If there’s one thing that holds true in every NBA Draft, no matter how good it is from top to bottom, it’s that someone will surprise you. Whether it’s a super popular five-star prospect turning into a pumpkin or a relative nobody bursting into the lottery picture, there will never be a mock draft that looks the same in May as it does in the previous November.
Sometimes, these players are like Zhaire Smith, Rashad Vaughn, Chris McCullough, or Ndudi Ebi, athletic freshmen who catch a team’s eye during workouts. More dependably, they’re second or even third year college stars who nevertheless flew under the mainstream NBA radar. Tyrese Haliburton is probably the best recent example of this, an advanced stats darling who filled in every possible role on a good tournament team as a freshman before breaking out as a national star the next year. To find such a potential player so far this year, you don’t have to look any farther than Texas sophomore big man Kai Jones.
The main appeal of Jones as a prospect is his intersection of elite mobility, length, and scoring touch. Here, against Oklahoma State, he attacks a closeout like a guard and scores on a sweet looking eurostep, then showcases his great lateral movement skills to smother a drive.
Here he dribble drives into the paint and pump fakes Trayce Jackson-Davis, an NBA athlete in his own right, completely out of his shoes and finishes with some impressive burst out of a standstill. Not very many 6’11 players in the NBA right now can do this consistently.
His shooting seems fairly legitimate thus far, too. With this jab step against UNC…
…and a pass fake into a long range bomb against Oklahoma State to accounting for two of his five makes thus far.
Finally, while his defense is probably his weakest overall skill right now (too many fouls, generally inconsistent body control, lack of strength), those same movement skills can provide some absolutely terrific flashes at times.