Derrick Jones Jr. started off his professional basketball career far below most people's radar. After playing one year of college ball at UNLV, the 6'7" small forward left college amid some controversy and entered the NBA draft. He went undrafted and missed 2016 NBA Summer League play due to a groin injury.
But Ryan McDonough saw something in the raw rookie. He came to the Suns' training camp and got more than just a minimum one year rookie contract. Nothing is guaranteed past this year but Ryan thought enough of him to sign him for four years.
He spent the majority of the season with the NAZ Suns, entertaining the good folks in Prescott Valley with his extreme athleticism and high-flying dunks. In the NBA he was a virtual unknown until the All-Star break. But after finishing second in the dunk contest people started to take notice and with the Suns’ post-AS break youth movement he finally got his chance to show his stuff with the big team for the rest of the season.
And he showed everyone where the nickname “Airplane Mode” came from.
After the All-Star break Jones averaged 20.9 minutes per game and started 6 of those 25 games. He averaged 6.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 0.6 spg, 0.5 spg, and 0.4 apg. Nothing in that stat line really jumps out at you but Derrick was one of only two Suns players to have a positive +/- for that period of time (+0.7). The other was Eric Bledsoe (+1.9). He was also second on the team in FG percentage (55.3%) although much of that was due to his preference to attack the rim rather than settle for jump shots. Plus his teammates learned quickly to look for him heading to the rim both in transition and in the half-court offense.
69.12% of his field goals were assisted. Toss the ball in his general direction when he's headed toward the basket and the result is often a highlight dunk.
Getting to the rim is his bread and butter both in transition...
... and with putbacks.
Fully 65% of his shots taken were at or around the rim, either dunks (25.83%), layups (28.33%) or tip-ins (10.83%) and he connected on 67% of his shots withing 8 feet of the basket. But he showed that isn't the full extent of his offensive game. He also showed signs of a developing jump shot and hit 27.3% of his rare three point attempts (11). “I [Leandro Barbosa] always tell him that he needs to shoot a couple 3s or maybe one dribble and the pull-up in the mid-range. We work on that and I told him, ‘If you don’t take two (3-point) shots during the game, I’m going to take your per diem.’”
Listen to Barbosa and keep working on that three point shot DJ.
Jones is still young and raw but as head coach Earl Watson said about him, “He has the potential to be a defender, a three-point shooter, play above the rim. But he has to get NBA reps, get an NBA work ethic, and that’s what really separates guys from making it and not making it.”
In his career high scoring game against Dallas on April 9 he showed off more than just his skill as a dunker with a stat line of 15 pts, 3 rebounds and 3 steals.
Jones often got the toughest defensive assignment after Eric Bledsoe was put out to pasture for the final few weeks of the season and he didn't back down from the challenge. As a one-on-one defender he performed well but on a young Suns team that has yet to learn how to play good team defense that often wasn't enough. But Jones has embraced the challenge to become a lock-down defender. “I take on every challenge that they give me. I never back down from a challenge, ever. You’ll never see me do that. It doesn’t matter who the player is or what their stat line shows, I’m going to go out and give it my all and do my best to stop them.”
For a wing he's a pretty good shot blocker. While his per game rate for the season was only 0.4 bpg, his rate jumps up to 1.2 blocks per 48 minutes. Only fourteen NBA small forwards and three NBA shooting guards were better than Derrick on that scale this season. That’s impressive for a 20 year old rookie.
Rebounding... he still needs to work on that aspect of his game. His 3.0 rebounds per game (7.0 per 48) rate after the AS break wasn't bad but a guy with his athletic ability should be able to do better. During that same time period T.J. Warren and Jared Dudley - both less athletic than DJJ - averaged 10.5 rebounds and 8.2 rebounds per 48 (respectively) while Jones averaged 7.0 rebounds per 48. But Jones was also often tasked with guard opposing shooting guards or point guards which sometimes didn't put him in a good position to get defensive rebounds. His rebounds were almost 50/50 offensive and defensive. That isn’t common as most players at any position usually get more defensive than offensive rebounds.
Overall, Jones is still a project player, a young guy with a lot of potential. At this point in his development I would say that he could become a somewhat unique 3-and-D role player that can also give you many spectacular highlight dunks. He still has a way to go in his development but I like what I've seen from him so far and I think that he has more upside. Whether he reaches that or not is up to him. But he has a great attitude, stepped up after the All-Star break when the team needed him and became a pretty solid rotation player.
I give him a B+ on this season. He outperformed my expectations and gave me reason to believe that he has more upside... perhaps much more.
Hopefully he will continue to impress not only me but everyone.
All quotes from the AZCentral article "Suns' Derrick Jones Jr. becomes a defensive project".
All stats courtesy of ESPN, NBA.com, Real GM and NBA Miner.com
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