By Kevin McPherson
LITTLE ROCK — Former Arkansas guard Mason Jones’ unswerving belief in himself coupled with his devotion to getting into shape and improving his game took him from a virtual unknown junior college player just over two years ago to arguably the SEC’s best offensive player in a generation last season.
Now, just 20 days until the 2020 NBA Draft (Nov. 18), Jones (6-5, native of DeSoto, Texas) is on the cusp of being among the 60 players who will be selected on draft night. Perhaps aside from Jones himself, this fast-track to the NBA draft was not expected when he signed with Arkansas in the spring of 2018 out of Connors State juco in Oklahoma.
In his second season with the Hogs in 2019-20, Jones capped a brilliant campaign in which he led the SEC in scoring with postseason honors that included being named SEC Co-Player of the Year by the Associated Press as well as honorable mention All American recognition. It was a season constructed in the offseason when Jones worked tirelessly to drop weight and when he lived in the gym in what became known as “breakfast club” early-morning workouts.
Shortly after the Hogs’ season ended on March 11 in Nashville, Tenn., with an SEC tournament first-round win over Vanderbilt, Jones declared for the draft but initially did not hire an agent as he left the door cracked for a return to Arkansas for his senior season. Jones made his decision to pursue a professional basketball career official on May 1 when he publicly announced he had signed with Los Angeles-based Creative Arts Agency.
The months of unprecedented draft preparation due to the coronavirus pandemic that ensued — online Zoom virtual interviews with NBA teams and workouts with personal trainers but not in view of NBA teams — brought Jones to his NBA Draft Combine workout on Monday (Oct. 26) in Dallas.
Jones made the most of the opportunity that was recorded on video and will be sent to every NBA team. Jones confirmed with Hogville.net several of his shooting and performance testing numbers from his combine workout: His overall shooting from the field in unguarded drill work (combination of two-point and three-point field goal shooting) was 248-of-316 for 78.5%; his free throw shooting was 98-of-100 for 98.0%; and he registered a 36-inch maximum vertical leap (a 10-inch improvement from a year ago).
Jones presumably shared the news of his performance with his head coach at Arkansas last season, Eric Musselman, who during the week via Twitter attributed the same combine-workout numbers to Jones.
Looking a bit deeper into Jones’ shooting numbers to give context, first consider that the NBA had a pre-determined menu of shooting drills for Jones and other players taking part in their own combine workouts.
Of Jones’ 316 shot attempts from the field, 50 of those were taken during a spot-up shooting drill, 30 more in a shooting-off-the-dribble drill, 20 more in a mid-range star drill, and 20 more in a three-point star drill. That’s 120 planned shots, leaving 196 three-pointers that Jones was able to attempt in 7 consecutive minutes of shooting (a combination of 2 minutes of a side-mid-side drill that was a repeated cycle of 4 NBA three-point jump shots on the move plus 5 minutes of a three-point endurance drill consisting of game-speed three-point shooting from any spots).
The first 50 free throws were taken as a “warm up” at the beginning of the workout, and the last 50 free throws were taken as a “cool down” at the end of the workout.
Additionally, Jones went through the NBA’s performance testing and measuring aspects of the combine. Examples of performance testing were dynamic warmup, no-step vertical jump, maximum vertical jump, pro lane drill, 3/4-court sprint, and lane shuttle drill. Examples of measuring were standing reach, height (with and without shoes), wingspan, body weight, body composition, and hand length / width.
“Combine day … preparation meets opportunity … All God,” was the sentiment Jones tweeted Monday before his workout, followed by his post-workout thoughts that he also tweeted, “Today was nothing but greatness and God … In due time trust me … All God.”
Jones’ teammate the past two seasons at Arkansas — 6-5 guard Isaiah Joe — also left school early for the 2020 draft and also had his combine workout on Monday (Oct. 26).
In recent 2020 NBA mock drafts and big boards, Jones is a popular pick to be selected somewhere in the second round. In the past couple of weeks, USA Today Rookie Wire projected Jones to be drafted at No. 39 to New Orleans; Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report places Jones at No. 45 on his Top 50 big board; Sam Vecenie of The Athletic has Jones going to Sacramento at No. 52; and Sports Illustrated has him coming off the board at No. 59.
On Wednesday, one NBA scout speaking on the condition of anonymity told Hogville.net he thinks Jones is a “solid second rounder, probably after the 35th pick.”
Jones — if he’s selected before the 38th pick (the same goes for Joe) — has a chance to be the fourth-highest-drafted Razorback this century (Joe Johnson went No. 10 to Boston in 2001; Ronnie Brewer, Jr., went No. 14 to Utah in 2006; and Bobby Portis went No. 22 to Chicago in 2015; Danile Gafford was selected No. 38 by Chicago in 2019 and Sonny Weems was selected No. 39 by Chicago in 2008).
Jones led the SEC in scoring in ’19-20 at 22.0 points per game and he was named SEC Co-Player of the Year by the Associated Press on March 10, followed by being selected All American honorable mention by the AP on March 20. Jones was also a unanimous choice to the AP’s All SEC first team, and he was also an All SEC first team pick by the league’s coaches.
Jones was among five finalists but did not win the annual Jerry West Award that goes to the nation’s top shooting guard.
Jones, who shared the AP SEC POY honor with Reggie Perry of Mississippi State, became just the third Razorback to earn the league’s top player honor since Arkansas entered the SEC in 1991-92 as he joined Portis (2015) and two-time winner Corliss Williamson (1994 and 1995). The trio of Jones, Portis, and Williamson also share the honor of being named AP All Americans in the same seasons that they were tabbed as SEC POY. Portis was named AP second-team All American in 2015, while Williamson was also named AP second-team All American in both 1994 and 1995.
Jones finished the regular season with a long list of accomplishments that cemented his All American and league player of the year resume …
* Jones’ 22.0 points per game not only led the SEC but it was eighth among NCAA Division 1 scorers (third in the nation among players from high-major programs)
* Jones became the first Razorback to finish as the SEC’s leading scorer.
* Jones was named SEC Player of the Week four times during the season, making him one of only three players in league history to win the honor at least four times in a season.
* Jones was the only player in the SEC to lead his team in scoring, rebounding (5.5 per game), assists (3.4 per game), and steals (1.6 per game).
* Jones’ nine games of scoring 30 or more points this season was the most in the SEC, and it was the most in the league in over 20 years.
* Jones’ two 40-points-or-more games this season was tops in the SEC, and only two other SEC players (Shaquille O’Neal of LSU twice in 1991-92 and Jodie Meeks of Kentucky three times in 2008-09) have been able to match that feat in the last 30 years.
* Jones led all NCAA D1 players in both free throws made (233) and free throws attempted (282), and his 213th free throw made against LSU on March 4 was the most in a season in school history.
* Jones’ 82.6% shooting from the free throw line ranked eighth in the SEC.
* Jones became the 44th Razorback to reach 1,000 career points at Arkansas, and he’s one of only eight Hogs to reach the milestone in two seasons.
* Jones was among 30 players in NCAA D1 who were on the Naismith national player of the year mid-season watch list.
* Jones led Arkansas (20-12, 8-11 in SEC games) with 22 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals in an 86-73 win over Vanderbilt on March 11 in the first-round of the SEC tournament in Nashville, Tenn., which turned out to be the season finale not only for the Hogs but all of the SEC and college basketball due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.