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Know The Prospect: Mason Jones

A scorer’s scorer could be there for the Knicks at #38.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Tournament-Vanderbilt vs Arkansas Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Remember this guy?

Two years ago the Knicks signed undrafted rookie Allonzo Trier to a two-way contract. Trier ranked fifth on the team in points and sixth in minutes that season, an unqualified success for most rookies, much less one who went undrafted. Last year Trier’s minutes fell by more than 10 per game. Despite this, he remained a decent three-point shooter and significantly upped his efficiency on two-pointers, improving on shots 10-16 feet out from 36% to 67% and between 16 feet and the arc from 37% to 62%. Then, for whatever reason(s) you choose to accept, the Knicks, who cannot shoot or score, waived him.

There’s a new front office now (though Scott Perry still lingers like MSG’s own Jacob Marley, perhaps to warn future GMs of the dangers of the position), and a new coach, and a new roster to assemble. With the draft and free agency so close yet so far, the Knicks still lack shooting and scoring. Given that New York may use yet another lottery pick on a non-shooter like Isaac Okoro or Patrick Williams, as they have the past three drafts with RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina, they should be looking at shooters later in the draft. There’s a chance Mason Jones will be available when they’re on the clock at #38. Jones offers a lot of what Trier did, with perhaps greater upside.

Jones, 22, played two years at Arkansas as a junior college transfer. The 6’5” scoring guard didn’t play organized ball till his senior year of high school. Why?

“I was fat,” Jones told HoopsHype. “I didn’t really want to live in my brother’s and sister’s footsteps, so I wanted to take another road. I want to take another path down on my own lane. And I just felt like at the end of the day, God was like: ‘Mase, this is not working. You know where your heart is. Basketball is where your heart is.’ And I just knew that day that I wanted to take it more seriously. I was 270. I changed my body by just working hard and just eating right. I’ve just been on a mission. Once I get on a mission, nothing really can stop me. I’m still on a mission.”

Jones is down to 200 pounds, which helped add 10 inches to his vertical. That, in turn, allows him to do things on the court he couldn’t before. Like this.

Jones’ development has been nothing short of spectacular. In his first year at Arkansas he never hit 50% of his shots in consecutive games; last year he did so over both a three- and four-game stretch. In 2019 he never made 10+ field goals in a game; in 2020 he did six times. In 2019 he had just two games with 5+ two-pointers or 10+ free-throw attempts; last year he had 12 of each. 2020 Jones doubled his two-point attempts per game, increased his accuracy there from 47% to 54%, and also doubled his free-throw attempts. He shot 76% at the rim, tops among all high-major players 6’5” or shorter, while drawing 8.1 fouls per 40 minutes, tops in the nation.

Here he is going baseline for the and-one.

Pound for pound, Jones may be the most gifted scorer in the draft.

He’s fearless with the ball in his hands and when talking about himself. Again courtesy of HoopsHype:

“That’s the difference between me and a lot of players. This game, it’s not a game to me. I’m here for business and I want to be great. I have a lot of things that I want to still show. What can I do better? That’s exactly what I want to add. You can see that in the game that I played in college basketball this year, doing numbers that people haven’t seen in 20 years. It’s just incredible. But I still got downplayed. But it will all translate to the next level. I’m only getting better.”

While brash, Jones isn’t delusional. For example, addressing his pedestrian three-point percentage last season: “I shot 35.1% from three this year. But don’t put in consideration that I had to shoot a lot more deep-range threes because I was getting double- and triple-teamed off screens. I was just trying to see where the shots were going to come off.” For real.

Here’s Jones with a wicked stepback 3 over SEC Defensive Player of the Year Yves Pons.

Trier did not appear to enjoy the defensive end of the floor nearly as much as he did the offensive side. Jones says all the right things regarding the nobler station:

“I want to be an elite defender while also being an elite scorer. I see myself like Jimmy Butler. We both have the same traits. We are competitive. We’ve been through all stages of life, we went to junior college and then we went two years at Division-I high major. He felt like he was ready after his second year at Marquette...I watched a lot of [him] just to see his story and his demeanor and the way he approaches life. He’s the underdog and he takes it every day. I feel like I can add being an elite defender to my game. I want to add that and I want to take pride in that more, just like I take pride in being an elite scorer and getting to the rack. I want to take pride in locking down the best player and being me and just guarding. I want people to think, ‘Oh, okay, he is a two-way player.’”

Talk is cheap. But Jones walks the walk. On this possession against Florida he does pretty much every single thing a defender can do, all in one sequence.

Quite a prospect, right? Jones even pulled in 5.5 rebounds a game and dished 3.4 assists. It all seems too good to be true, or at least too good for such a player to be available in the second round. So what are the concerns?

Well, for one thing, the vast, vast majority of Jones’ shots from deep came off movement to his left. Like, I watched dozens and dozens and dozens of clips of him shooting, and I only found two of him going right. In the first clip the motion right is minimal; in the latter it’s a buzzer-beater he banked in.

Maybe Jones is lower on people’s radars because he always has been. He wasn’t a top prospect out of high school; he was an overweight kid who picked up the game late in life. He wasn’t a one-and-done college star; he played two years at Connors State in Oklahoma. He wasn’t even the most celebrated player on his team; that’d be Isaiah Joe, rumored to be a late first-round candidate. Maybe Jones is lower than he should be because — and I know a lot of us are in our feelings about this today — a lot of Americans are blind or apathetic to the seemingly obvious.

A couple years ago, this tweet appeared.

Despite the evidence in front of us, maaaaaad Knicks fans wanted nothing to do with Trae Young. Because it’s 2020 and every day we grow more puritanical than real, this is where I’m obligated to acknowledge that Young is not a perfect player. But sometimes we parcel and pick someone apart because we’re animals and poking around, even in abstract realms, scratches us where we itch. Sometimes when someone puts up incredible scoring numbers, it simply means they’re an incredible scorer, and will be at the next level. Not always, of course — shout out to OAKAAKUYOAK Bo Kimble. But definitely sometimes we miss what’s clear because we’re looking for what’s concrete.

Last season Jones put up 30 points against Alabama. 34 against South Carolina, including 15 of 16 free throws. 36 against LSU and 4-for-6 from deep. 37 against Tennessee. 38 against Mississippi State, including 18 of 21 from the line. 40 against Auburn with five 3s. 41 against Tulsa, featuring five 3s and 12 of 13 free throws.

He’s not going to go in the lottery. He very well may not be picked in the first round. But at 27 and certainly at 38, he’s someone the Knicks should consider. He scored 40+ twice; no Knick hit that mark last season. Mason Jones could be their Lou Williams. He could be something more, like a former Knicks All-Star who also played JUCO ball in Oklahoma. At the very least, he could be Allonzo Trier without any of the whatever-it-was that soured New York so quickly on their diamond in the rough.