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2014-15 Thunder Player Grades: Perry Jones III rides a rollercoaster

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32 points one night, end of the bench the next. Typical times for PJ3....

I feel like this photo is PJ3's NBA career in a nutshell.
I feel like this photo is PJ3's NBA career in a nutshell.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Full Name: Perry James Jones III

Nickname: PJ3

Contract Status: Signed through the 2015-16 season at $2.0 Million.

Notable Factoid:

Player History

Early Years

Perry Jones III was born in Winnsboro, Louisiana. Jones grew up just south of Dallas. In Jones' childhood, he played gridiron football. However, Jones' tall stature, long arms, and high jumping ability made him the perfect basketball player. Soon, basketball was PJ3's primary sport. During Jones' 8th grade year, he was invited to a Baylor basketball game. The coaching staff and players were very receptive to Perry. Jones would make a verbal commit to Baylor soon afterwards. When asked about his reasoning after the fact, Jones spoke thusly:

"I didn’t feel like anybody was happy for me to be going to Baylor. They weren’t congratulating me. It seemed like people thought I should go somewhere else. But [Baylor] offered me a scholarship before I was a good player and stayed loyal to me, so I was going to be loyal to them."

High School in Dallas

While Jones was a freshman in 06-07, the Panthers went undefeated and took the state title. Jones was still on the JV team. In Jones' Sophomore year, 07-08, he was still on the JV team. Duncanville, meanwhile, went 35-2. Sadly, the Panthers fell in the regional semi-finals to North Crowley. In 08-09, Jones' junior season, he was finally named to the varsity team as a starter. Duncanville replicated their recent success, going 27-10 and losing in the regional final to Cedar Hill. The Panthers finished as #4 in the state. Meanwhile, PJIII was named co-defensive player of the year in his district. That summer, PJIII took part in Starvision's center stage tournament in Las Vegas. That Starvision tournament is what put Perry on the map, and you can see the highlights above.

In 09-10, Jones' senior season, Duncanville largely fell apart. The Panthers finished the season with only a 21-13 record, and lost their regional Round of 16 game. Jones, however, had a stellar season individually. Perry earned all district, all region, and all state team honors. Hidden beneath Jones' success was the fact that Jones was homeless during a good portion of this season, living in cheap hotel rooms by the week. Jones sometimes had to sleep on the floor, and other times battled hunger. The Duncanville team and coaches had no idea about Jones' difficulties. Through it all, PJ3' managed to earn a nomination to the 2010 McDonald's All-American game. You can see Perry's senior season highlights above.

College at Baylor

Perry Jones committed to the Baylor Bears for the 2010-11 season. Baylor's athletic site described Jones as, "the most heralded recruit in program history". PJ3's freshman season was nothing short of incredible. According to Max Rappaport, Jones could have been a top five pick in the NBA Draft following that season. The numbers were certainly there to back it up. 55% from the field was nothing to sneeze at, and stands out as his most remarkable stat. Still, 14 points and 7 rebounds certainly wasn't bad for a freshman. The only real knocks on Perry's game statistically were his lack of a three point shot (only 10 attempts in his freshman season) and his low assist to turnover ratio (0.5).

There was a minor controversy during Jones' freshman season. Over a year prior, Jones' mother had asked his AAU coach for loans so she could pay her family's mortgage. The loans were repaid, and Perry knew nothing of them. Nevertheless, the NCAA determined that the loans were an impermissible benefit. As a result, Jones was suspended for six games immediately following the conclusion of the regular season. The Baylor Bears lost the first round of the Big XII tournament without PJ3, and ended up missing post-season play altogether.

Despite facing a five-game suspension upon his return as a Sophomore, Jones decided to stay at Baylor for another year. When asked why, Jones cited his own need to mature, as well as Baylor's commitment to him as a person.

Jones' 11-12 Sophomore season saw him progress on both an individual and team level. First and foremost, Perry managed to develop a three point shot. Jones only took one a game, but he shot a respectable 30%. A higher assist to turnover ratio (0.8) and an increase of half a steal a game indicated that Perry was progressing mentally. Meanwhile, the Baylor Bears reached the Elite Eight that year. Jones played a major role, scoring double digits and pulling down high numbers of rebounds in numerous critical games.

Despite these overall improvements, Jones' draft stock took a dip. From an ESPN article at the time:

But in his past seven games, Jones is averaging just 9.1 points while shooting 33 percent from the field. Critics want Jones to be more assertive, especially when it comes to attacking the basket. He often shies away from contact and settles for outside jumpers when he could use his skill and athleticism to get into the paint. "We need him to play big," said Acy, Jones' sidekick in the frontcourt. "We need him to be more aggressive."

Then, on the eve of the draft, things got worse. NBA doctors had confirmed a serious meniscus problem in Jones' knee. This completely tanked Jones' draft stock. Early reports had Perry going in the late teens, but he ended up getting passed over until the 30th pick.

Rookie Year

Jones was excited to join the Thunder. According to an old AP article, Jones went on the record as saying,

"What's better than learning from one of the best teams? They were in the finals. They have great players, great coach. This is just an opportunity for me to grow."

''[KD]'s my favorite player. So therefore, for me to be under his wing is going to (do) wonders for me.''

Appropriately, Jones came into training camp with a lot of fire. In fact, Perry finished the Pre-Season with 9.8 PPG, good for fifth highest on the team. Jones also managed to shoot 57% from the floor and 33% from three. Even Jones'  assist to turnover ratio was up, to 2. Heck, Jones' stock was so high as this point that James Harden actually went on record saying that Jones was the most athletic player on the team. Over himself, KD, Russ, and Serge. Yep.

However, Jones soon came crashing back down to reality. Scott Brooks anointed PJ3 as KD's official backup, yet also made it clear that minutes at that position would be inconsistent. OKC was coming off of a finals appearance, and already had an established rotation. The Thunder weren't very fond of giving minutes to Daequan Cook as a 10th man in the past, and the rookie Jones couldn't possibly carve himself a role there. Eventually, the late season acquisition of Derek Fisher would push Jones' minutes from inconsistent to near non-existant.

Jones on his rookie season struggles, via NewsOK:

"It’s just a lot harder because you don’t know when you’re going to get in, if you’re going to get in. It’s a lot harder for me to sit down and wait and wonder when I’m going to get in. It’s real hard to find a rhythm that way. It’s probably one of the most difficult things that can be in this league. It’s the highest level, and if you don’t have a rhythm you’re not going to produce."

Ultimately, Jones finished his rookie campaign shooting 39% and averaging 2.3 PPG in 7 minutes. The highlights you see above are from OKC's meaningless season finale.

Off and on in Year 2

As such, heading into the 2013-14 season, PJIII had significantly less hype. Jones was no longer considered to be someone who could bust out and be a star. However, there was still a good amount of hope for him to join the rotation. In the pre-season, Jones participated in 6 of OKC's 7 contests, averaging nearly 20 minutes a game. No stat really popped out, but efficient shooting (over 46% from the field) combined with decent rebounding numbers (3 per game) seemed to indicate that Jones could play the stretch 4. OKC thought so too, using their team option on Jones' contract for the 2014-15 season.

Still, it was hard to find room for Jones in OKC's rotation. Nick Collison was the defacto backup power forward, and was essential for post defense and ball movement. Meanwhile, Jeremy Lamb appeared to be the more favored between the two. Lamb could hit threes and make decisions with the ball. Jones was shakier in both areas, in addition to being a bit slow for the position. Slotting Jones next to an aging Derek Fisher and Nick Collison was rather difficult to do, strategically speaking.

Nonetheless, Jones managed to find a bit of a groove early on. Here's an excerpt from a December 23rd, 2013 Oklahoman article that describes Jones' unique role:

In the eight games in which Jones has logged at least 10 minutes, he’s averaged 6.1 points and 2.9 rebounds while shooting 52.6 percent. He’s made 5 of 12 3-pointers (41.6 percent), and the Thunder is 6-2 in those games.

But despite his world-class athleticism and tremendous potential, Brooks is asking him to focus on using his versatility to be a multipurpose defender.

Late in Sunday’s game, Brooks used Jones to better matchup with Raptors forwards DeMar DeRozan, John Salmons and Amir Johnson, a trio that stretches from 6-foot-6 to 6-foot-9 and poses problems due to their length and athleticism.

Jones was viewed as the equalizer.

"I felt that his length could affect some of their shots," Brooks said. "I thought he did a good job."

As the season wore on, Brooks continued to use Perry Jones as a defensive Swiss army knife. Perhaps Jones' greatest moment was when he was assigned to guard LeBron James for the second half of a Thunder-Heat game on January 29th. Jones allowed LeBron to shoot 7 of 11 from the floor during that second half, which isn't amazing. But Jones wasn't nearly the defensive liability that Kendrick Perkins was. Putting Jones at SF also allowed the Thunder to run KD and Ibaka in the frontcourt. In the end, Jones was given much of the credit for the Thunder's comeback win.

Despite these successes, consistency was definitely a problem for Perry Jones at this point. From January 16th through March 16th of 2014, Jones shot only 42% from the floor and 30% from three. Before January 16th, Jones had shot 52% from the floor and 39% from three. Coach Brooks even quietly admitted that he'd like to see a bit more from PJIII. From a March 10th SB Nation article:

"He's a lengthy defender that can obviously jump and run with the best of 'em," Brooks said. "We're just trying to get the aggressiveness out on both ends of the floor. [Tuesday vs. Philadelphia] was a good sign of that. We have to continue to get it out of him, the consistency we're looking for. But I think he's done a good job of stepping in and filling that role."

A decrease in performance combined with the March 4th signing of Caron Butler spelled doom for Perry Jones' playing time. After March 16th, Jones didn't see a single relevant minute of action. On July 14th, Jones would undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.

Pre-Season Expectations

This year appeared to be make-or-break for Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb. Both had seen reasonable amounts of success in the 2013-14 season, but both were eventually replaced by much more experienced players. With those players (Butler, Fisher) now gone, the big question was whether these two youngsters could keep the bench afloat. It was apparent at the time that Brooks wasn't going to trust either of them too much, but the makeup of the roster ensured that at least one of them would be getting minutes.

Then this huge slog of injuries happened, and it became apparent that BOTH Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb were going to get playing time. No matter what. From my perspective, it was impossible to tell whether Jones would succeed or not. PJIII was infrequently used in his first two seasons, and had shown good and bad sides to his game. In any case, the Thunder front office seemed to believe in Jones, as they used their last team option to extend his contract through 2015-16.

Regular Season Grade: D

The Thunder had only 9 available bodies for their season opener against Portland. With Kevin Durant out, Jones' only competition for the starting small forward spot was Lance Thomas. As such, PJIII immediately found himself thrust into the role of a featured player. The mid-game injury of Russell Westbrook during the Thunder's second game at the Clippers made the situation even more dire. Westbrook was nearly the entirety of OKC's offense at that point. With Russ out, the Thunder literally had to turn to Jones as their featured offensive weapon for two straight games.

Here's the crazy part: PJ3 actually did well over this initial three game stretch. The first game against Portland saw Jones shoot 1 of 9, but Jones nonetheless remained the only Thunder player with a positive +/- rating in that game. Jones also scored 32 at the Clippers and 20 against the Nuggets. Even when Reggie Jackson returning for the Thunder's fourth game, PJIII still managed to put in a solid 12 points at Brooklyn.

Jones' luck soon ran short, sadly. Perry only got 17.5 minutes during the Thunder's 5th game, against the Raptors. It was the second lowest among active players. After that, Jones was put on the injury list with a "day to day" bruised right knee. It was the same knee Jones had surgery on over the Summer. PJIII would end up missing 12 straight games before making a cameo appearance at the Sixers on December 5th. By that point, the Thunder's injury problems had temporarily subsided. Furthermore, Lance Thomas had established himself in the rotation.

Eventually, Jones would get another shot at the rotation. On December 18th, Kevin Durant sprained his ankle on a routine drive to the basket. Jones stepped in to replace KD during the second half. For the next nine games, Scott Brooks would use Jones and Thomas at the small forward spot, with Jones starting 6 of the 9 games. Perry was a mixed bag during this period. Three separate double-digit games inspired confidence. However, low rebounding numbers, soft post defense, and a shaky three point shot all hampered Jones' effectiveness.

Unsurprisingly, Sam Presti made a move in early January that would send Jones back out of the rotation again. Lance Thomas was sent to New York, a draft pick was sent to Cleveland, and the Thunder managed to get Dion Waiters. Waiters had a bit more of a track record of success in the NBA than Jones did, and was a much better scorer off the dribble. As such, it only took one game of Dion's presence to kick Jones out of the rotation entirely.

But again, that was not Perry's last hurrah of significance. On January 26th, Kevin Durant went down with a big toe injury. Jones, the only available true small forward, was called to fill the starting position for two games while KD recovered. Jones went 2 of 6 against the Wolves and 0 of 5 against the Knicks. In both games, Jones was the 5th or 6th option on offense. KD would return on January 31st, and despite later injures, Brooks would never turn to Jones again.

The closest thing to significant minutes for Jones after January 28th was a 10 minute appearance against the Jazz on March 28th. Jones would also suffer from injury during this period. A small ankle injury kept Jones out from February 2nd through February 6th. If that weren't enough, a sprained left ankle on April 12th left PJIII out for the season. There were only a few days left of it at that point, but still.

Most Memorable Game: 32 Points in a valiant loss to the Clippers, Oct. 30

This is my favorite game from this season, and it's probably my second favorite Thunder game of all time. It's weird to put an early regular season loss as my favorite game, but I'd gladly watch this game 5 of 6 times over. The Thunder have always been a very successful franchise, and this game was one of the first times where OKC looked really vulnerable. Russell Westbrook was basically carrying the team on his own up to this point, and the Thunder were losing players left and right. When Russ went down in the first quarter with a freak hand injury, no one knew who would step up.

But somehow, some way, the Thunder remained competitive against a fully stocked Clipper team. OKC managed to sloe the pace down and make the game ugly as all heck. I was watching this game at a friend's house at the time, and he actually kicked me out of his house at the end of the third quarter. Despite the fact that this game was competitive, it was downright unwatchable to the casual basketball fan.

There are so many great stories to talk about in this game. The Thunder had two players in that game whom had actually been playing in China just a couple of months prior. However, both of those players had taken incredibly different paths to get there. Sebastian Telfair, once hyped enough out of high school to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated, was now in the twilight of his career. Lance Thomas, a four-year Duke graduate, was doing all he could to find the right situation for his hustle-oriented skillset. Both could have easily started the season out of the NBA, and here they were, leading one of the NBA's premier franchises.

But I felt excited for some of the Thunder's home-grown players, too. Kendrick Perkins, always a locker room leader, became even more of a floor general with Durant and Westbrook off the court. His tenacious defense was a huge reason the Thunder remained competitive early on. Andre Roberson got a chance to take more shots. Steven Adams had to find a way to work through his hand injuries. Serge Ibaka became the team's most talented player,for the first time in his career. Even Nick Collison had to step a bit outside of his comfort zone, attempting to re-establish his 12 foot jumper.

Most of all though, I felt thrilled for Perry Jones. This was the one chance Jones got to show everybody that he belonged in the NBA, and he certainly delivered. Sure, post-ups against Matt Barnes aren't that impressive. Sure, all of the threes are wide open. Sure, Jones made all of his two-point scores unnecessarily difficult. But I really don't care, because the Clippers simply had no answer. Plus, Jones replicated his success a couple nights later at home against the Nuggets.

The bottom line for me is that Jones managed to be offensively successful twice with a roster of nearly offenseless players. That's got to be worth something, even against the Clippers and Nuggets.

Future Expectations

As long as Jones can hit threes and post up small forwards on the block, he should be able to succeed. I certainly wouldn't mind seeing Jones take KD's backup minutes. However, playing Jones at power forward is a real danger. Perry is prone to mental mistakes on defense, and has never been a presence in the post.

Whether Jones will even be on the roster next season is up for debate. The Thunder will likely return all players, and have to find a way to make room for their new draft pick. Moreover, Jones is an expiring contract, which is very valuable on the trade market. Lastly, Presti's public vote of confidence for Kyle Singler can't bode well for Perry's future in OKC.

Even if Jones does make it on the team, I'd be surprised to see him on the active roster much next season. There's just no way that Billy Donovan, someone who loved four year college players, would give Jones a chance over Singler. Also, Jones' injuries have been a constant problem, and some think that may contribute to his limited skillset.

In any case, there's no reason not to root for Jones. With so much roster turnaround on the Thunder last season, Jones remains one of only 8 players that have been with OKC for over a year. And if Perry can somehow become a versatile offensive threat, he would only add to an already tantalizing Thunder attack.

What did you think about Perry Jones this season? Drop a comment and let us know!