Some of that venom stemmed from the fact that Kevin Jones is everything that Mountaineer fans appreciate. He's talented, sure, but he's also hard-working. He never took anything for granted during his four years at West Virginia. He got everything he could out of his talent, and he always had a smile and a kind word for those supporting him. Those qualities (not to mention a senior season double-double and numerous clutch plays) cemented his place in Mountaineer lore.
However, those messages of disbelief and support didn't answer the basic question – why did the NBA bypass on a very productive player who does everything right? The answer can't be summed up in just a few sentences – multiple factors combined to keep Jones in the stands at the Prudential Center throughout Thursday night's event.
Understand, before we get started, that I'm not leveling the following list as criticism of Jones. He's in the top five of players ever to play the game at West Virginia, and combined his talent with a knowledge of the game that he worked hard to develop. The phrase "he knows how to play" might well have been invented to describe him. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to carry much weight in today's NBA. It's why you get guys like Russell Westbrook committing an intentional foul in the closing seconds of a playoff game because he didn't know the rules or understand the situation, or Scottie Pippen refusing to go back into a game in the last few seconds because the play wasn't designed for him. Great talents? Yes. Great students of the game that know how to play, or always do the right thing? Not so much.
With that in mind, here is the NBA's logic:
Lack of Athleticism: Jones doesn't jump out at observers watching him play. His vertical jump is average at best, and he's not lightning fast, or quick. NBA scouts, general managers and front office personnel will, almost always, take a guy with freakish athletic skills over one that is a proven performer, in the hopes that they'll 'learn how to play' later. Or, they'll take a guy they believe fills a rather dubious role. I had to laugh when the selection of Duke's Miles Plumlee was justified because he'll grab rebounds, bang into opponents and score on a couple of stickbacks. Ummm, aren't those KJ's strengths, only magnified about ten times?
Shooting Ability: Once he measured in at less than six feet, seven inches, Jones' mid-range and outside shooting ability came into question. Those of us that watched him for four years know that he can hit the jumper at the elbow, and that he's worked on his three-point shooting. However, his percentages didn't improve over the course of his career. After hitting 40.4% of his threes as a sophomore, his success rate dropped to 30.1% and 26.6% his final two years. Of course, that may have also had something to do with the talent he had around him, especially during his senior campaign, when it was basically him vs. the world. However, in today's quick analysis society, those percentages had a negative impact.
Mixed Workout Results: Jones had up and down performances during some of his workouts, including the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. These closed door sessions can be difficult to piece together, but by all accounts he wasn't the top performer. Unfortunately, workouts often carry way more weight than actual games, just as they do in the NFL. Playing three-on-three, as is often the case in NBA workouts, is different from playing five-on-five, just as seven-on-seven in summer football is very different from the real thing in the fall. For those looking for another reason to downgrade Jones, though, this was certainly another piece of the puzzle. Call it the 40-yard dash factor. If Jones had exactly the same numbers but was 6-9, he would have been drafted.
Match-up Potential: Hopefully, evaluators understood how much Jones could help them on the boards, and with some offense off rebounds. But they also likely saw problems on the defensive end. Was Jones big enough to play post defense against burly forwards? Was he quick enough to guard those that range outside on the perimeter or put the ball on the floor? Certainly he was able to do it in college, but the NBA is another level. Jones was a tweener, perhaps not so much in size, but in terms of who he could guard.
The European Factor: I don't pretend to know all the ins and outs of the ways in which the NBA signs foreign players and then lets them continue to play overseas to develop, but it's clear that was in play in the second round. Pick after pick drew statements starting with "needs to improve" followed by speculation about potential, but very few we viewed as coming to the NBA next year and helping a team. Once that run started, though, it couldn't be stopped.
I'm sure as you have read along that you've formulated rebuttals to these points. I have too, and I'm likely in agreement with much of what you are thinking. Plenty of NBA players have been specialists, and when the specialty is rebounding the ball, it figures there would be a place for Jones on a team that has trouble cleaning the glass. As for the potential angle, Jones could help right now, while many of the second-rounders selected won't see an NBA court for a couple of years, if ever. Instead, teams will be watching players from across the ocean and hoping they develop.
So, where does this leave Jones now? The NBA summer league will be very important for him. He needs to shine and outplay the vast majority of participants, because there are only going to be a few spots available that will be earned by free agents. It might be that the D-League becomes his destination, as he strives to prove his ability to play in the top league. It's going to be a tough battle, but there's also no doubt that he'll approach it with the same verve and gusto that he did everything else during his West Virginia career.
After the social media hubbub died down, Jones took to Twitter to share his thoughts. While being passed over had to be a great disappointment, he didn't rail about his fate or rip some of the undeserving players who were picked ahead of him. Instead, he posted these thoughts:
"Thanx everybody for your wishes today, I can't get back to everybody, but just know I appreciate the well wishes. Thanks to all my mountaineernation family, I appreciate all of your support for the last four years and even through this hard time. But this is just a setback, I will work even harder and use this as extra motivation, so again thank you guys."
Maybe all those NBA heads might take a look at that and finally understand that this is a guy you can win with.