#44 / Forward / Indiana Pacers
Solomon Jones always seemed a little out of place on the Pacers. He was brought in late in the 2009 offseason on a multiyear contract to join a front court that not only had a lot of bodies, but a severely confusing rotation within that log jam of players. The signing paid off when numerous injuries limited the availability of much of the front court and sprung Solo into action.
While Jones provided a warm body, he wasn’t exactly an effective rotation player in his first season in Indiana, simply mirroring his production in his previous three years in Atlanta. Jones serves as an adequate emergency big man, but wasn’t much in the way of a useful rotation player. So as the Pacers entered the 2010-11 training camp with the same log jam in the front court, a new rookie, and a nice bout of health, it almost seemed as if Solomon Jones could be seeing his guaranteed contract bought out.
The team’s draft pick, Magnum Rolle, exuded enough positive press and play that he has since become the most popular Pacer ever to never actually be a Pacer (Goodnight, Sweet Damon Bailey?). But Rolle and Jones became indistinguishable as training camp and preseason progressed. It became not only financially viable, but viable on the floor as well that the team decide to keep Solomon Jones, who would, even in limited capacity, provide more veteran ability than Rolle.
And it didn’t take long for the move to become relevant, as Jeff Foster was sidelined shortly after the season began and Tyler Hansbrough was still working back into game shape. The lack of Foster gave Solo the minutes he was brought in to serve. Unfortunately, Jones only provided 2.5 PPG and 6 rebounds in the first seven gmes. He began to piece together a respectable campaign shortly after, scoring 10 points against Atlanta and grabbing 10 rebounds in Indiana’s win at Miami, but even as Foster returned from injury, Solo was provided the minutes.
The Pacers fall from relative grace after a strong November were somewhat to do with the minutes Jones was getting. While he wasn’t to blame for the minutes he was given, his increasingly inconsistent production came at the cost of Foster, Hansbrough, and even Josh McRoberts getting any minutes. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense why an emergency big man would be getting minutes over young players that had shown, or needed to have the chance to show their worth; not when everyone on the roster is healthy and able to play.
So it came as no surprise that following the firing of Jim O’Brien, one of the first orders of business was moving Jones back into the emergency role as he played in just three games in the season’s final 38, despite playing in 36 of the 44 games to that point.
So how did Solomon Jones impress?
Jones was kept on the roster because of experience and was given the opportunity to provide that immediately. As much fun as it was to root for Magnum Rolle, he was in no way showing any capabilities of being ready to play steady minutes in the NBA, something the early season injuries would’ve forced him into. Jones isn’t an ideal rotation player, but he’s served his role well in his time.
Despite the slow start where he grabbed a total of 6 rebounds in 7 games, Jones began to play up to his size, having one of, if not his best stretches in the NBA over the next month. Solo up his rebounding numbers to 4.8 per games, roughly about 10 per 36 minutes and was a key part in Indiana’s surprising road wins over the Heat and Lakers where he helped muscle the Indiana front court inside on both teams.
And how did he disappoint?
There’s no sense in blaming Jones for the player he is. He certainly never seemed to play below his skill level, but it’s fair to question his role on a roster of better players when the better players are healthy. Jim O’Brien’s rotations dominated the first three months of the season, and Solo will be the first of many to be dissected for the minutes he was given vs. the player he was.
Even still, it’s a major part of the positives and negatives of the season, and did involve negative play from Jones, because at times, Solo tried to play bigger than he was. Not in the size department, that’d be great, but in the ability department. Sometimes he’d try and make a play he wasn’t capable of making. The poor rebounding start to his year returned through the final six weeks of his season, and generally inconsistent play plagued the team as they struggled in December and January.
More still, while Jones hasn’t grown much in his time in the league, he took the worst shots of his career, giving him a career worst .405 shooting percentage and .661 free throw percentage (not counting his severely limited 2007-08 season). The lack of improvement with hints of regression in overall play didn’t provide Indiana with enough of a boost outside of a twelfth man role to warrant the minutes he continued to get well into and throughout January.
What does the future hold for Solomon Jones?
While the front court will head into the offseason with doubt for players like Foster and McRoberts, it won’t help Jones much in finding another stint with the Pacers. Now that Indiana isn’t forced to work around the salary cap to find the best player they can for the very little they can spend, the roster’s future doesn’t have much room for Solo, not if they hope to upgrade their roster and improve on their depth.
Where Solo will play next will be largely dependent on what happens with the lockout. While the lockout opens up the possibilities of playing overseas or in the D-League with many players, for fringe NBA players like Jones, it may be their only option. Jones can provide enough to be a good short term injury stopgap in the NBA, but may not be able to weather the lockout if he hopes to land another NBA job for next season. Jones will be playing basketball next fall, where is anyone’s guess.