The Los Angeles Lakers took care of business early on in their game against the Golden State Warriors on Sunday, which allowed Frank Vogel to give guys at the end of the bench some run, including Damian Jones, who signed a 10-day contract with the team on Friday.
Jones was available to play when the Lakers played the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday, but Vogel decided to keep him on the bench. When Jones finally heard his number called on Sunday, he made sure to make the most of his small window of opportunity.
In 8:23 against his former team, Jones tallied 8 points, 3 rebounds and 2 blocks. Given the game’s lopsided score, there wasn’t much to take away from his actual performance, but he was able to stand out in the units that he played with because of his athletic plays on both sides of the floor.
The most impressive about Jones’ performance, though, was the timing of it. Jones has only been with the Lakers for two days and his first appearance with the team actually came before his first practice. But Jones said he was able to prepare for his debut in other ways.
“I’m trying to get accustomed to the system,” Jones said. “I’ve been watching a lot of film of how I’m supposed to play and it felt really good to see that come out to really help out.”
In addition to the meetings and film sessions he’s had with the Lakers’ coaching staff, Jones has also been getting pointers from his new teammates, including Markieff Morris, who was in a similar position with Los Angeles last year.
“I’ve been talking to him since he’s been here,” Morris said. “I’ve been telling him there’s going to be some ups and downs, but he has to be able to do his job at a high level. We pretty much have everything else but a big time shot blocker and kind of a lob guy, so I’m telling him, to stay with this team, to make an impact on this, we need to hear you on the court defensively, we need you to jump at everything at the rim and we need you to catch lobs, because that’s pretty much all we don’t have.”
There is one key difference between the situation Morris was in and Jones’ current situation, though, and that’s the fact that Morris signed a guaranteed contract for the remainder of the season last year.
Jones, 25, is on a 10-day contract with the Lakers. Once his 10-day contract expires, the team can offer him a second 10-day contract, a guaranteed contract for the remainder of the season, or they can opt to not bring him back at all.
In that sense, Jones has more in common with Alex Caruso, who had to prove himself on a two-way contract before signing his first guaranteed contract with the Lakers in 2017. Caruso and Jones have only been teammates for a few days, but Caruso thinks the fifth-year center has what it takes to crack the roster.
“I played against Damian a couple of years in college so I know what he brings to the table,” Caruso said. “He’s a great rebounder, shot-blocker, rebounder, lob threat, finisher around the rim. And I know he’s a good dude, great teammate, so that goes a long way with guys trying to make teams. He’s just went out and did what he does well. I think that’s probably his best strength: he just kind of sticks to what he does well and tries to make the best of it.”
That kind of support is something that has stood out to Jones in his brief time in Los Angeles.
“It’s great just being in this atmosphere,” Jones said. “It pushes the most out of you. You try to perform your best every night because everyone’s gunning for you. Everybody knows you’re in contention to go to the Finals, so just that pressure alone brings the best out of you. It’s great to compete.”