For any SEC team that doesn’t play at Rupp Arena, it can be extremely difficult to receive the attention or acclaim that you’d get if you were in another conference. A prime example of that is seen with the Texas A&M Aggies, a team that has made numerous strides since head coach Billy Kennedy took over during the 2011-12 season.
Since Kennedy’s hiring, the Aggies have continuously improved on a year-by-year basis from going 14-18 during Kennedy’s initial season towards maintaining a 28-9 record in 2015-16. That success in the prior season push the Aggies to be the SEC regular season champs, their first regular season title since the 1985-86 season.
Following that regular season success, the Aggies maintained their solid play as they transitioned into the NCAA Tournament. As the 3rd seed in the West division, the Aggies trudged their way through competition before getting mollywhopped by Buddy Hield and the Oklahoma Sooners in a Sweet Sixteen matchup.
Although much of that success was due to Kennedy’s hard-nosed defensive philosophy, the play of 6’8 forward Jalen Jones also helped push the Texas A&M to their first regular season title in thirty years. Jones’ play was evident by the senior averaging 15.3 points, 7.1 rebounds (1.9 offensive rebounds) per game on 43% from the field and 32% from beyond the arc in only 27 minutes per game. Those terrific numbers pushed Jones to be named First-Team All-SEC.
Despite pushing the Aggies to the NCAA Tournament, Jones was unfortunately not selected in the 2016 NBA Draft. Unlike most undrafted prospects that at least have an idea of what their Summer League and Training camp would look like, Jones was left in basketball purgatory until September when he was picked up by the Boston Celtics for training camp.
However, due to the Celtics already beefed-up forward rotation, Jones was unfortunately unable to make any inroads during training camp. After two preseason games, where he only played three minutes, the Celtics waived Jones on October 20th. Fortunately, Jones was able to join Damion Lee and Marcus Georges-Hunt as the Celtics affiliate players that joined the Maine Red Claws.
From the jump, Jones has clawed his way towards arguably being the best forward in the D-League. In the NBADL’s most recent Prospect Watch, Jones is ranked as the 9th best prospect in the entire D-League, while also being recognized as the top forward in the entire league. That significant praise is due to Jones impressing the entire D-League by averaging 21.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game on 47% from the field and 33% from beyond the arc. His impressive D-League play only intensifies when you add in Jones maintaining an impressive 59% True Shooting Percentage.
Jones has been able to maintain his excellent offensive performance by being very versatile on that end of the floor. During his short D-League career, Jones has showed himself to be viable in a multitude of different ways that include: perimeter and mid-range shooting, on-ball cuts, post-ups and on the offensive glass.
Although he’s solid in all those different angles, Jones does his finest work as an on-ball cutter. For a 6’8 forward, Jones is a pretty fantastic ball-handler as he maintains a quick first step and can either drive with the rock in his left and right hand. Those skills have allowed Jones to be nearly an unstoppable force as he’s quicker than most forwards while being both bigger and stronger than most guards in the NBADL.
Following that initial breakdown is where Jones actually really shines as he’s very smooth with the critical process of moving from the top of the key to the rim. During that journey, Jones shines due to his ability to change speeds and directions on a dime to fool any defenders. Even if he isn’t able to move around the opposition, Jones can still be effective from around the rim due to his fantastic flexibility. Jones’ flexibility is directly evident in the play below, where he makes a smooth drive against the Long Island Nets.
While not being as pretty as his drives towards the rim, another way that Jones can score from around the rim is through his work on the low-post. At this point, Jones is best suited primarily on the left block where he displays pretty solid potential. Although he’s still raw in this aspect, there’s definitely upside with Jones’ low-post work, especially in the below play where Jones displays a tight Dream Shake.
Transitioning from the paint to the perimeter, Jones has continuously showcased flashes of being a solid perimeter shooter. From the jump, Jones has been very comfortable of shooting the ball from well beyond the three-point line. Whether it’s through catch-and-shoots or working off-the-dribble, Jones shows absolutely no fear with airing it out from beyond the arc. That confidence is understandable as Jones is in a possession of a solid shooting stroke that’s quick and has a high release point.
Despite those clear strengths, there’s still some work that needs to be done for Jones to truly being an efficient perimeter shooter. As of the time of this piece, Jones is shooting 33% from beyond the arc, which is relatively below-average among NBA or D-League circles. Realistically, Jones would have to push that 3-point percentage up four to five percentage points before he be considered as a dangerous perimeter threat.
Jones’ need to progress as a perimeter threat might actually be a fair assessment of where he currently stands as an NBA prospect. Although he shows positive signs in a variety of different ways, he really hasn’t put them together to become an all-around offensive threat. If Jones can solidify that perimeter jumper while becoming a more well-rounded post-up threat, then every NBA team should be hopping into his DMs. Until then, Jalen Jones will stand as one of the most entertaining players that the NBA D-League has to offer.