#1 / Guard / Indiana Pacers
After the 2008-09 season, the Indiana Pacers had a few necessary issues to address. One of the key issues was that of defense. Meanwhile, Dahntay Jones was gaining a lot of steam as a defensive specialist for the Denver Nuggets in the NBA Playoffs (hey, that word…it seems I know it…). Generally, the marriage made sense from a black and white perspective.
Eventually, the relationship was confirmed, as the Pacers signed Jones early in July to help them get the ship righted defensively. He was signed to a lengthy, but modest contract, giving the team a long term veteran, regardless of whether he’s a veteran in a veteran’s sense (apologies for redundancy). The move was panned by John Hollinger, citing Jones’s poor performance in his PER statistic. And well, that’s true if you look at that number. After all, Jones was coming off a season where he started almost all of his games for Denver, but made very limited statistical contribution. That’s not going to bode well in a statistic based rating, since what Jones was "capable of" wasn’t a statistic.
Regardless, George Karl liked what he offered enough to make him a starter (despite getting only 18 minutes a game), and who are we or Hollinger to doubt one of the game’s more important coaches? What we weren’t really prepared for was Jones showing us something none of us expected: an offensive game. Yeah, he was an accomplished in-game dunker, but averaging 5.4 points in Denver, but he’d never really played anywhere that required him to help much offensively (he did average 24.4 PPG in the D-League, but find me an NBA quality player who can’t).
Jones got to work early in the season, scoring in double figures in 14 of the team’s first 16 games, taking on heavy minutes as the team awaited the return of Mike Dunleavy and while Brandon Rush enjoyed his extended mental vacation. In the early stretches of the season, where the team struggled heavily on the offensive end, Jones did exactly what the team needed him to do in order to stay in (albeit still lose a lot of) games: score points.
Through the first sixteen games, D.Jones emerged as the frontrunner for Most Improved Player, averaging 16.6 PPG and 3.8 rebounds. As Danny Granger exited with his knee injury, Jones was less the catalyst the team needed him to be, notching up a lot of offensive inconsistencies. It’s no surprise then with the return of Dunleavy and having Rush actually being healthy, Jones slowly fell out of favor in the rotation, notching up a handful of DNP-CDs from Jim O’Brien.
Jones remained a consummate professional throughout the trying season, however, stepping in when needed, and performing when asked to perform. In addition to offensive inconsistencies, Jones displayed a series of defensive inconsistencies as well. A noticeable upgrade from the previous season, Jones’s defensive style created its own detractors, including Pacers radio legends Mark Boyle and Slick Leonard. Jones also fell out of favor for his lack of ability as a three point shooter. Yes? Can I help you? "Let me answer it this way: I like to space the court." Oh! Thanks for dropping by, Coach!
What it ultimately summed up to was a disjointed season for the 29-year-old guard. Expectations were left a bit short, in both founded and unfounded scenarios. What becomes of Jones’s value as a Pacer remains to be seen, though, his role can still be useful.
So how did D.Jones impress?
Who knew Jones was capable of an offensive flurry? Not only did he blow out of the gates with a huge scoring touch early in the season, but managed to come up with big games despite his increasingly erratic playing time. Speaking of which, there’s something to be said for his professionalism. Jones, who left a Western Conference Finals Nuggets team to join a We-swear-this-year-we’re-making-the-playoffs Pacers team, wasn’t completely given the opportunities he was promised throughout the season. I assume such promises existed, you know, that he would get his minutes and his contract security, which was a big factor in him even coming East, but never mind that…on a team with Brandon Rush scratching his head for four months and T.J. Ford laughing it up in blowout losses, Jones’s professionalism deserves some applause. Hopefully he continues to bring that next season. Oh yeah, and those dunks he can throw down, they aren’t overrated. If not for Josh McThunderjams, he could’ve provided the most exciting dunks of the season. A big upgrade from last year, where there were no dunks.
And how did D.Jones disappoint?
Mark Boyle and/or Slick Leonard made note of the defensive specialties of Dahntay Jones pretty efficiently in the second half of the season, but at the risk of butching their words, I’ll sum it up as such: We’re all a little confused where this reputation came from. Are you? In a sense, we expected Bruce Bowen and got a guy who could score some points and make some stops. Generally, looking back to last season’s Western Conference Finals, I wasn’t engaged by Jones’s defensive efforts as a "Kobe Killer" in that series. In fact, I don’t recall Jones stepping in as a specialist to any notable degree in that series. I could’ve been enamored by the fact Trevor Ariza was really a fun player to watch and all of that, but that reputation remains a bit fishy.
Also, despite showing an offensive game, the game he showed was wildly inconsistent. Jones doesn’t appear to have the ability to create his own shot, and if the shots are coming to him, he’s about as useless as Brandon Rush on the offensive end. Oh, and Obie wanted me to point out his three point numbers. Jones finished the year 4-32 from deep, but I’d rather point out that he quit taking the long ball shot as the season progressed. I liked that, even though someone didn’t. What’s that? "Let me answer it this way: I like to space the court." Right, right. Tell us something new, Coach!
Well, what’s next for D.Jones?
By the way, the "D" in D.Jones can also stand for "Defensive." As in "I’d be getting pretty defensive if I were Dahntay Jones and looking at a very similar second year in terms of floor time and philosophy." Unless he magically finds a deep shot (which, I mean, he doesn’t have to, does he?), expect to see Jones notch up a couple of 30 minute games here and there, and then enjoy a DNP-CD from time to time, and ultimately back up Brandon Rush’s confusing enigma of an enigma for Jim O’Brien’s enigma of a rotation. And as Gene Hackman once put it, "Now, that’s just not right, dammit."
Dahntay Jones is a solid rotation player. But you have to play him as a rotation player. And it’s a shame his positives are being wasted for all the confusing floor time and expectations being given to him. Denver had it right. Get him in to start the game, set the tone defensively, and then blindside the opponent with a spark plug. Indiana doesn’t have a spark plug like J.R. Smith, so starting Jones and then going to…who? Brandon Rush? Well, that’s not going to do much if Brandon takes one shot in 30 minutes of action, but the idea is what’s important. It’s all about the usage of Dahntay Jones. Unfortunately, his usage was mismanaged last season, and there’s little to suggest it won’t be mismanaged again in 2010-11. I suppose all we can really hope for is more of the same professionalism as we try and sort it all out.
Also important is going to be the expectations of his defensive game. Do we know if we can expect more of him defensively? Is there a direct relation to his offensive outputs and his defensive consistency? The price is nice on Jones as a player, and given his contract length, we'll likely see him for quite a while to answer those questions. But to get a player in a career year on the cheap? I'm not against it, and I look forward to seeing what he puts forth as a Pacer.