Kai Jones is a very mobile, and athletic big, who is, agewise, between a true freshman and sophomore. That is why when comparing him to past prospects I looked into both of these qualitfications. Jones is all over the place and is quite polarizing as a prospect. Some see in him a two way star in the future, some fail to grasp even a single translatable skill on the next level. His sophomore season at Texas, where he started less than 10 games, he posted a OBPM of 4 and a DBPM of 3.5. Here are sophomores/freshmen, drafted in the first round who posted similar numbers:
Greg Monroe was a solid starting center in the league, with limited defensive impact. Thompson and Favors were good starters on playoff teams in their primes. Azubuike is still a blank slate, but he barely got any minutes for Utah last year and JaJuan Johnson played a total of 300 minutes in his one year in the NBA. When compares Kai to the rest of them, what really jumps out is that he is by far the worst rebounder of the group, while being the most athletic player, as well as the worst shot blocker and creator. His closest parallel is indeed JaJuan Johnson, but even Johnson had a higher block rate, lower TO rate with an almost 10% higher usage rate. The only thing that really separates Kai in a positive way is the number of 3pts attempted.
Kai posted a DBPM of 3.5, a defensive rebound rate of 14.4, steal rate of 2.1 and block rate of 5.3. Texas was all over the place with their big rotation this year, but those rebounding numbers are really concerning. Both Sims and Greg Brown, his Texas teammates, posted 10% better defensive rebound rates, and were better at blocking shots. Here are similar first round draft picks of the past who posted similar numbers:
Bleak. Payne and Mullens were busts, Zeller is a fine starter/rotation big in the league and Portis is an good backup 4 who can defend if he is really locked in, as we have see in this year’s finals on a couple of possessions. Even among this group of players, Kai is the worst defensive rebounder, and the only player who has a worse block percentage than him is Zeller. Their steal rates are quite similar. So we are left between a more mobile Payne, or Zeller, with less rebounding, not that encouraging.
Will the he be able to space the Floor?
Kai improved a shooter this year, and a lot of people are penciling him in, to become a good floor spacer in the league. But the stats are not that encouraging. He posted FT% of 69, FTR of 52, 3pt% of 38, which is really nice, but he only took 3 threes per 100 possessions and his usage was a low 18%. Freshmen/sophomores who posted similar numbers:
Again, a lot of reasons to be pessimistic. The best shooter of the bunch is Vonleh, who got to a career 3pt% of 30.2. Payne shot around 25% from 3 in his short NBA career, and Looney is 17% from 3 in his career. It is very unlikely that Jones will ever get to 35%.
Creation for Others
Kai posted a very bad 5% assist percentage, his usage was 18% and his assist to turnover rate is a very poor 0.45. Prospects with similar numbers:
Among that group of players, he and Arnett Moultrie are the worst passing prospects. Moultrie, in his two years in the league, peaked with 0.7 assists per 36 minutes. Willie Thrill actually was fine as a passer for a while in Sacramento and got to 2.4 assist per game. Adams had a similar progression, and is hovering around 2 assists per game his last two seasons. Ed Davis hovers around an assist per 36. The less said about Fab Melo the better. There is slim chance that Kai is anything but a guy who gets you 1 or maybe 2 assists per game at the next level.
This catergory is where Kai Jones shines, and what gives most optimism about his impact on the next level. He posted a usage rate of 18, 2pt percentage of 64, free throw rate of 52, and OReb rate of 10. Here are similar prospects:
All these are pretty similar prospects, and Davis, Stein and Jones are a lot closer from an athleticism perspective than Smith. Smith had a very bad year with the Suns, only played 27 games, but his PPG per 36 was an ok 12. Stein peaked at 13 points per game in his Sacramento days, and Davis is a career 20 ppg plus scorer. It would be too optimistic to assume Kai could reach Davis on the offensive end, but he could get close. There is potential for Kai to get to 15 or more PPG in the NBA.
All in all, I’m more pro taking Kai Jones at the end of the first round or early second round. Two biggest factors are the very prospects of shooting on the next level, which if history is our teacher, are very bleak, and his limited passing, creation skill. If you are not a star in the league, (and there is very little chance Kai Jones becomes that, even with his physical gifts,) you need to be able to spread the floor or be a very good creator.
The defensive comparisons are also worrying. He could be a more mobile Zeller, with less rebounding and shot blocking, which is a fine player on defense, but is he on the floor in the playoffs if he gets outrebounded by most wings or stretch fours?
He could very well be someone who scores 15 or more points per game, but scoring bigs, with limited creation and floor spacing, who aren’t awesome defensive players just don’t cut it in the league anymore. Just look at Greg Monroe and he was a lot more talented a passer (4 times the assist rate at the same age) than Kai . But he could also be JaJuan Johnson and out of the league before his second contract.