The Washington Wizards are picking in the middle of the first round of the 2021 NBA Draft. Whether they trade up, down or stay firm at No. 15, here is the latest in our series on draft prospects whom the Wizards could consider selecting.
2021 NBA Draft Prospect Preview: Kai Jones
2020/21 stats: 26 G, 8.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 0.5 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.9 bpg, 58.0 FG% (3.2/5.5), 38.2 3PT% (0.5/1.3), 68.9 FT%
Player comparison: Christian Wood, Jaren Jackson Jr.
Projections: NBC Sports Washington 10th, Ringer 16th, NBADraft.net 12th, Bleacher Report 16th
5 things to know:
- In today's NBA, every team is looking for a big that can space the floor. There needs to be an ability to score from the perimeter in some fashion, even if posting up is the predominant element of their game. Well for Jones, shooting and scoring in the open floor is his strength.
There aren't many traditional post-ups in his game. Some work will need to be done on his shooting mechanics, but he's in the top tier of athletes in this class and a lethal lob threat in transition.
- There are few players, especially bigs, that can legitimately guard all five positions on the floor. Enter Kai Jones here. One of his best skills is the denial of penetration into the lane. Whether it's holding his ground with a forward or using lateral movement to deny a guard, he's more than capable of keeping players away from the basket. He's no lock-down defender, but opponents that run a pick-heavy offense will despise seeing him.
- It's rare to see a lottery prospect regulated to the bench in the year before he declares. Jones was not a starter at Texas and played behind another potential first-round pick Greg Brown. So for all of his statistics, realize those are his marks in a limited capacity. His per-40 averages are 15.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. Even in his bench role, the forward was named the Big 12's sixth man of the year. And drafting a bench prospect in the lottery is not an anomaly. Drafting Patrick Williams from Florida State worked out pretty well for Chicago.
- Jones' progression into a top-10 pick is just another product of the NBA's successful Basketball without Borders program. There are several attendees of the international camp -- that is intended to grow the reach of the league -- who have gone on to the NBA. Alumni include Joel Embiid, Kelly Olynyk, Nicolas Batum and Marc Gasol.
- Looking at Jones, it's evident that he possesses an unpolished game. His aforementioned shooting motion works for him, but is costly at the free-throw line and will likely be refined. A lack of playing in the post, of which he could be dominant, is strange. The positive here? He's just beginning to reach his full potential.
Fit with Wizards:
The Wizards' center position featured a rotating carousel of big men last season. There was a constant flux of three players for that spot, ending with Robin Lopez, Daniel Gafford and Alex Len splitting time. The assumption was that when the injured Thomas Bryant (ACL) came back for 2021-22, he would assume the starting position.
Even though center is historically a hole on the roster and the team's interior presence on defense remained a problem with Bryant in the lineup, the 23-year-old Bryant showed enough progression to earn a multi-year deal to hold the position. Daniel Gafford, a trade deadline acquisition from Chicago, also showed promise.
What benefits the Wizards if Jones is available at No. 15 is that Jones is the prototype for what they need at that position. Both Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook cannot afford to have the paint clogged with a big man. Jones must be respected from the perimeter when rotating out and spreading the offense. Driving lanes will then be available for the downhill attackers.
How much the Wizards' offense changes without Scott Brooks at the helm remains to be seen. Regardless, it should be expected that the core of the team lends itself to a spread-it-out system.
Additionally, there's the boost he would provide to the Wizards' defense. Not only will Jones be a rim-protector but a viable option to cover multiple positions. The whole defense will get better with the 6-foot-11 forward on the floor.