After a successful trial in the All-Star Game, should the NBA adopt the Elam Ending in more meaningful games?

Over the recent years we have seen some big names enter the NBA from the ‘1-and-done’ factory at Duke. This installment of our Sixers draft series focuses on sophomore Tre Jones. The Blue Devils point guard who saw his stock sky-rocket at Durham this year. Leading Duke to a 25 win season amidst an influx of new freshmen. 

OVERVIEW

Tre Jones walked into Duke as a highly touted freshman in 2018. But high school rankings can be relative. And for Jones this meant navigating a historic recruiting class. A group that included NBA lottery picks in Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish. As a low usage guard, Jones struggled to find any rhythm as a scorer. Often contributing very little in an offense emphatically centered around Zion. 

With a new year came fresh opportunities as well as a new role for Jones. The 6’3 guard embraced the challenge, turning into Duke’s emotional leader on and off the court. Perhaps no other game defines this challenge more than Jones’ legendary heroics at Chapel Hill. A game that saw him drop 28 points against UNC’s star point guard Cole Anthony. The match-up served to further cement Jones’ fantastic season. A year where the Duke sophomore became the ACC Defensive Player of the Year. The question now is how Jones’ game will feature at the next level. While the defensive qualities scream off the tape, there is work to be done on the offensive end. Where Jones will likely have grow into a consistent contributor on the score sheet. 

STRENGTHS

  • Tremendous open court vision and passer. Constantly looking to reward teammates in transition.
  • Understands spacing. Moves well off the ball to provide a passing and shooting outlet to ball handlers.
  • Deceptively quick first step. Enough to get past high ball pressure.
  • Elite level feel as an off ball defender. Anticipates passing lanes and disrupts the flow of half court sets.
  • Good lateral quickness defending other guards. Can stick with attacker and remain balanced throughout the possession. 

WEAKNESSES

  • Provides limited physical resistance on switches. Lacks the frame to anchor bigger guards and forwards
  • Can be dislodged rather easily on contact. Nudged off balance when attempting to finish at the rim
  • Relatively low release point may hinder ability to get shots off at the next level.
  • Does not display the speed and quickness to breakdown defenses off the dribble. 
  • Lacks consistent shooting from the outside. Improvements made in year two but significant work needs to be done on the shot.

FILM HIGHLIGHT

Intensity and pace are two words that encapsulate Tre Jones’ role with the team. Offensively, a big part of his contribution lies on anchoring Duke’s offense in transition. Jones’ is a fantastic passer with tremendous court vision. It is on those fast break opportunities where Jones flourishes. Often times turning misses into quick scoring chances. Guys willing to run with Jones are consistently rewarded. Here is a simple montage of some of Jones’ finest work on the run. 

And while Jones brings a frantic pace on the offensive end, it is defensively where his energy stands out. No one will mistake him for a defensive giant. But in what Jones lacks in size he more than makes up for it in intangibles and hustle. Much of what earned Jones ACC Defensive Player of the Year was his ability to see the play before the pass. Against Michigan State you see it play out perfectly

Follow Jones early in the possession and you can see how quick he beats his man to the pass. The split second reaction allows him to anticipate the incoming pass and get in position for the steal. In two seasons at Durham, Jones averaged 1.8 steals per game (ranking 3rd in the ACC during the 2018-2019 year). But it is not just off the ball where Jones thrives. As the lead ball stopper, Jones is constantly hounding ball handlers. His hustle and energy is off the charts. And his ability to stay glued to the ball is a significant hindrance to teams looking to jump start their half court offense. Just pay attention to how Jones moves laterally and the disruption he causes as a result.

POSSIBLE FIT

It is very unlikely that Tre Jones would arrive in Philadelphia with a consistent outside shot. That part of his game needs (significant) work. So envisioning a fit here requires a complete evolution from what the Sixers offense has become. That is, a significant uptick in speed of play. Philadelphia ranked 20th in pace prior to the postponement of the season. A considerable decrease from the prior year. With a revamped offense the opportunity to slot him into a TJ McConnell-like role exists. One where Jones is free to push the ball and set the offense on fire. 

If we dig deeper at what the Sixers offense materialized during the season we can see how Jones may help. Philadelphia amassed 1,189 transition possessions (8th in the NBA). However, their 1.09 points per transition possession ranked in the bottom tier of NBA teams. The team scored on a paltry 48% of transition opportunities. Led by Ben Simmons, who struggled at generating transition scoring. As the lead guard, Simmons often found himself surround by slower teammates and limited transition outlets. With Jones the equation can most certainly change. One where Jones is the one finding Simmons in transition. Much in the same way he found Zion and other counterparts at Duke. 

STAT NUGGETS

  • 36% three point shooting on 108 attempts during his sophomore season (26% on 103 attempts in 2018-2019).
  • 8.9% uptick in usage during sophomore season. 
  • 377 assists over the last two seasons (12th among all college players).
  • 1 of 5 players in 2019-2020 to play over 1000 mins with 180+ assists and an OBMP over 5.0.
  • 120 career steals in 65 games.

SUMMARY

Tre Jones will likely slot into the back end of the first round. Teams looking for a strong locker room presence may find tremendous value in the Duke point guard. Much of what his stock hinges on is in the ability to contribute on the scoring end. However, Jones may serve as a complimentary distributor for teams with established scoring presences. Someone to ensure everyone is content with touches. His physical frame will very likely limit the impact he can make as a three-level scorer (and defensive stopper). But his intangibles are off the charts and Tre Jones should be a hot commodity in the upcoming months.