Perry Jones III only jumped as high as he could twice last season at Baylor.
Peak Performance Project (P3) founder and director Dr. Marcus Elliott learned this after giving Jones a vertical jump test. Jones’ first couple of jumps did not drop jaws, then the 6-11 forward seemingly effortlessly elevated 41.5 inches into the air and Elliott asked him what those extra five inches were doing in his backpocket. Jones responded with that surprising statement.
“That was one of those lightbulb moments,” Elliott said. “I’ve never heard an athlete ever say that to me.”
This raises obvious questions: Why hold back? If Jones can touch 12’4.5, why didn’t he use that freakish athleticism on every single possession in college? Why didn’t he dominate consistently when, sometimes, it looked like it was so easy for him to do so? Are the columnists and critics right when they say he has a weak motor?
Not according to Elliott.
“I think they’ve got that wrong,” said the Harvard graduate who worked with elite athletes at the U.S. Olympic Training Center before opening his own facility in Santa Barbara, California. “I don’t even know what that is: ‘A weak motor.’ I’ve heard that around him now over these last few weeks quite a few different times and I don’t know quite what that means. Is that like lack of effort? Does it mean not a lot of drive? Does it mean he can’t work at a high level for a long period of time? I don’t know. I don’t think any of these things are going to be true with this kid.
“He’s got a bigger work capacity than most of the athletes that we’ve had in, including NBA guys. He can go at high intensities for a long period of time.”
Elliott has worked with Jones for the last month and a half, preparing him for the Chicago pre-draft combine, team workouts and the leap to the next level. What he found was a mechanical issue, not one involving a lack of heart, desire or focus.
“When you create force for any kind of athletic movement out of your lower half — whether it’s jumping or sprinting or cutting — you use a combination of force generated from the ankle, the knee and the hip. We call those ‘force moments,’” Elliott said. Jones’ problem is that he was creating a bigger force moment over his knee than was desirable. His work at P3 has been about shifting his incredibly powerful force moments to his hips. While “motor” is a murky term, sports science showed something specific: His movement pattern put too much pressure on his knees to produce maximal force on a consistent basis. Perry’s smooth athleticism made everything look easy, but it was not.
Fortunately, unlike a lack of passion, this can be fixed. “It’s something we can absolutely affect,” Elliott said. “We’ve done it in dozens and dozens of athletes.” Jones has made significant physical gains in a relatively short amount of time. “It’s helped me a lot to be honest,” Jones said of P3 following his workout in Toronto. “I think if I wasn’t there I’d probably be tired through all of these workouts.”
In Santa Barbara, a typical day for Jones starts with a light 60-75 minute on court session in the morning, followed up by a high-intensity, rigorous training session at the P3 facility. In the afternoon, he’s back on the court for a demanding two-hour session. “We put the screws on him in overall work volume quite a bit,” said Elliott.
Jones is a rare athlete, with one of the most unique sets of physical metrics Elliott has ever tested. “He’s without question one of the ten most athletic athletes I’ve ever tested, maybe top five,” Elliott said. “In any sport.” As well as his ridiculous vertical leap and his deceptive strength, Jones’ agility at his size makes him special. His 5-10-5 shuttle was faster than any big man ever tested at P3 and faster than all but three wings. While some question his natural position at the NBA level — Raptors executive vice-president Ed Stefanski said “that’s something we’ll discuss thoroughly” — Elliott believes that Jones can play small forward without question.
“If he was 6-6, people wouldn’t say he was slow. I guarantee if he was 6-6 and had the same movement that he has right now at 6-11 he’d be a natural three and they’d say that makes sense,” Elliott said. “Because he’s 6-11 people think that, I don’t know, that it’s some kind of stretch. But I can tell you it’s just because you’re not used to seeing guys that are 6-11 that can move like this this kid can move. They just don’t exist.”
“For a long guy, he is able to transition from eccentric to concentric movements, from down movements to up movements and all kinds of athletic movements faster than about any tall athlete we’ve seen,” Elliott continued. “Most big athletes have a little bit of a lag between, say, dropping into a depth jump and then coming out of it or loading onto a single leg and then driving out of it. He has no transition, he moves more like someone who’s 6 feet to 6-4 as opposed to 6-11.”
While Jones’ athletic ability made him stand out, his work ethic and engaging personality endeared him to the staff at P3. At the Raptors practice court at the Air Canada Centre, it wasn’t hard to see why. Waiting his turn for a video interview, he stood behind the camera and stared at fellow prospect Jared Sullinger as the Ohio State big man tried to answer questions. When I sat down with Jones minutes later and he described himself as “goofy”, Sullinger was a couple of seats over, returning the favor. With the scrutiny Jones faced at university and his family’s financial struggles, he’s had to grow up quickly in some ways. But in speaking with Jones, he can remind you of someone even younger than his 20 years. This is especially true when discussing The Looney Tunes Show. “It’s up to date. Bugs Bunny got an iPhone,” Jones said. “His roommate is Daffy Duck. Granny lives down the street … It’s real good.”
Jones’ father, Perry Sr., accompanied him to Santa Barbara. So did his childhood friend, Bobo, a barber who quickly became popular there, giving the other athletes haircuts. Every day, Bobo went for walks in the mountains with Perry Sr., sometimes accompanied by a jovial Jones. “He’s not closed off to his friends or the world like a lot of people are in his position,” Elliott said. “He seems really open, he’s a great listener, super sincere, super playful. How he ended up in a position where he was supposed to carry the weight of the university on his shoulders was just his freakish talent that was handed to him. He doesn’t know where it came from.”
In three days, that freakish talent will land him in the NBA. It’ll be a year later than many expected, but Jones has no regrets about staying for his sophomore year. “Those were the best guys I ever played with, to be honest, and they always had my back with anything I did,” he said. It might have hurt his draft stock, but it helped Jones to spend another year with that particular group.
“I take things more seriously,” Jones said. “I’m not as tense. I’m loosened up a little bit. Probably I speak a lot more.” Jones is still laid-back off the court, but he started to come out of his shell during his two years in Waco. “All I wanted to do was play video games and watch cartoons. I don’t play video games as much. I don’t watch — well, I do watch cartoons, but I’m more social now.”
On Thursday, Perry Sr. and Terri Jones will see their son get drafted. “It’s going to mean a lot. All the hard work paid off. I know they’ve been waiting for this moment forever,” Jones said. “I mean, they were modest about it. They didn’t want to rush it. Last year I could have left. I felt like I wasn’t ready … They support me in everything I do and I love them.”
No matter where Jones ends up, there will be more expectations. There will be more doubts, despite his skill level and his off-the-charts athleticism. It’s fair to say that he wasn’t assertive enough in college, but he’s hardly the first 6-11 player to not fully understand how to use his body at the age of 20. Call him a risky pick if you want, but perhaps it’s not such a leap of faith. You could do worse than betting on a guy with preposterous potential and a point to prove.