Around this time every year, there’s usually a group of around five to eight prospects that most draft insiders classify as the elite players of that year’s class. An example of that was last year with the likes of Ben Simmons, Jaylen Brown, Brandon Ingram and Jamal Murray. That quintet stood as elite prospects from the time they graduated from high school until the day of the NBA Draft.
Alongside those can’t-miss prospects, there are always yearly cases of under-the-radar freshmen slipping through cracks. These players are usually lower-ranked (#20-35 on most high school rankings) McDonald’s All-Americans that sign on with a college team that gives them an opportunity to start once they land in the university.
Probably the biggest example of that was in 2014 with Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell. Prior to entering the school, Russell was seen as a solid high school prospect ranked 30th by 247sports and 18th from Rivals. With a solid 6’4 frame, Russell stood as an explosive athlete and creative facilitator. On the other hand, he was continually critiqued due to worries about Russell’s perimeter shooting and ability to work in the half-court.
Obviously, Russell was quickly able to dispel those concerns once he started to play for Ohio State. From the jump, Russell broke even the loftiest expectations by arguably becoming the best guard in college basketball. Russell was able to accomplish that by combining that explosiveness and facilitating ability with being a solid perimeter shooter. During that lone season with Ohio State, Russell averaged 19.2 points, 5 assists and 1.5 steals per game on 45% from the field and 41% from beyond the arc. That performance ultimately pushed the Lakers to picking him with the 4th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.
A prospect that could look to follow in the footsteps of Russell might be Texas freshman Andrew Jones. Similar to Russell, Jones immediately separates himself from the bunch by being a bigger point guard. Standing 6’5 and 190 pounds, Jones possess the ideal frame that nearly every NBA team is looking for in their modern-day point guard.
That frame has helped Jones develop into one of the more versatile offensive guards in this phenomenal freshman class. First off, that 6’4 frame helps him out as a facilitator, as he’s able to easily over the court whether he’s driving to the paint or working on the perimeter. In either method, Jones exhibits this great sense of tranquility, as he’s consistently able to calmly work the ball to a teammate. A prime example of his ability as a facilitator is evident in the play below, as he makes a smooth cross-court dish to a perimeter teammate.
Coinciding with that work as a facilitator, Jones has established himself as a pretty solid on-ball cutter. Leading off with a quick first step, Jones is regularly able to work around that initial perimeter defender. After that initial moment is where Jones really starts to shine as he’s able to utilize spin moves, hesitation dribbles or just change speeds to move past anybody that may be in his way. In the play below, Jones works around the off-ball screen and immediately utilizes a spin move to give him an easier look at the rim.
While being solid as both an on-ball cutter and facilitator, Jones’ best skill may be as a perimeter shooter. In this area, Jones just exudes confidence, as he believes that the shot will land even before it leaves his finger tips. That confidence is evident through Jones having plenty of range on a jumper that he can utilize whether he’s working off-the-dribble or through catch-and-shoot opportunities. Jones is effective in either method, as he has a solid shooting stroke that’s quick and has a high release point.
Despite being extremely impressive as a versatile offensive threat, Jones’ best trait might be his as a defensive pest. On any possession where he’s going against a ball-handler, Jones works his ass off to try to force a turnover. That aggression is evident whether he’s working the passing lanes or against an opposing ball-handler. Jones’ prowess as a defensive pest is seen in the play below, as he’s able to intercept the pass and drive for a nice transition layup.
Although it might be a little far-fetched to compare Jones to D’Angelo Russell as all-around players, there’s a huge chance that the young guard can still shine during his freshman year. As the likely starting point guard for the Texas Longhorns, Jones will have the immediate opportunity to go against some of the elite guards in the Big 12, whether it would be Monte Morris or Devonte Graham. If he can utilize his versatile game at the Big 12 level and have success against that elite competition, then sky’s might be the limit for Andrew Jones.