LITTLE ROCK — It’s been 28 years since the University of Arkansas’ men’s basketball program had multiple players selected in the same NBA Draft, and that drought would end tonight if both Isaiah Joe and Mason Jones hear their names called during 2020 NBA Draft that begins at 7 p.m. CT on ESPN.
You have to go back to the 1992 draft when four Hogs were selected — Todd Day, Oliver Miller, and Lee Mayberry in the first round, and Isaiah “Butch” Morris in the second round — to find multiple Arkansas players taken in the same draft class.
Joe and Jones are projected by most mock drafts to be selected in the second round. The 6-5 shooting guard/wing duo were among the top players in the SEC and the nation last season.
“Me and Mason stay in touch all the time, pretty much daily,” Joe said during a Tuesday night inteview (a.k.a NBA Draft eve). “We actually talked on the phone today (Tuesday). We like to check in on each other, see how we’re doing, what’s going through our heads. I think now that it’s starting to become real we talk to each other about being ready for the next step. We have that type of bond, we’ll stay in contact even once we make it to a team. We’re happy for each other, wish the best for each other. Both of us are looking forward to the opportunity.”
Joe is looking to become only the fourth Razorback to get drafted immediately following his sophomore season at Arkansas as he would join former Hogs Joe Johnson (10th overall pick in 2001), Bobby Portis (22nd pick overall in 2015), and Daniel Gafford (38th pick overall in 2019) in doing so.
In addition to Johnson, Portis, and Gafford, only three other former Hogs have been drafted so far this century — Ronnie Brewer, Jr. (14th overall in 2006), Sonny Weems (39th overall in 2008), and Patrick Beverley (42nd overall in 2009). Which brings up another interesting tidbit: If both Joe and Jones are selected, they’ll represent 25% of Arkansas’ drafted players this century.
“It would be a huge honor if we can be the 7th and 8th (players from Arkansas) drafted in this century,” Joe said. “Everybody that comes to the collegiate level has aspirations to play beyond college. Now that me and Mason have that opportunity, it sets us apart but it definitely leaves the door open for the upcoming (Arkansas) players to do the same as well.
“I watched the Red-White game, they have a great team this year, and I have no doubt that they’ll have some people entering the draft, either this year or in the next two years. I think Arkansas gives us a great platform to showcase our games and get to the next level.”
Joe flew back to Fayetteville on Tuesday afternoon after spending the past week working out with NBA veteran and Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley, Jr., the son of Hogs’ track-and-field legend and Joe’s agent, Mike Conley, Sr. He’ll be with his family, agent, and a few other supporters tonight at a draft watch party in Fayetteville.
Joe is mostly projected in the early second round, although there is some chatter that he could go in the late first round. Here are some recent mock-draft projections for Joe: No. 28 (late first round) according to both Bleacher Report and The Ringer; No. 31 (early second round) according to Babcock Hoops; No. 34 (early second round) according to ESPN / DraftExpress, Yahoo Sports, and USA Today / Rookie Wire; and No. 36 (early second round) according to Sports Illustrated.
Joe finished his Arkansas career as arguably the best three-point shooter in the SEC spanning his two seasons.
He earned SEC All Freshman honors in ’18-19 when he was the first Hog rookie to start every game since Portis (’13-14) while averaging 13.9 points and setting the school record for made three-pointers (113 at a 41.4% clip). Joe was a preseason All SEC pick as a sophomore and through the mid-point of the season he was named 1 of 10 finalists for the postseason Jerry West Award, which honors the top shooting guard in the nation.
But he was hampered by a mid-season injury in ’19-20, affecting his play in five games and causing him to miss six more. In the end, Joe played in 26 games in ’19-20 and finished the season as the team’s second-leading scorer at 16.9 points per game (7th in the SEC) and the league’s leader in made triples (94) despite missing those six games due to the injury. He also averaged 4.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.4 steals, and 36.2 minutes. He led the team in charges for a second straight season, and he was 81-of-91 from the free throw line for 89.0% (the efficiency led the team and was top 3 in the SEC). He was once named SEC Player of the Week.
In the nine SEC games that Joe played in while healthy (three prior to injury and six after returning from injury), the Hogs went 6-3 as he averaged 20.4 points while shooting a collective 36-of-97 from 3 (37.1%) and 42-of-43 from the free throw line (97.7%). Arkansas finished the season 20-12, but the Hogs were 17-4 with a healthy Joe in the lineup.
Joe was not only the SEC’s top three-point shooter the past two seasons — both in makes (207) and takes (548) — he was one of the top per-game volume three-point shooters in the nation at 3.45 makes and 9.13 takes per contest while at Arkansas. His effieciency from NBA three-point shooting distance as a sophomore exceded 44%. His shot creation off the dribble was among the best in the nation as he registered 97th and 89th percentile in two seasons. Joe economizes dribbling with a less-is-more approach that suits the pro game, and he excels in moving off the ball (running to spots both in halfcourt and transition, settling into gaps in the defense, offsetting and relocating, etc.). Those attributes promote good offensive flow and spacing, and thus helps draw out defenders to create opportunities for others to drive and score. Joe was also a plus-defender in college due to his length, quick leteral movement, instincts, and understanding of positioning, footwork, and taking angles.
With the dynastic NBA run of the Golden State Warriors whose recent 3 NBA titles in a span of playing in 5 consecutive Finals series came when the club changed the landscape of the pro game with multiple perimeter shooters in a 5-out floor-spacing offense; the three-point trigger-happy Houston Rockets and their 60-plus attempts in multiple games; and even teams still employing more traditional offensive play needing shooters to create cleaner opportunities for inside-the-arc scoring — all of it makes a gravity floor-spacer like Joe a hot commodity in the draft.
Jones — who like Joe left Arkansas after only two seasons in Fayetteville — will have his NBA draft watch party tonight in Dallas. The DeSoto, Texas, native is mostly projected as a mid-to-late second-round pick: No. 39 (early second round) according to USA Today / Rookie Wire; No. 45 (mid-second-round) according to Bleacher Reprt; No. 49 (mid-second-round) according to Yahoo Sports; and Nos. 52, 54, and 59 (all late second round) according to The Athletic, Babcock Hoops, and Sports Illustrated, respectively.
One league insider — former NBA player and ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins — belives Jones has first-round value.
“This guy is a flat-out bucket,” Perkins said during a segment on ESPN’s The Jump. “He might be the best scorer in this draft class, and I don’t know why he’s not (projected) in the first round … whoever lands him, or gets Mason Jones, is going to win.”
Jones had a brilliant NBA Draft Combine workout, making 248-of-316 for 78.5% in his overall shooting from the field in unguarded drill work (combination of two-point and three-point field goal shooting), and his free throw shooting was 98-of-100 for 98.0%.
Jones is coming off a spectacular Co-SEC Player of the Year season in 2019-20 in which he became the first Razorback to lead the SEC in scoring. He’s just the third Razorback to earn the league’s top player honor since Arkansas entered the SEC in 1991-92 as he joined Bobby 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. Jones was honored as an AP Honorable Mention All American in ’19-20, while Portis was named AP second-team All American in 2015 and Williamson was 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.