First-round draft pick Perry Jones III doesn’t feel any pressure to prove he’s one of the missing links to turn the Oklahoma City Thunder into NBA champions.
His first goal is just to keep up with the standards set by the cornerstones of the franchise that he considered the most fun to watch in the league.
“The hardest part is playing to the level of intensity that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook set. They set the standard for working hard here and definitely living up to that standard, you’ve got to be able to bring it every day,” Jones said Saturday at his introductory news conference.
“Just being in the gym – being in the gym a lot – and try to stay up to par with them.”
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It took a surprising slide for Jones to fall all the way to the Thunder at the No. 28 pick. He was considered a top 10 talent and possibly even a candidate to be the No. 1 pick a year ago before he decided to return for his sophomore year at Baylor.
Then, news that he had trouble with the meniscus in one of his knees apparently scared more teams away.
“Everybody knows that I wasn’t supposed to slide as far as I did but, to be honest, I’m happy I did. This is a great organization. I mean, it’s the perfect spot,” Jones said after holding up his new No. 3 jersey, signifying the suffix on his name.
“I think everything happens for a reason and these guys treat me like family, so I’m more excited to be here than anything.”
General manager Sam Presti said the knee issue existed even before Jones played the last two seasons at Baylor and it shouldn’t keep him out next season, or even during summer league. Presti even called Jones’ straight-line speed one of the best parts of his game.
“He’s played two years and been incredibly consistent with it. It’s just something we have to watch as we go forward. If there’s anything that comes up from it, we’ll be proactive,” Presti said.
“But going into the situation, we’re thrilled and we’re looking forward to having him compete this summer.”
Jones added: “My knee is doing great.”
The 6-foot-11 Jones provides another versatile piece for the Thunder, which made it to the NBA Finals last season before losing to the Miami Heat in five games.
Presti said he could see Jones fitting into a number of different lineup configurations for coach Scott Brooks next season, although he later confirmed that the Thunder still hasn’t reached an agreement to bring Brooks back.
“I can tell you that we feel like things are progressing,” Presti said. “Our feelings remain consistent. Scott, I think, has made it clear that this is an organization that he wants to be a part of and continue with.”
Jones hesitated to say where he will fit in with the Thunder because he didn’t see many holes to fill as they came within three wins of the championship.
“It surprised me because I didn’t think I’d be here in a million years,” Jones said. “Actually on draft night, when the pick came up for them, I was thinking to myself, `Well, they don’t need me, so they definitely won’t pick me.’ ”
Presti, though, had been watching him since his first college practice at Baylor and jumped at the chance to draft him near the end of the first round.
“We feel like he’s a guy that can impact the team, but he’s going to have to find his way into doing that,” Presti said. “With our team, I think the fact that he is a team guy first and understands team dynamics and how to play, we see that as a huge plus. It was one of the reasons we were so excited about having him.
“The most important thing is we’re going to let him be himself as a basketball player. The definition of his game is certainly not going to be determined by his first season or his previous two seasons. It’s going to be a culmination of years that we’re hopeful he’s going to be a part of the organization.”