In 2018, Damian Jones started at center for the Golden State Warriors in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals against the Portland Trail Blazers. The 24-year-old’s future in Golden State appeared promising at that point, even after he missed most of the regular season with a torn pectoral and had struggled with injuries and competition level in his first two years in the NBA.
Since appearing against Portland that night — which resulted in his being benched by coach Steve Kerr less than three minutes into the game with three fouls — Jones has undergone a career upheaval similar to what many young athletes on the edge of major league relevance experience.
In July, Jones – the No. 30 overall selection of the 2016 NBA draft out of Vanderbilt – was traded along with a 2026 second-round pick to the Hawks for fellow No. 30 pick Omari Spellman, who has rebuilt his image in his first year with the Warriors, averaging eight points and six rebounds on 42 percent shooting.
Since returning to the Southeast, the former Commodore has continued to flash potential, but questions remain surrounding his ability to translate raw athleticism into consistent on-court production.
Monday night’s 104-79 blowout victory against the Warriors — a game which saw Jones score a career-high 16 points punctuated by three thunderous fourth-quarter dunks — provided fans in Atlanta with an encouraging glimpse of the 6-foot-11 big man’s tantalizing skill set and ability to fill a much-needed rim-protecting role in Atlanta.
After the game, Peachtree Hoops caught up with Jones, who reflected on his past year, detailing the moment he learned he was traded to his arrival and growth with the Hawks.
Note: This transcript has been loosely edited for clarity
What was your initial reaction when you learned you were traded to the Hawks?
It was different. I was in Nashville at the time, and when I heard the news I was like ‘Dang, a new transition’s about to happen.’ I was just preparing my mind to go into a new city, different conference, meeting a different team.
I imagine it’s difficult to be traded by the team that drafted you. How did you reconcile one team’s willingness to let you go with another team’s excitement to bring you on board?
At the end of the day, it’s a business. Things happen. A lot of the guys from the team have been moved around. It’s just a part of it. I’m embracing my new team and just trying to come in, work hard and do things I need to do.
What was the first “Atlanta” thing you did when you moved to the city?
I didn’t really do much to be honest. I went to Lenox, I guess that’s the thing to do. …I had to get my laptop fixed at the Apple Store. It needed a new battery.
What has your comfort level been in your short time playing with the Hawks this season?
It’s been an adjustment. Different terminology, different play styles. Just trying to get used to the team. It’s been good getting more reps in, trying to gain more chemistry with my teammates.
How have you handled the extra workload you’ve experienced this season compared to past seasons with the Warriors?
I think it was like 20 games in at Golden State I got hurt, so yeah, it’s been some more minutes here. It’s been good. Keeping my conditioning up, everything’s been pretty solid.
What specifically has the Hawks’ coaching staff tried to instill in you this season? What areas of your game are you working on most to improve?
Shooting is [a] thing I continue to work on. You’ve seen guys like Dewayne Dedmon. …Alex Len continuing to improve his shot coming here. I’ve just been doing those things and also focusing on rolling hard and getting behind the defense.
The Hawks aren’t exactly title contenders at the moment, meaning you can grow alongside other young players without the pressure of anchoring a championship defense. How helpful is it to be in a place where the expectations aren’t as lofty as they were in Golden State?
At the end of the day, you still want to get better regardless of where you’re at. Yeah, the spotlight isn’t on you as much, but you still want to go out there and perform to the best of your ability.
What’s it like to go from being in a more experienced locker room in Golden State to playing with a younger group in Atlanta?
It’s crazy, you know I played against John in college but being around guys close to my age is like being back in college. I gained a lot of knowledge playing over at Golden State and at the time being it was good.
What are your personal goals for the rest of the 2019 season?
Just to continue improving. My past three years it’s been up and down dealing with injuries and things like that but I feel like it’s been going steady so far. God willing, just continue improving this year.