PHOENIX — Phoenix Suns general manager James Jones spoke three times over the course of three days of pre-draft workouts at the end of May.
From what Jones would speak on, there were a couple of takeaways from how he approaches the draft process, what is his second major step as an NBA general manager after hiring head coach Monty Williams.
Since we brought up Williams, let’s start there and the relationship between coach and general manager already seeming strong.
Prospects were quick to say, both unprompted and prompted, that Williams was more hands-on and a teacher than other coaches in workouts across the league. Williams, in fact, had more of a presence than most head coaches across the league.
That came through discussions Jones had with Williams.
“We tried to think about the things that mattered to us or would have helped us throughout this NBA journey,” Jones said on Friday of him and Williams crafting together the structure. “So we tried to incorporate and put these guys in spots where they could feel like they are getting better in our workouts.
“The better they feel during a workout, usually the better they perform. Get a chance to really see the complete player versus a guy that’s just been doing a lot of drills for the last month.”
It was an organic process for Williams to be so involved.
“It’s just natural,” Jones said Thursday.”That’s what he wants. He wants to be around,”
There’s added value beyond that round peg in a round hole, though.
“We’re evaluating potential Suns team members and whenever you do that you want everyone to have a chance to engage and interact in a natural way,” Jones said Thursday. “So as a coach, being on the floor, barking out orders, trying to give guys a little direction — you can see how they respond.”
Jones said the Suns aren’t trying to “amplify” Williams playing this role and that’s backed up by how often players naturally brought it up when asked about the general pre-draft process and their past workouts.
“I think it signals to everyone that we have a coach that really loves what he does and is really 100% invested,” Jones said Thursday. “That’s just who Monty is.”
The design Jones and Williams came up with was one predicated on player balance. They wanted to hit on every aspect of the game and move quickly.
If they felt the shooting was done, time to see how they handle the ball. Got an idea of how they can deal with switching defensively? OK, no more switching now. Now battle through those screens. Now we’re hedging off the screen. Now it’s going under the screen. And so on.
Jones put an emphasis on basketball IQ and not judging players by a need at a certain position or skill set.
Friday’s first group was highlighted by switchy wings, something Jones himself noted on the day by saying the group was focused towards defense and wings.
But he was quick to shoot down looking exclusively at that player archetype.
“I think every team is looking for a guy that can switch and defend multiple positions and if you just focus on that then you have a team full of defenders without guys that can play offense,” he said. “So for us, it’s more important that we find guys that embrace the defensive end but show the capability of expanding their offensive game.”
Jones referred to it as a “complex game” a handful of times with how much players have to be able to do.
That makes the scouting process even more important, something that Jones took hits for back in December when he said the team was focusing less on the draft compared to previous years.
There’s still an extensive process him and his staff is going through from now up until the draft on June 20.
“Now, we have an opportunity to see these guys in our environment more so that in-person evaluation — there’s a premium on that,” he said.
“After we finish these workouts, we’re right back upstairs, watching the workouts on film, watching the tape from the season to see if these guys have progressed since the end of the season or if they’ve regressed, and if so, why.
“It flows in cycles. During the season you can watch more on film (but) in the offseason you have more time.”
At the end of the day, of course, this is a general manager talking to the media before the NBA Draft. There are no tells to gain or any real information worth soaking in.
But Jones’ philosophies and how he’s already working closely with his head coach was a telling kick-off point for a crucial offseason.