OAKLAND -- Though the Damian Jones Experiment has had its highs and lows through the first 19 games this season, one facet of the game where the Warriors need him to be at least average remains an outright liability.
Jones simply is not rebounding at nearly the consistency or rate that is reasonably expected of a 7-footer with superior athleticism.
The latest example came Wednesday night in a 123-95 loss to Oklahoma City at Oracle Arena. In 21 minutes, 23 seconds, Jones failed to grab a rebound. Thunder big man Steven Adams took down 11 in 33 minutes.
“He beat me to it,” Jones said. “I’ve got to play with a little more energy in that regard. He got the best of me tonight. I’ve just got to get back at it.”
Most great, or even good, rebounders, have a deep desire for the ball. They enjoy going after it. So I asked Jones if he enjoyed rebounding.
“I do,” he said. “I pursue them on the offensive glass and stuff. But sometimes it just doesn’t go your way. But just having that mentality to keep attacking. Tonight, it just wasn’t there.”
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If only this were an infrequent problem. It’s not. Jones has played in all 19 games this season, with 17 starts. This is the seventh game in which he grabbed two or fewer rebounds.
“He’s a young player and every game is a learning experience,” coach Steve Kerr said after the game. “Tonight, he was going up against one of the very best centers in the game. We’ll stay positive with Damian. He’s going to get better.”
This is Jones’ first season in the NBA. Drafted in the first round in 2016, he spent the vast majority of his time his first two seasons with G-League Santa Cruz, with only 174 minutes of NBA time.
So, yes, this is a learning experience. Jones likely will get at least somewhat better. But it’s hard to be so certain, considering Jones has been so uneven.
Furthermore, rebounding is as much about anticipation as skill and desire. The Warriors have three young centers on the roster -- Jordan Bell, Kevon Looney and Jones. Looney is the least athletic but clearly is the best rebounder. Though playing only 25 seconds more than Jones on Saturday, Looney snagged nine.
“Loon is way ahead of (Jones) because he’s has had more years in the league, more experience and he’s also a naturally a better rebounder,” Kerr said before the game. “He’s got a nose for the ball.”
Jones does not, unless he’s chasing a block. His highlights this season have been acrobatic block and impressive dunks off lobs from teammates.
In an ideal world, the Warriors would create a center from the skills and gifts of Jones and Looney. Jones has the size, the athleticism and the speed. Looney has the ability to feel the game and anticipate what’s coming but lacks the size to be effective against true centers.
“That is something we’ve talked to Damian about,” Kerr said. “We’d like him to be more active on the glass. That means anticipating plays and being proactive, rather than reactive.”
Last Thursday in Houston, Jones had one rebound in the second half. The next game, in Dallas, was the first in which he did not start. His response, coming off the bench, was to grab a season-high seven rebounds.
But has been the exception, rather than the norm.
The coaching staff was hoping for more, his teammates would like to see more and Jones himself realizes this is one test he is not passing.
“I’ve just got to put myself in a better position,” he said. “Sometimes . . . that’s going seeking for it. Just having that mentality to go out and get it.”
I asked Jones what would do to rinse this game from his system.
“I’ll go home,” he said, “pop on a game and get ready for Portland.”
The Warriors want Jones to be ready for the Trail Blazers and every team after that. So far, that has not been the case. Which is why Looney plays as much as he does.