Blazers tempted by Jones III

Perry Jones III is not only one of the best players in the NBA draft, he might also be one of the best stories.

The Baylor sophomore went through parts of high school homeless, living week-to-week with his family in cheap motels, the six of them considering it a luxury if the temporary room had two beds.

Jones kept his struggles from everybody — his Duncanville (Texas) high school, the coaches at Baylor, even his friends — until he told an reporter this spring.

"I didn't want anybody to know what was going on. I didn't want anybody to feel sorry for me," Jones said. "The hardest part was acting like nothing was wrong. All I know is I don't want to go back to that place."

Chances are, the 6-foot-11 forward won't have to after what is certain to be a big payday Thursday.

Jones, 20, is expected to be a lottery pick because he has the length of a power forward, the agility of a small forward and skills that make basketball scouts drool.

"To me, he is the second-most talented player (to Kentucky's Anthony Davis) in the draft in terms of his physical ability and long-range potential," said Fran Fraschilla, a former college coach who is an ESPN analyst. "That doesn't mean he is going to end up being the second-most productive player in the draft, it just means the kid has enormous potential that needs to be unlocked."

That type of potential might be too tempting to pass up for the Trail Blazers, who have the sixth and 11th picks on Thursday. New general manager Neil Olshey said one of his primary draft philosophies is to draft the "best player available" regardless of roster needs.

And Baylor coach Scott Drew said he thinks Jones can step in and play right away, and years later become a franchise player.

"He's just scratching the surface on his potential," Drew said. "But at the same time, I think he is mature enough and brings enough to the table that he could bring immediate help to a team. There are clearly guys who come in and can't play for you for a couple of years; he's definitely not one of those. My point is, he's good enough to be able to carry a team by the time he is in his mid-20s."

A set of doubts

But when you draft potential, that usually means there is risk, and Jones comes with his own set of doubts.

He has been called soft because he has tended to play on the perimeter rather than inside, perhaps explaining why his agent, Bill Duffy, has promoted Jones as a small forward. And Jones sometimes would disappear for long stretches of games as he deferred to teammates on a talented Baylor team that went 30-8, leading to questions about his drive or "motor."

"I know there are a lot of questions about me," Jones said this month after working out for the Blazers. "But I think the NBA game is good for me."

Drew thinks Jones will flourish under the NBA rules, which allow more spacing, particularly in the paint.

Fraschilla, who has followed Jones since he was a senior in high school, says Jones needs to take advantage of his size and focus on being a power forward in the NBA.

"When God made basketball bodies, he made almost the perfect power forward body in Perry Jones," Fraschilla said. "There's not another player outside of Andre Drummond who has the kind of freakish athletic ability and body type that Perry Jones has. So I think his bread will be buttered by him being in the lane.

"In some ways, he reminds me of LaMarcus (Aldridge) when I covered him as a freshman. They had similar question marks — they were soft, faded away from the basket, settled for jump shots —but in the last two years, LaMarcus has started to become a killer. I would guess the Blazers' hope would be that Perry could be a bookend with LaMarcus inside. The thing is, LaMarcus has proven he can do it; Perry hasn't."

Unselfish, not soft

Drew and Fraschilla think the knocks on Jones being too passive are unfair, although both agreed that he had a tendency to defer to his older teammates this season, which might explain his modest averages of 13.5 points and 7.6 rebounds.

"Sometimes, he defers too much and doesn't know that he can take over as much as he can," Drew said. "But he is such a good team-oriented guy that, say Brady Heslip has knocked down eight threes in a game, Perry isn't a guy who says 'I've got to get my shots up,' or 'I haven't gotten my touches.' ... he doesn't mess with the flow of the game."

Drew concedes that practically everyone following Baylor thought Jones should have had a triple-double every game because of his ability. That he didn't, Drew said, reflected his unselfishness more than being soft or unmotivated.

Jones, who presented himself as a personable and polite young man during his stop in Portland, said he knows he needs to be more assertive on the court.

"I have to find a happy medium, because sometimes it can be a negative thing," Jones said of deferring to teammates. "I think it held me back from my abilities as a player; sometimes I need to be a little more selfish to contribute. I've learned that sometimes to be a good teammate you have to be a little more selfish."

But for the moment, at least on Thursday, he won't be thinking about being selfish. He'll be thinking about giving — to his family — to make sure none of them have to go back to those times of insecurity. Yet he said his family's financial situation played no role in his decision to turn pro, and that his family put no pressure on him.

"They said they would support me no matter what," Jones said. "Last year, they said if I quit basketball and decided to swim, they would still be proud of me."

— Jason Quick


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