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The 10th ranked played in the high school class of 2010, Terrence Jones bucked John Calipari's one and done trend, returning for his sophomore season and reaping a reward he'll carry for the rest of his career in the form of a NCAA Championship.
While his resume looks much better, and the memories will last a life-time, it is debatable whether Jones did his NBA stock any good by returning to school.
The talented forward struggled with the same issues that raised the eyebrows of scouts last season, but did so under a new wave of intense scrutiny all year long, seeing his production and touches drop while adding another layer of doubt which he was able to relieve somewhat in March with a strong NCAA Tournament showing.
An incredibly versatile and talented player with clear-cut NBA tools, Jones was an elite player in the college game when he was zoned in, but the difficulties he has had making his presence felt on a consistent basis, staying focused for entire games, and not pouting when things don't go his way remain disconcerting.
While it is easy to find a niche for Jones's skill set on a NBA roster, the challenge for front offices will be ensuring that he's put in a position to reach his full potential a much more complex proposition.
Kept on an incredibly short leash and challenged publicly on a few occasions by John Calipari, who had no qualms pulling Jones early and often for a defensive lapse or not boxing out, Jones struggled with his body language at times early in the season, and seemed entirely content to simply blend in for long stretches as the season went on.
Obviously, the talent around him had a lot to do with that, as Calipari simply did not need to put the ball in his hands as much for the team to be successful considering all the weapons they had on the rosterone of the reasons his usage rate dropped off from 27.9% last season to 22.5%. Still, Jones looked like a different person at different times this year, dominating the paint with Anthony Davis one half, but looking disinterested in what was going on around him the next.
A Preseason All-American and one of the most talented players in the country, Jones appeared to get his act together during the NCAA Tournament, clearly understanding the importance of the opportunity for himself and his teammates.
Had Jones proved unable to stay motivated in the tournament, it would have raised some serious red flags about his motor, but fortunately for Jones and Wildcats; he was able to get his act together when they needed him most. Despite that, scouts are going to do their due diligence in trying to understand what makes him tick to better understand what kind of return they will be getting if they invest a premium draft choice in his talents.
It is Jones's immense talents that make him a good fit in a number of different situations and has decision-makers so keen on getting a feel for his inconsistency.
Measured at 6'9 with a 7'2 wingspan and powerful 245-pound frame that he worked hard to add additional muscle to last summer, Jones has everything you look for in a NBA forward physically, even if he could be considered a tad undersized for the power forward position. He runs the floor like a small forward, plays above the rim in traffic, makes fluid moves off the dribble, and has the package of tools to defend multiple positions at the NBA level.
In projecting where Jones may fit best at the next level, it is worth noting that last season he appeared to be more stuck between the forward positions than he does now. The Oregon native is a versatile scorer with the ability to shoot the ball (inconsistently) from the perimeter, put the ball on the floor and attack the basket off the dribble, earn some easy looks running in transition, make plays in the post, and finish explosively at the rack. Considering his array of talents and defensive tools, Jones could surely spend some time at the small forward position in the NBA.
Despite that, he may be better equipped to operate as a face-up power forward early on at the next level, where he'd be far more of a mismatch. Connecting on 34% of his jump shots, almost none of which came from the midrange, as a freshman and sophomore according to Synergy Sports Technology, Jones has the ability to keep defenses honest with his somewhat long, loose shooting mechanics. However, the more time he spends on the perimeter the more likely he is to fall into the habit of settling for long shots, which takes away from perhaps his greatest strength, making athletic plays around the rim, crashing the glass and finishing.
The sophomore is able to blow by slower defenders at the college level and simply beat them to the rim, but his lack of great ball-handling ability for a wing by NBA standards could limit his ability to attack the rim against true small forwards early in his professional career. Lacking much in the way of midrange scoring ability, Jones's lack of experience creating space on the perimeter would put him in a position where he'd need to reinvent his game to be efficient as a small forward, an obvious risk considering the questions about his mental toughness and the challenges such a transformation present.
By comparison, Jones's offensive arsenal seems much better suited for an up-tempo offensive team that will give him opportunities to face the basket from the post and mid-range and find a comfort zone immediately as a four rather than gambling on his ability to develop as a full time wing. Jones' quickness and strong first step are far more advantageous to him against fours than threes, and his ability to face-up from the post and get into the paint afford him better opportunities to utilize his athleticism instead of his still developing scoring touch.
A tremendous finisher thanks to his exceptional length and leaping ability, playing Jones closer to the rim will also put him in better position to make a consistent impact on the offensive glass, and depending on what kind of teammates he's paired with, give him more chances to catch-and-finish, something he's proven capable of doing emphatically through traffic when he finds any daylight around the rim.
Despite what Jones could bring to the table as a face-up four and finisher, he still has plenty of room to grow as an interior scorer. Similar to where he stands in his development as a perimeter shooter, Jones shows some promise in one-on-one situations with his back to the basket, but lacks ideal polish. He uses fakes effectively in the post, and has decent footwork, but isn't comfortable enough with his hook shot, turnaround jumper, or post moves to score consistently against comparably sized players on the block.
Jones's athleticism made him a serviceable scorer in the post throughout this season, and he shot 42% from the block according to Synergy Sports Technology. Though that is a dramatic improvement over the 36% he shot last season, the power forward position is one of the most talented and athletic positions in the NBA, and Jones will need to polish a few of his moves to become a more decisive and efficient threat to efficiently score on the block in the NBA.
Defensively, Jones has all the tools to be an effective defensive player at the next level. Constantly pushed on that end of the floor by John Calipari, Jones's blend of lateral quickness, length, and leaping ability made him a versatile defensive player in the post and away from the basket at the college level. He gave up position too deep inside at times, and will inevitably struggle against stronger interior scorers like Kevin Love and Al Jefferson at the NBA level, but is able to bother shooters with his length, deny dribble penetration very effectively away from the rim, and can provide a presence in the paint.
Jones would be well served to continue improving his excellent frame to prepare him for the rigors of the NBA game, though he already has the building-blocks to defend stretch-fours and less post-oriented scorers along with some wings early in his career.
Improved strength would surely help Jones hold position in the post, but would also help him when boxing out. His athleticism allows him to rebound outside of his area but he'll face a challenge when keeping more athletic big men off the boards in the NBA.
A likely lottery pick, Jones's stock could rise if he can convince NBA scouts he's moved past the issues that have plagued him in the past. Sometimes lost in the shuffle because of the talent around him, or as a result of his own lapses, Jones is a terrific athlete with the right blend of tools to find some success early in his career.
The question may come down to what kind of strategy the team drafting him has in place to make sure he reaches his potential.