Portland Trail Blazers: Kai Jones is an obtainable future star
The Blazers bench is extremely flawed, but their biggest positional need is a reliable backup big. Enes Kanter was a fine reserve in the regular season, but the postseason again exposed his weaknesses and Portland’s bench overall.
Kanter’s defense is atrocious and his lack of vertical spacing limits his offensive effectiveness in today’s game. With Jusuf Nurkic as their starter, ideally the Blazers would have a rim running, shot blocking, floor-spacing big ready to replace him off the pine.
Kai Jones could check off all those boxes. The University of Texas longhorn finished his sophomore season averaging 15.5 points, 12.2 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and 1.6 blocks per 40 minutes played. He racked up those numbers while slashing 58/38/69.
While he only attempted 34 triples his sophomore year, the touch he showed foreshadows his potential to be an effective stretch-five in the NBA.
Jones is a freak athlete at his position, standing 6’11 and weighing in at just under 220-lbs. Aside from his shooting touch, he mostly contributed on offense as a rim runner who threatened to bring down the stanchion with every slam.
This clip perfectly encompasses Jones’s upper-echelon athleticism. First, he gets a clean swat at the rim in a semi-transition opportunity for the opposing Texas Christian Horned Frogs. More impressively, he sends back the shot while keeping the ball in play, creating a fast break for the Longhorns. After the swat, he beats nearly every player down the floor and attacks the rim off the dump-off for an emphatic slam.
Despite his unreal potential, his greenness could potentially cause him to slide down the board as there are few teams in the league right now in a full-on rebuild. The three aforementioned experts gave him an average draft position of 18.
While he’s still raw, Jones would enter the league in the top 90th percentile in regards to athleticism at his position. His freakish speed and agility for his size would allow him to be one of the rangiest, most dangerous rim protectors in the league as he grows in the NBA. He would instantly provide elite vertical spacing that the Blazers have missed sans Hassan Whiteside. Once you factor in his potential 3-point range, Jones could be Portland’s center of the future.
If he slides into the late lottery, or perhaps even potentially out of it, the Blazers shouldn’t hesitate to grab him anyway they can.