The Houston Rockets made only one selection during the 2020 NBA Draft (No. 52nd overall pick), but ended the night by acquiring one of college basketball’s most gifted players in Mason Jones. It’s unusual for a team to sign a prospect with Jones’ potential as an undrafted free agent.
At the University of Arkansas, Jones became one of the nation’s best scorers, averaging 17.6 points during his two-year stint playing Division I basketball. This past season, the Texas native led the Razorbacks in scoring with a career-high 22.0 points (43.6% FG, 35.1% 3PT) while taking home SEC Player of the Year honors.
His ability to create off the dribble, finish at the rim, and get to the foul line has drawn countless comparisons to that of James Harden. But despite his talents, The 6’5” combo-guard did not hear his name called by Commissioner Adam Silver or Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum on draft night.
On a two-way contract, Jones will presumably begin his career in the G-League playing for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. But with the Rockets entering the 2020-21 season short in the guard department, Jones may have an opportunity to prove to 29 teams that they made a mistake by passing on his talents.
Although he ended the season with Player of the Year honors, Jones entered the draft with little notoriety when compared to his counterparts. It would have been a longshot, but an opportunity to lead the Razorbacks on a Cinderella run during the SEC Tournament would have boosted Jones’ draft stock.
The Rockets obtained a hard-working gem whose drive has pushed him to surpass the modest expectations since his days playing community college ball at Connors State College. It’s a drive Eric Musselman experienced during his first year as head coach of the Razorbacks during the 2019-20 season.
How was it coaching Mason Jones as a first-year head coach at the University of Arkansas during the 2019-20 season?
“From day one, when I got the job at Arkansas, Mason bought into our system. He trusted the coaching staff and wanted to do everything we asked of him. Mason was one of my favorite players to coach, and I know we will forever have a relationship. From day one, we felt he had NBA potential.”
It is no secret that Jones was one of the best scorers in the nation last season — averaging 22.0 points per game. What are the attributes that made him a great scorer, and do you believe it can translate to the NBA level?
“Mason is a relentless worker. He started the “Breakfast Club” for our program, where he got in the gym every morning at 6 AM to get shots up and work on his game. He led the country in free throw attempts and has a knack for getting to the free-throw line. He can create his own shot and score at all three levels and create for his teammates — which will help him tremendously at the next level.”
After the draft, Mason tweeted, “Houston just got the best player in the draft.” Can you talk about Jones’ confidence level?
“Mason has a tremendous amount of confidence, which helped him become SEC Player Of the Year. His work ethic and drive to be great leads to that confidence. Mason has always been an underdog and exceeded expectations. He has the drive and determination to continue to do so.”