The fourth in a nine-part series reviewing Arkansas basketball in 2019-20.
Stats: 22.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.4 assists, .2 blocks, 1.6 steals
45.3 percent FG, 53.9 percent 2-point FG, 35.1 percent 3-point FG, 82.6 percent free throws
Per 40: 26.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists, .2 blocks, 1.9 steals
SEC stats: 23.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists, .1 blocks, 1.4 steals
43.7 percent FG, 50.3 percent 2-point FG, 35.3 percent 3-point FG, 79.3 percent free throws
SEC home: 26.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.6 steals
45.7 percent FG, 55.8 percent 2-point FG, 33.3 percent 3-point FG, 80.0 percent free throws
SEC road: 21.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.3 steals
42.3 percent FG, 46.0 percent 2-point FG, 37.5 percent 3-point FG, 78.7 percent free throws
Best month: February - 25.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists, .1 blocks, 1.0 steals
44.1 percent FG, 53.5 percent 2-point FG, 29.8 percent 3-point FG, 77.7 percent free throws
Worst month: January - 18.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 0.0 blocks, 1.8 steals
37.0 percent FG, 42.4 percent 2-point FG, 30.6 percent 3-point FG, 80.3 percent free throws
• Jumped from fairly inconsistent in Year 1 to routinely great in Year 2. When I interviewed Mason Jones last July, he told me all of the hard work he had been putting in between his sophomore and junior season was going to lead to some good things, but I did not envision him putting together the season he had. At that point, more than two months out from the season opener, he said he was locked in, and he had never in his life been more serious about the game. The dedication to his craft translated to the floor unbelievably, and it resulted in a number of accolades: Associated Press co-SEC player of the year, unanimous first team All-SEC selection and AP All-American honorable mention. He is also a finalist for the Jerry West Award, which recognizes the top shooting guard in college basketball. I believe he is deserving of that award, and I know I'm not alone in thinking that.
Back in January 2019, I was asked to write a basketball update for Hawgs Illustrated, and in that story I stated that Jones was arguably the most hit-or-miss Arkansas guard in terms of production. Five times as a sophomore he scored at least 15 points in a game then finished with six or less the next time out. He admitted that consistency was a bit of an issue. Not this past season. Jones scored 40-plus points twice, 30-plus seven times and 20 or more in nine games, and when his shot wasn't falling, he turned into a solid distributor, which I will get to later. Jones truly only had a couple of off nights from a production standpoint - Texas Southern, Western Kentucky, at Tennessee. He may not have brought his A-game every night in terms of scoring the ball, but when he didn't he contributed in other ways, like rebounding, setting up teammates and takeaways on the defensive end. I thought he really grew as a defender, and he did so while being asked to play the 4 at 6-5.
Jones may have put together the best scoring stretch in SEC games that Bud Walton Arena has ever seen. In Arkansas' last six home dates, Jones averaged 32.8 points on 53.5 percent shooting against South Carolina, Auburn, Mississippi State, Missouri, Tennessee and LSU. He finished with at least 34 points in five of those six games, and went for 40 against top-15 Auburn. He also scored 20-plus points in six of nine road games in league play, including 30 at Alabama in a terrific performance in a win and at Texas A&M (made career-high 8 3s on 11 attempts).
"Routine" was the word Jimmy Whitt used to describe Jones' scoring outbursts after the LSU home game. Jones called it "clock work." He went out and earned everything that came his way this season, and it is a huge testament to his work ethic behind the scenes and the trust he placed in Eric Musselman and his staff. I guess we should have known he was in for a one-of-a-kind season after he went for 32 in the season opener against Rice and broke Georgia Tech's heart with a buzzer beater early on. He wanted the ball in his hands in big moments. He snatched the soul of a number of teams by hitting big shots, including the Yellow Jackets, Valparaiso and Indiana. Some players shy away from that moment, but not Jones.
If we have seen the last of Jones in an Arkansas uniform - that decision is still being made, according to a since-deleted tweet from his Twitter account - we've witnessed one of the best individual seasons in program history, and one of the most remarkable success stories in recent memory.
• Menace in transition. When the ball found Jones' hands off a long rebound, outlet pass or scramble situation, everyone in the arena knew the odds of him making something positive happen was sky high. Broadcast crews consistently spoke about how it seemed as if the floor was titled when Jones was on the move in transition. "Menace" is the best way I can describe him in those scenarios. He was nearly unstoppable. He was going to either score at the rim, draw a foul - or both - or find a teammate for a high-quality look.
According to Synergy Basketball analytics, Jones averaged six points per game in transition alone, which led all players in power conferences. Georgia freshman Anthony Edwards, the presumed No. 1 pick in this year's draft, was second at 5.4 per game. HoopLens analytics has another way to look at the manner in which Jones terrorized teams on a broken floor: Points Above Median, which calculates how many additional points a player scores when compared with what an average player would have scored with those shot attempts. At the rim in transition, Jones owned a PAM of 32.1, according to the site, which led the Razorbacks and ranked third in the SEC behind Edwards and Vanderbilt guard Saben Lee.
His top games in terms of PAM at the rim in transition came against Tulsa (4.2, 41 points), Rice (4.2, 32 points), vs. Mississippi State (4.2, 38 points), Auburn (3.2, 40 points) and Valparaiso (3.1, 20 points).
• Great finisher. According to my shot chart data collected throughout the season, Jones scored a team-high 89 times at the rim and finished at a 68.5-percent clip. Through the first three months of the schedule, Jones scored 43 times in the restricted area. He added 36 scores at the rim in February alone.
• Savvy, high-IQ player. Jones' craftiness kind of took everyone by storm his first season on campus, and he only got better in that regard this year. Musselman put the ball in Jones' hands a lot and let him be himself, allowing him to create individually and for others. He was great there. One aspect of his game that had to drive opposing coaches and teams insane was his innate ability to draw contact and get to the line. He finished 2019-20 with 282 free throws attempted. Jones was the nation's leader in fouls drawn per 40 minutes, according to KenPom, at 8.1, and he drew 8.4 in SEC games. As a sophomore, those figures sat at 5.1 and 5.4, respectively.
Musselman, considering the Razorbacks were not a great rebounding team by any stretch, mentioned at one point this season that he needed players to be heady and tap 50-50 rebounds to teammates if possible should they not be able to corral it with two hands. Few on the roster were better at this than Jones. It isn't something that shows up in a box score, but it was invaluable. His instincts are natural, and it helped him not only in that space but in the midst of defensive possessions. I thought he was great reading a play 1-2 passes ahead, which led to steals and deflections that sparked transition chances. Jones ranked No. 17 in SEC-only games with a 2.3 percent steal rate, which led the team.
His basketball IQ was a key reason Musselman had him initiate offense as much as he did. He recognized 1-on-1 mismatches, exploited them often, and was also able to hone in on teammates' mismatches and get the ball to advantageous spots on the floor.
• Tremendous playmaker and shot creator. There was obviously much more to Jones' offensive game than simply scoring the ball, which he did at will at times. Entering his junior season, his career high in assists in a month was 24, coming in December 2018. He surpassed that mark in consecutive months to begin 2020, including 38 in January - 4.8 per game.
After January, I created an assists map for Jones to see where his assists originated and what type of shots he was creating. The results were really interesting. His 27 assists in February, 14 in Isaiah Joe's absence, generated 68 points for the Razorbacks. Fourteen of the assists led to 3-pointers - four in the left corner, eight on the left wing - and 12 set up scores in the lane. He also found Whitt for a midrange jumper at the right elbow. Most impressive, to me at least, were his five perimeter assists that went for scores in the lane.
While Jones led the SEC with a usage rate of 33.1 percent in conference games, he was also No. 9 in assist rate at 24.9 percent, according to KenPom. Arkansas had an effective field goal percentage of 50.0 percent in nearly 1,600 offensive possessions in which Jones was on the floor this season, per HoopLens.
• Stepback 3 moving left. That was his go-to move, and he was great at it. He hit 31 3s from the left wing this season, tying Joe for the team lead. He also pulled the stepback out on the right wing, where he shot 44.2 percent for the year.
• Turnovers and player-control fouls. When you have the ball in your hands more than any other player in the SEC, odds are you're going to turn it over a bit more than you'd like. Jones committed at least four turnovers in a game 13 times this season, including seven against Valparaiso and South Carolina, and six in consecutive games played against Georgia Tech and Austin Peay back in late November/early December.
Almost all of Jones' turnovers came as he was attempting to make something happen on the offensive end, whether they were errant passes on the interior or charges. The offensive fouls he was whistled for, which occurred 1-2 times per game I'd say, were my only true gripe with his game this year.
At certain points he would lose discipline and either extend his off arm into an opposing player's chest or barrel over a defender. Those were frustrating sequences, but you kind of had to live with it because he was hands down the team's best creator, and there was a good chance he would make a brilliant play the next time down after making an adjustment.
Jones finished the season with 99 turnovers, more than twice as many as Jalen Harris, who was second on the team in that category with 47. He held a season turnover rate of 16.7 percent, per KenPom, but that number dipped to 14.3 percent in conference games, which you'll take considering his usage rate and what was asked of him offensively.
• Prone to take some tough 2-point jumpshots. This became a trend as we hit 2020. Through the first two months of the season, Jones had made 5 of 9 2-point attempts outside the lane on the left side of the floor. Once conference play began, so did his struggles on those midrange jumpers. He missed his first five jumpers left of the lane and, in February, went 2 of 13 on such shots. He opened February by missing his first 10.
He finished the year 8 of 35 left of the lane, a solid 8 of 16 in the middle of the floor and 9 of 25 right of the lane.
• Corner 3s. I'm not sure this is even a weakness of his simply because he just didn't operate from those spots on the floor that often, but I figured I'd mention it. Jones finished the year 5 of 14 from 3 in the left corner, which isn't bad, but two of the makes came in March, and he went 0 of 7 in the right corner. Jones lived on the wings (97 left-wing 3s attempted, 43 on the right wing), so it only makes sense that less than 11 percent of his 3-point attempts came in the corners. I was honestly surprised that figure even surpassed 10 percent.
On floor: Offense (1,586 poss.) - 1.00 PPP, 14.9 percent TO rate, 34.0 percent 3FG; Defense (1,593 poss.) - .92 PPP, 21.0 percent TO rate, 30.0 percent 3FG
Off floor: Offense (514 poss.) - 1.00 PPP, 16.7 percent TO rate, 31.7 percent 3FG; Defense (515 poss.) - .94 PPP, 21.4 percent TO rate, 55.1 percent 2FG, 23.2 percent 3FG
Best Jones quote: "I do think I deserve the award, but that's not my place. I'm just going to let God handle all that. I'm going to continue to control what I can control, and that is to motivate my teammates, continue to work hard and continue to show my worth - just to continue to be a great teammate and make winning plays. I'm a winner." - Jones after being asked if he felt he deserved to be named SEC player of the year
Best quote on Jones: "He is an absolute star. The thing I love the most is he came out of nowhere and worked his tail off to get his body right. He has a great feel and skill package. He’s going to end up being an NBA player." - Mississippi State coach Ben Howland
Season review series
Part 1: Desi Sills
Part 2: Isaiah Joe
Part 3: Adrio Bailey