If there is the one thing the Lakers have been missing from their center rotation, it’s a player with both size and speed. Marc Gasol only has the former, while Montrezl Harrell boasts the latter. But while they only signed Damian Jones on Friday morning, and he has yet to even suit up for the team, he’s already put both qualities on full display.
The showcase of his size came when Jones sat down to speak with the media on Zoom before the Lakers’ game against the Portland Trail Blazers. The camera rig the team had set up initially had cut off nearly all of the forehead where Jones’ 6’11 frame comes to an end, and even after a quick adjustment, he still didn’t completely fit.
The demonstration of his speed came sooner, even if we didn’t know it yet. After getting cut by the Suns on Tuesday, Jones was still in Phoenix around 4:00 p.m. on Thursday when he got the call from his agent that the Lakers wanted to offer him a 10-day deal. He had to get to Los Angeles by 11:00 p.m. that night to get a coronavirus test and sign his deal so he could be active on Friday, and he still needed to rent a car before he could leave. But Jones hustled up, and made it with 20 minutes to spare.
As a result of his speed in getting to Los Angeles and boasting the size the Lakers are somewhat lacking while Anthony Davis is sidelined, Jones might get a chance, although head coach Frank Vogel acknowledged pregame that Jones was “unlikely” to play against the Blazers. But whenever Jones does get in the game, he, Vogel and general manager Rob Pelinka view his skillset as an archetype that Lakers fans have complained the team is missing for weeks.
“It’s kind of like the JaVale and Dwight role last year, how they would catch rims and protect the rim, stuff like that. I’m trying to bring some of the same things,” Jones said. “Vertical spacing on the offensive end, being able to defend the rim.”
That’s a pretty lofty comparison for a guy the Lakers are basically bringing in for a glorified tryout, but while he didn’t use Howard and McGee’s names, it’s almost identical to the terms Vogel described Jones’ game in.
“He brings vertical spacing on both sides of the ball. The lob threat, but also verticality and shot-blocking at the rim as well. He definitely has a skill set that can help us,” Vogel said. “He’s a talented young man, and a very polished young man. So we’re excited to just take a look at him over these next 10 days.”
While obviously this year's front court bring their own unique & positive skillsets, on the season the duo of Harrell and Gasol have completed just 4 alley-oops combined (accounting for both dunks & layups)— Alex Regla (@AlexmRegla) February 27, 2021
Seems like the vertical game is something the FO/Coaches want to address https://t.co/Rv3DxUaMFO
Some of the Lakers are already familiar with his game. In Los Angeles, Jones reunites with former Warriors teammate Alfonzo McKinnie — who has also been a bit player this season — which is a relationship Jones thinks can help him get up to speed even quicker.
“It’s cool to have former teammates that I know on the squad to kind of show me my role,” Jones said. “Just familiar faces to help me get accustomed.”
Coming into a championship contender while fighting for his NBA future on his fourth team in five years, Jones will need all the help he can get. But he’s already shown he’s willing to make things happen to fight for this shot. Even if it means dropping everything, tracking down a rental car and making a five and a half hour drive in a little under seven hours to get a coronavirus test with no guarantee other than a 10-day paycheck.
“It was pretty crazy,” Jones said of the last 24 hours that landed him at Staples Center on Friday.
It would be even crazier if he was able to make an impact in the limited time and opportunities he figures to get. But hey, he’s nailed every task the Lakers have asked of him so far. Now he just needs to do it again.