After two seasons with the Texas Longhorns, versatile forward Kai Jones’ professional career is officially underway after being selected by the New York Knicks with the No. 19 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.
However, the pick is expected to convey to the Charlotte Hornets via trade.
Jones become the first Longhorn selected in this year’s draft and the fifth in the last six drafts:
- Myles Turner — 11th overall in 2016
- Jarrett Allen — 22nd overall in 2017
- Mohamed Bamba — 6th overall in 2018
- Jaxson Hayes — 8th overall in 2019
- Kai Jones — 19th overall in 2021
The reigning Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year, Jones was a key presence in a Texas front court that also featured former five-star freshman Greg Brown and senior center Jericho Sims. Nevertheless, Jones’ athleticism and versatility allowed him to fill into a variety of lineups and produce to the tune of 15.5, 8.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per 40 minutes.
Jones enters the league as a relatively raw prospect, with only half a decade of organized basketball experience beneath his belt. But that’s largely what makes Jones such an intriguing NBA prospect. Towering at 6’11 with a 9’2.5 standing reach — both of which ranked as the fourth-most at the draft combine and first among all forwards — Jones is a hyper-athletic two-way talent who could be molded into a key contributor sooner than later if he continues to develop year over year as he did at Texas.
For example, his improvement in offensive efficiency has been impressive, as he made significant strides in his understanding of shot selection between his freshman and sophomore seasons — he’s hit 58 percent from the field (83-143), including a 38.2-percent mark (13-34) from three-point range, and has reached double figures in scoring 13 times.
Elsewhere offensively, Jones simply displayed a clearer understanding of his role and how to thrive within it, thrived in transition and making the right cuts towards the rim to make himself an option, and towards the end of his sophomore season, displayed flashes of an ability to create for himself, even if only to the extend of creating his own shot after a couple dribbles.
The tools are there — the length, the athleticism, the ability and willingness to run the floor in transition and to contest at the rim, which is largely why The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks recently dubbed Jones as the most interesting sleeper in this year’s draft.
How well the Hornets can round out the edges and continue to develop Jones will ultimately determine whether or not he can go from sleeper to starter, and potentially a star.