Over the last two weeks since Domantas Sabonis went down with his knee injury, Damian Jones has played well enough to have earned himself a spot in a rotation next season, whether or not that’s in Sacramento.
With so much upside athletically and such a diverse skillset, Jones has been able to tie it all together despite inconsistent minutes and opportunities, not only this year with the Kings, but throughout his career.
Jones was drafted 30th overall by the Golden State Warriors in 2016. He won two championship rings to begin his career, though he only played a total of 25 games in those seasons.
The Vanderbilt product played more in his third year, starting 22 of the 24 games to start the season before tearing his pectoral muscle at the beginning of December. In this short time, Jones averaged 5.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and 1.0 block in 17.1 minutes per game.
As a result of the injury, Kevon Looney took over starting duties before DeMarcus Cousins was activated about six weeks later. He returned to action in the playoffs, but with Cousins, Looney, and Andrew Bogut (when Cousins again got hurt), Jones saw little time.
Following the Finals loss to the Toronto Raptors, Golden State dealt the center to Atlanta in the offseason. Jones started 27 of the 55 games (in a shortened season) for a Hawks team that also had Dewayne Dedmon, Alex Len, and a rookie Bruno Fernando. Amid the mix of centers, Jones averaged 5.6 points and 3.7 boards in 16.1 minutes played per game.
At the end of the year, Jones’ rookie contract was up, and in free agency he inked a two-year deal with Phoenix. With Deandre Ayton, Dario Šarić, and Frank Kaminsky, Jones saw little time with the Suns before he was waived in February.
He then signed a couple of ten-day contracts with the Lakers when Marc Gasol went down for a couple weeks at the end of February. There he started 6 of 8 games, averaging 5.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 0.9 blocks in 14.0 minutes per game.
Jones wasn’t brought onto the Los Angeles squad for a third 10-day as Gasol rejoined Montrezl Harrell in the rotation. In fact, shortly after Jones’ departure, the Lakers acquired Andre Drummond.
The Kings then offered Jones a pair of ten-day contracts before signing him for both the remainder of the season and the following year. In his time at the end of the 2020-21 season, Jones began getting minutes over Hassan Whiteside as the primary backup to Richaun Holmes, playing 17 games and averaging 6.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.0 block in 20.1 minutes played per game.
This current season, despite being with Sacramento the whole time, has been a little more of the same: inconsistent minutes, inconsistent opportunities, but also—and probably more than anything—making the most of whatever time he is afforded.
All that had to happen for him was for an opportunity to arise, and it did with the injury to Sabonis and Richaun Holmes’ off-the-court ordeal.
In the last five games, Damian Jones has not just been filling in as the starting center with Sabonis and Holmes out, he’s assuming starting duties on a team playing with purpose right now. Most of all, Jones is playing well.
In these last five, he’s averaging 16.6 points on 75% shooting, 8.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 2.2 blocks in 29.1 minutes per game.
Even as it has come against some pretty weak teams, this Kings team has won four of their last five with Jones starting at center. While Jones is not the lone reason for the success, he’s been an integral contributor. In these five games, he’s actually got his +/- at 1.0, including posting a +14 in Orlando as well as a +9 and a +18 respectively in the two games in Houston, thus showing how valuable he’s been when out on the floor.
The reason he can be such a significant contributor is because he does a lot of different things on both ends of the floor.
Offensively, Jones’ best characteristic is knowing his role. He is not overly aggressive, nor is he at all timid, which is a balance that facilitates a pretty high basketball IQ that allows him to be in the right place at the right time.
If he is given the opportunity to score, Jones can convert in a few ways. For one, he’s very effective around the rim, able to put in good work when the ball is dumped off to him near the basket. He’s also got an effective shot from mid-range, whether facing up, or turning around to shoot. Maybe best of all, Jones is relentless on the offensive boards, accumulating a lot of points off rebounds, tip–ins, and put back dunks.
Defensively, Damian Jones uses his athleticism and mobility to get in front of defenders and block shots. He’s not considered an imposing rim-protector or anything, but he sure records a lot of blocks, 4 and 6 respectively in the matchups with the Rockets.
He’s also quick enough to get in front of and defend a lot of players, even on the perimeter. Beyond just his own athleticism, this could be attributed to announcer Mark Jones’ retelling of tales about Damian Jones guarding Klay Thompson in Warriors practices and doing so fairly well for a 6-foot-11 center.
Alvin Gentry’s called him a “competitor,” and he’s been an active participant in this Kings team that is committed to competing from the opening tip to the final whistle even as they’re playing without Fox and Sabonis, and without much chance of making the play-in.
Add to it the energy he can provide as well as his high character and Jones has a pretty versatile resumé that must be alluring to any NBA team.
Being an unrestricted free agent this upcoming offseason, this opportunity could not have come at a better time for the big man.
It’s pretty clear that Damian Jones has given the Kings a lot to consider because he has undeniable value. Even if it’s not in Sacramento next season, Jones has put himself in a great position to be an excellent piece in an NBA rotation.