the starting lineup but no spark coming off the bench.

Unfortunately, Jones wasn’t able to be a part of the summer league due to an oral infection. Because of that we weren’t able to see if Jones had made any development this offseason, and that leaves us with even more uncertainty as the tip of the regular season inches closer. 

While they can survive in the Western Conference and make the playoffs without bench production, they can’t be the top team in the NBA

It takes serious depth to be the top team in the NBA, and without Jones stepping his game up, the Thunder won’t have the level of depth they need. 

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Russell Westbrook Is Obsessed with Taylor Swift, Katy Perry

Russell Westbrook has had a ton of free time ever since tearing the meniscus in his right knee, and he’s apparently been spending it listening to his favorite female pop stars.

Honestly, what else would you do if you were Westbrook right now? He can’t really work out too much, rehab only takes up so much of the day, and getting around with a huge protective sleeve on your leg has to be a pain.

In the meantime, Westbrook has joined Vine and started doing what every other athlete on Vine seems to do: send out videos of him singing his favorite songs.

The best one (that’s definitely a subjective notion) is him pretending that his crutch is a guitar while singing a line from Taylor Swift’s song “Stay Stay Stay.”

Maybe even better, the guys at Yude Productions, who put together a ton of Oklahoma City Thunder videos, made a montage of Westbrook set to Swift’s single “22.”

Any night is a perfect night for Westbrook to dress up like a hipster.

This all comes from Royce Young over at, who recalled talking to Westbrook about his musical tastes earlier in the season:

I read in some magazine about what Russ listened to pregame, so I asked him a few months ago if that was true. He didn’t blink and eye and said he listens to Katy Perry and Taylor Swift mostly before games. Almost proud to say it. I specifically remember him saying, “It’s good sh–.”

So we’re up to T-Swift, Katy Perry, and of course, who could forget his wonderful lip-sych of Ke$ha’s “Gonna Die Young” earlier in the season.

When you compare Westbrook’s listening habits to some of the other players in the NBA, you get the idea that he’s out on his own a bit. Although, he and Mike Conley might be able to bond over a bit of Rihanna.

Normally I can’t say I’m a fan of T-Swift, but I can deal with watching Westbrook play crutch-guitar and sing it six seconds at a time.

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Kansas Jayhawks: Jeff Withey Steps Up; Perry Ellis Dominates in Season Opener

Kansas center Jeff Withey struggled in the two exhibition games against Emporia State and Washburn University. Withey made only six of his 13 shots and put up only 16 points in the two exhibition games combined. He committed five turnovers in the two preseason matches and knew he needed to make up for his sloppy performance in the season opener.

He did just that against Southeast Missouri State. Withey went 5-of-12 shooting and made 70 percent of his free throws. Withey also made an impact on the boards with 12 rebounds and prevented some scores with five blocked shots.

Withey never fouled and turned the ball over only once. He led all scorers with 17 points as Kansas went on to win, 74-55.

Kansas also received help from multiple freshmen in Friday’s win. Forwards Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor and guard Ben McLemore all received significant minutes on the floor against the Redhawks.

Ellis had the most dominant performance as he made all five free throws and came up with eight rebounds and finished the night with 15 points. McLemore impressed a lot of spectators at Allen Fieldhouse after leading the team in assists with five and also co-leading the team in rebounds with Withey.

Kansas encountered a few issues against Southeast Missouri State. Kansas made 39 percent of its shots and went 2-of-21 from beyond the arc. Bill Self wants better production from his players in those areas, but he’ll take the win and enjoy the 1-0 start to the season.

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Perry Jones III: Thunder SF Made Parting with James Harden Possible

The Oklahoma City Thunder pulled off a huge trade on Saturday, sending James Harden to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and future draft considerations.

OKC is definitely is looking to the future with this move. Harden is a star player that makes an immediate impact on the team.

Martin hasn’t lived up to expectations, and Lamb hasn’t been as impressive in recent weeks compared to his play in the summer league.

So how can the Thunder make this move without hurting their chances of returning to the NBA Finals?

In large part, the play of Perry Jones III.

Jones was a big part of the best draft in June. When discussing  the Thunder’s selections, I stated Oklahoma City “needed some help up front and had one of the best picks in the draft by selecting Baylor’s Perry Jones III. If Jones’ knee concerns don’t become an issue, he has lottery-pick value and will be a great addition to the team. Playing a reserve role should help keep him healthy.”

Jones has the size, athleticism and skill to be a star in the NBA. He played well enough at times in college to be considered a top-five pick. 

Since being drafted by the Thunder, he’s only helped his case. 

It looked as though Daequan Cook was going to step in and take over some significant minutes this season, but Jones has outplayed him thus far.

The versatility and athleticism of the Thunder allow the flexibility of moving players between the guard and small forward spots. Jones will be a key part of the equation that replaces the production of the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year.

The Thunder are building through the draft and are being rewarded for taking a few chances. By trading Harden, they are getting value from a player they would have lost at the end of the season, as Harden rejected a four-year, $52 million extension.

The trade includes substantial draft consideration. According to recent reports, it is a package of three picks.

While some teams largely ignore the draft, the Thunder are mostly built from their selections. Perry is their latest success story, and he will make the transition from Harden painless for the team and the fans.


Darin Pike is a writer for Bleacher Report’s Breaking News Team and a Featured Columnist covering the NFL and Seattle Seahawks.

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5 Things Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant Can Teach Perry Jones III

Unfairly tall for his position, freakishly athletic yet in dire need of some muscles, rookie Perry Jones III seems to be the exact carbon copy of Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant—even down to the amazing untapped potential and serviceable versatility that comes with stardom. 

Unlike Durant, however, Jones suffered the biggest plunge on draft day after being projected top-10 material. He slid all the way out of the lottery until Sam Presti and the Thunder organization decided to take their chances with the prospect at No. 28.

While going from a top prospect to a late first-round choice sounds downright terrible, the fall might not be as bad as everyone thinks. On the other hand, one big advantage comes with the decrease in draft stock; Jones gets to play with and learn from his prototype and role model, Kevin Durant. 

The youngest scoring champion in NBA history and the leader of the strong Thunder team, Durant is certainly someone to model one’s game after. He has a lot of deadly skills in his arsenal, many of which can’t be duplicated due to his eccentric combination of length, athleticism and skill.

Fortunately for Jones, he is so similar to Durant that he will have no problem learning from one of the most proficient scorers in the league right now. If good lessons are given and hard work is put in, there will be nothing Durant can’t teach Jones to do.

All tricks put aside, here are five of the most important skills Durant can teach Jones.

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Oklahoma City Thunder: Can Perry Jones III Replace James Harden?

The Oklahoma City Thunder made a strong move toward keeping their young core intact on Saturday, when they reportedly signed Serge Ibaka to a four-year, $48 million contract extension.

This was a great move by the Thunder, as they managed to lock up the team’s defensive anchor long term, ensuring them the ability to compete with the powerhouse Lakers‘ frontcourt going forward.    

However, the Ibaka signing comes with a not-so-silver lining. Ibaka’s $12 million per year takes a significant chunk out of the Thunder’s cap flexibility, bringing into question the team’s ability to also re-sign sixth man extraordinaire James Harden.

Harden was a key cog in the Thunder’s remarkable run last season, winning Sixth Man of the Year honors while serving as the third-leading scorer for Oklahoma City. Harden came up big countless times throughout the season and into the playoffs, and despite a weak finals performance, there is no doubting Harden’s importance to the Thunder.

Regardless, Harden becomes a restricted free agent next summer, and the Thunder may soon have to decide if they can afford to keep the popular guard. There also exists the chance the decision won’t be theirs to make, as Harden could be lured away from contention by the opportunity to be the go-to guy for a team like Phoenix.

The Thunder feature one of the league’s most dynamic scoring trios in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Harden, but the scoring ability drops off sharply after those three. Ibaka has improved steadily as a scorer, but his primary value will always rest on his defensive abilities, and taking Harden out of the equation could leave the Thunder without a veritable third option.

Yet the solution to this problem may already be in place. In the recent 2012 draft, the Thunder had the great fortune of watching talented enigma Perry Jones III slide to them down at the 28th overall pick. And though many critics have questioned Jones’ motor and ability to effectively play an NBA position, there is no denying his talent.

Harden and Jones are by no means similar players. Harden is a 6’5” shooter who excels at driving into the lane and initiating contact. Jones is a 6’11” combo forward whose combination of size and versatility have resulted in comparisons to (you guessed it) Kevin Durant.

Jones may have similar stature to Durant, but he lacks the polish and sweet-shooting ability that enabled Durant to become an immediate star in the NBA. Jones is a great finisher, and his jump shot has potential, but he has displayed an unwillingness to bang in the paint and often seems to float during games.

Jones’ flaws were particularly evident during his two-year college career at Baylor. Jones put up solid numbers (13.5 points, 7.6 rebounds in 2011-12), but failed to meet the high expectations that accompanied him into college. However, his struggles may be largely due to his role in the Baylor system. Jones often struggled to get into an offensive rhythm and had little room to make use of the offensive versatility that is his trademark.

What Jones needs is a system, and a role, that will allow him to play to his strengths and play in a quick, dynamic offense that will allow him to take advantage of mismatches against opposing players. 

So fear not, Thunder fans, for there is no better team in the NBA to harness the latent skills of such a talented prospect. Much of Oklahoma City’s success has stemmed from their top-notch player development, and chances are good that the Thunder coaching staff will be able to draw the best out of a player with such great ability. 

So although Jones remains very much a project for the time being, and will likely take a while to develop, it’s not so outlandish to think he could mold into a player capable of replacing or even surpassing Harden’s contributions to the Thunder.

And though minutes might initially seem unavailable for Jones, who projects as a big 3 or stretch 4 in the NBA, the increasing positional flexibility in the league makes it easier to picture a lineup featuring Durant, Jones and Ibaka all on the court at the same time. There’s little doubt such a triad would create significant matchup problems for opponents. 

Perry Jones may not morph into the superstar he looked like coming out of high school, but he is a unique talent who has the opportunity to improve greatly under the tutelage of Kevin Durant and the Thunder coaching staff. Jones has proved that there is little he can’t do; it’s just a matter of putting his mind to it.

In the event that Harden decides to test his scoring mettle elsewhere, Jones should do a fine job of stepping in to keep the Thunder in contention. And if not, just imagine a lineup of Westbrook, Harden, Durant, Jones and Ibaka tearing up the NBA. 

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NBA Draft 2012: Fall of Perry Jones III Makes Oklahoma City Thunder Even Richer

Baylor forward Perry Jones III was widely considered a top-10 NBA talent and potentially the No. 1 overall pick in 2011, before returning to school for his sophomore season.

Now, after questions surfaced regarding Jones’ health caused his stock to plummet in the 2012 draft, the 6’11″, 235-pounder may have lost some money in the short term, but it’s very possible that Jones will make up for it by adding some jewelry to his trophy case.

Jones, who averaged 14 points and almost eight rebounds a game last year for the Baylor Bears, was predicted by many to be at the very least a lottery pick in the 2012 NBA draft.

However, after reports circulated that Jones had issues with the meniscus in one of his knees, the talented youngster’s draft stock free-fell all the way to 28th overall, where he was selected by the defending Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder.

According to an Associated Press report published by the Washington Post, Thunder general manager Sam Presti was fully aware of the questions surrounding Jones’ knee, stating that problems “existed even before Jones played the last two seasons at Baylor and it shouldn’t keep him out next season, or even during summer league.”

In fact, Presti went so far as to mention Jones’ straight-line speed as one of the strengths of the 21-year-old’s game, an asset that should come in very handy on a Thunder squad that likes to get up and down the court in a hurry.

For his part Jones seems to have taken his draft-day slide in stride, finding a silver lining where others might grouse about having been overlooked.

However, as Jones told the AP, that doesn’t mean that he won’t use his drop as motivation, although he’s overjoyed that it ended where it did:

“Everybody knows that I wasn’t supposed to slide as far as I did but, to be honest, I’m happy I did. This is a great organization. I mean, it’s the perfect spot,” Jones said after holding up his new No. 3 jersey, signifying the suffix on his name.

“It surprised me because I didn’t think I’d be here in a million years,” Jones said. “Actually on draft night, when the pick came up for them, I was thinking to myself, ‘Well, they don’t need me, so they definitely won’t pick me.’”

Pick him they did, although it’s unsure exactly what role Jones will fill with the Thunder in the early going.

The team would appear to be pretty set at small forward with—oh, what’s his name—that Durant kid.

Kevin, I think.

However, Jones could challenge Serge Ibaka for significant minutes early at the power-forward spot, especially if/when the team decides to go with a more up-tempo lineup against opponents that feature a lot of quickness.

Granted, there will be growing pains (as there almost always are with rookies), Jones will need to bulk up some at the professional level and there may well come a day when his knee will need to be surgically repaired.

With that said, that day hasn’t arrived yet, and anytime that a team that just made a trip to the NBA Finals gets a player who not too long ago was considered a potential No. 1 pick, that team will all but surely take it’s chances, as the rest of the NBA mutters obscenities in the background.

The rich just got richer out west.

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