One by one, towering figures ambled down the dimly lit hall of the Thomas and Mack Center.
The Warriors Summer League team weren’t dejected, but also weren’t all smiles after another loss to open their Vegas trip.
Well, one of them was smiling.
Damian Jones never stops smiling, in the locker room, on the court, on the bench. His bright smile shines because he’s enjoying every second of it.
Summer League head coach Chris DeMarco says that he’s a totally different person once the ball is tipped:
“I think that’s just how he is off the court, but I don’t think anyone would ever call him soft on the court. He plays physical and he’s really competitive, he walks around and has that great smile but he plays hard.”
When you fall in last year’s draft because of a torn pec muscle that needed to be surgically repaired, only to win an NBA title in your rookie season, you can smile all you want.
All that experience was a difference maker for Jones:
“I feel a lot better, everything comes a lot more natural now. I feel a lot better than when I first started. I’m much more confident in my jumper. I’ve been practicing a lot, Ron Adams been practicing it with me like everyday.”
Jones spent last Summer League on the sidelines with his arm in a sling thanks to his injury, but he was there watching every practice and game. That’s how he spent the beginning of the regular season too, no longer injured, but watching every game from the sidelines.
It was a hard time for Jones:
“They first got that experience, and I didn’t get to start playing until like late November December, so I was kind of behind on time. It sucked, but it’s part of the process.”
He didn’t see any game action until the 24th game of the season when he got nine minutes of garbage time at the end of blow out loss to Memphis.
The smile never left his face, though.
After nine different assignments and recalls from the then D-League, Jones broke through on the court, being named the D-League Player of the Month after averaging 17.6 points on 68 percent shooting and 7.8 rebounds over 12 games during March and April.
Jones has carried that momentum into the summer where he’s looked like a bonafide NBA rotation piece. His per game stats of 7.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.6 blocks aren’t flashy, but what they don’t show is how comfortable he is on the court, and how impactful his defense has been.
If you take out the last two games when he’s played a sparing 26 minutes combined, his block averages ramp up to 2.6 a game, and then you start to get an idea of his potential rim protection. You can count on at least one highlight block when he’s playing minutes and he’s showed off a bunch of them in Vegas.
That combined with his elite athleticism and expanding jump shot have the Warriors anxious to give him meaningful minutes next year.
It’s one of the reasons they have yet to re-sign JaVale McGee as Jones fills almost exactly the same role. The Warriors would love to have McGee back, but only at the minimum salary, and aside from the tax payments, one of the reasons they are comfortable with that is the way Jones has played.
Count DeMarco as someone who Jones has made quite an impression on: “He just plays with so much energy, but really just the confidence. I love seeing him catch it and have the space and take the shot. He’s making really good reads out there and timing on defense and he’s really impressive.”
And it’s not just him: Listen to the crowd ‘ooh’ at every shot the 7-footer swats out of bounds.
All with a smile on his face.