George Mikan. Wilt Chamberlain. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Shaquille O’Neal. Anthony Davis. All of these great Lakers centers pale in comparison to the greatness of Damian Jones, the best 10-day contract player of all time and owner of the best field-goal percentage of any player in franchise history.
With a 2-2 night against the team foolish enough to cut him, Jones is shooting 100% from the field in purple and gold, the best percentage of any Laker to ever take more than one shot. And while his team fell short in a 114-104 loss to the Phoenix Suns, that has to be attributed more to head coach Frank Vogel’s bizarre decision not close with his best player than it does anything Jones did. His historic level of efficiency obviously has to put him in the MVP conversation at this point.
Okay, so I’m being mostly satirical above — even if the numbers are real — but it’s because in all seriousness... This was a weird game, and there isn’t a lot to take away from it. Not only were the Lakers down their starting center in Marc Gasol — held out due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols —but Kyle Kuzma was scratched minutes before tip with a right heel contusion. Jared Dudley played center multiple times, and it kind of worked in moments.
Then, in the third quarter, Suns star Devin Booker got ejected for what appeared to be a fairly innocuous exchange.
Seriously, it was a strange night. It’s hard to take too much away from it one way or the other. Without Anthony Davis, Gasol and Kuzma, this is not a Lakers rotation that is going to be playing when games matter, barring catastrophe. Most teams aren’t going to win a lot of games while missing one of their stars and two other rotation players. The Lakers are no different in that respect. Even 38 points from LeBron James and a short-lived, late comeback attempt could only take them so far.
In fact, if there is anything to actually take away from this game, it’s how much the Lakers clearly need Gasol. You can call him old and slow all you want — he’d probably be the first to admit he’s both at this point — but one only has to see what the Lakers’ defense around the rim looked like without his smarts and length to see how much they are going to need him. The fact that Jones looks like such a revelation is more of a statement on how desperately the Lakers just needed someone tall that could do something than it is necessarily indicative of his long-term value. Hopefully whatever led Gasol to the health and safety protocols, he’s all right and can come back soon.
And for those of you hoping for more minutes from Jones, he did get the back-up five role in the second half. He’s not perfect on defense in his second game with the team — a shocker, I know — but he plays hard and understands his role. So if you’re rooting for him to get more chances, it does appear that Vogel might slowly be coming around.
The Lakers will finish up the first half of their season in Sacramento against the Kings on Wednesday, their final game before the All-Star break. If Gasol misses that one, expect Jones to get a bit more burn again.