Arriving On A Jetplane

Showing Signs Of Development, Derrick Jones Jr. Stands Out In Summer League
Rocky Widner
by Couper Moorhead
HEAT.com

We’ll get right to the basketball in just a moment. We promise. But first, let’s paint a portrait.

Imagine for yourself a 6-foot-7 swingman. Give him a seven-plus-foot wingspan, just to satisfy all the draftniks out there. Now make him one of the most athletic players in the league. Not Summer League. Not the G-League. Make him an elite NBA athlete. Just for good measure, give him all those descriptors that help rocket players up the draft boards – competitive, coachable, a hard worker.

If such a player were floating around the league, unattached to any team, would you consider it worth your while to pick him up?

Clearly we’re talking about Derrick Jones Jr here, but the point of this little exercise is just to give you an idea of what the Miami HEAT were looking at when they first signed Jones Jr. to a two-way contract last December. He was a lottery ticket to be sure, but considering he’s the same age or younger than some of the lottery picks in this year’s draft, he’s shown enough in the development process and in two games in Sacramento that HEAT officials believe him to be just as valuable as a first-round pick. He wasn’t a July 1 priority by mistake.

Belief doesn’t come cheap in Miami. The team is more than happy to be wowed by, in the words of Summer League coach Eric Glass, the “ridiculous stuff” that Jones Jr. can do on the court. That might be enough to get you noticed, and it certainly raises your ceiling as a player, but it only gets you so far. Erik Spoelstra’s developmental program demands buy in, and by all accounts those demands have been met.

“He took it upon himself to come here,” Bam Adebayo said of his summer teammate. “He knew what the HEAT was about. I feel like Derrick is a HEAT guy. He’s been [in the gym] every day since Day 1. He never got discouraged about his position or about how he was playing. He just kept working.”

Averaging 22.5 points through two games on 54 percent shooting, Jones Jr. has been making the wow moments look easy. Both with dunks that impress even Adebayo…

“Just pure athleticism,” Adebayo says. “He thinks its normal.”

Plus blocks that are simply unachievable for most players, including one you should take particular note of because it came after his own mistake on the offensive end.

But it’s the running payoff of the behind-the-scenes work that impresses the HEAT’s top brass. It hasn’t all been perfect – Jones Jr. has said after both games that he wants to earn more assists – but he’s also being challenged to play outside of his comfort zone in a playmaker role. During the regular season, alongside the likes of Goran Dragić, Dion Waiters and James Johnson, Jones Jr. won’t have to do much of that. He will, however, need to space the floor.

“You have to be able to shoot in this league or you ain’t going to stick, it’s as simple as that,” Jones Jr. said. “I learned that I had to develop a jump shot at a young NBA age, and I’m doing that right now.”

Through his first two stints in the NBA, first with Phoenix and then with Miami, Jones Jr. shot 6-of-29 from three (20.6 percent). In his first two Summer League games, he’s 5-of-9. You should never base much off of such a small sample size, but the key thing here is repeatable delivery.

There have been and will continue to be misses, but considering that four months ago Jones Jr.’s jumper was a little bit slower, with a bit more cross-body action that led to more of a fling, we can at the very least say he’s made progress working with Miami’s shooting consultant Rob Fodor.

“We tweaked a few things, but its mostly just getting shots up,” Jones Jr. said. “Getting reps up, putting time in the gym. I don’t plan on logging out until I reach my goal.”

While it’s a bit of a niche skill in today’s NBA where most teams prioritize transition defense so they don’t succumb to an avalanche of three-point shooting, Jones Jr. has the makings of an elite offensive rebounder.

In his 212 minutes with the HEAT last season, Jones rebounded 10.2 percent of the team’s misses – a number which would have ranked him among the Top 20 of all players, big men included, had he been eligible. And the team is leaning into the potential.

“That is a major emphasis right now in Summer League,” Glass said. “We’re on him to crash. But I think that’s a skillset of his.”

Of course, this being the HEAT we’re talking about, defense is what is going to get Jones Jr. minutes in the big leagues. But with him making plays like this…

His coach doesn’t sound all too concerned about that aspect.

“He’s super competitive and you saw it this year when he was on our main team, he was guarding [James] Harden,” Glass said. “He was guarding the best guys in the league. Sometimes athletes don’t have a great feel for the game, but he’s found a way to utilize his athleticism to make impactful plays on the game. The sky is the limit for him.”

It’s summer. You can get lost making proclamations off what you see in summer. But the HEAT think they have found something. What exactly it is remains to be seen, but finding anything at all, for both player and team, counts for something.

Before we go, let’s quickly hop in the time machine. It’s 2016, before Jones Jr. would go undrafted out of UNLV. On DraftExpress, since absorbed into ESPN in a manner of speaking, Joshua Riddell summarizes his scouting report of Jones Jr. as such:

“Either way, Jones is a player NBA scouts will be keeping close tabs on down the road, as at only 19 years old he has huge upside, and still has an incredible amount of room to grow as a basketball player. If he can find a good development situation where he can, at the very least, become a capable spot-up shooter, and a more attentive and fundamentally sound defender, there is no question that he could find a role in today's NBA.”

There’s a long way yet to go, but after a few pit stops it seems as though Jones Jr. has found the right fit.

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