The 2019-20 NBA season isn’t “over” but, with the coronavirus pandemic placing the season in a suspended mode, there is a distinct chance that the Atlanta Hawks won’t be playing again this season. With that as the backdrop, the Peachtree Hoops crew will look back at the players still on the roster and how they performed in the team’s first 67 games.
The second edition focuses on soon-to-be free agent big man Damian Jones.
After three seasons with the Golden State Warriors, Damian Jones landed with the Atlanta Hawks — in a swap for Omari Spellman — prior to the 2019-20 campaign. Before he arrived, Jones had appeared in only 61 NBA games, with 49 regular season appearances and 12 playoff showings, and the former first-round pick saw fewer than 700 total minutes of court time with the team that drafted him. While Jones saw a significant uptick in deployment during his first season with the Hawks, his performance saw peaks and valleys, with a significant evaporation of playing time after Atlanta acquired Dewayne Dedmon in February.
Offensively, Jones provided real value at times for the Hawks. The 24-year-old ranks near the top of the NBA in terms of finishing efficiency, posting a 68.5 percent effective field goal percentage and a 71.2 percent true shooting. It should be noted that Jones effectively only shoots in the restricted area, providing a bit of a rationale for how he is able to maintain ludicrous efficiency, but the 6’11 big man is legitimately impact as a pick-and-roll dive threat.
Coupled with Trae Young’s genius-level passing, there were moments of brilliance for Jones as a lob catcher. In fact, he would be a part of a short list of big men that can help to bend the defense when unaccounted for, and Jones’ best NBA skill, by a wide margin, is his ability to put pressure on the rim.
Trae draws in the defense and Damian Jones goes skyward to finish. pic.twitter.com/xMM7hBscKp— FOX Sports: Hawks (@HawksOnFSSE) January 31, 2020
The rest of his game, however, wasn’t as positive. Offensively, he compiled almost as many turnovers (28) as assists (35), and while he grabbed a reasonable amount of offensive rebounds (8.9 percent), Jones didn’t provide much value outside of the restricted area as a finisher.
Defensively, it was more than a little bit of an adventure for Jones. While on-off splits can have some noise involved, the Hawks were at their worst with Jones on the court, allowing 117.3 points per 100 possessions. That led to the worst net rating (-12.6) of any player on the Hawks roster with more than 600 minutes played, even with his reasonable contributions on the offensive side.
Jones wasn’t always put in the best position to succeed defensively, especially when paired with Young in pick-and-roll resistance. In addition, he posted reasonable numbers in rim protection — including a solid 3.8 percent block rate — when he was positioned correctly. Still, it would be (very) hard to argue that the fourth-year center wasn’t a substantial negative in terms of defensive awareness and execution. In addition, the Hawks struggled mightily on the defensive glass during his time on the floor, garnering only 69.4 percent of the available rebounds.
From a future-facing standpoint, Jones will see his contract expire at the conclusion of the 2019-20 season. At that point, the Hawks will have the option to present him with a qualifying offer for $3,457,586 and, if Atlanta does that, Jones would be a restricted free agent, allowing the Hawks to match any offer. With that said, it would be relatively surprising if the Hawks were to present the qualifying offer for that amount and, if anything, Jones’ path to an Atlanta return would seemingly be for the league minimum salary.
It remains to be seen as to where Jones’ career path will take him, and it should be noted that there is a plausible scenario in which he isn’t in the NBA at all next season. Still, he is a former first-round pick — and first-rounders often second and third chances — that managed to stay largely healthy this season, and Jones has a firmly marketable skill in his rim-running. In order to make a larger positive impact, he will need to address his defensive weaknesses, though, and with the Hawks projected to employ Dedmon, Bruno Fernando, Clint Capela and John Collins in 2020-21, it would be at least a mild surprise if he was back for another run.