Of the many things that made fans question why Larry Bird picked up the final year of Jim O’Brien’s contract for this season was that Bird was not giving O’Brien the personnel he needed to succeed in his style. Bird signed Dahntay Jones to help improve the team’s defense, but his offensive style wasn’t suited to O’Brien’s shooting philosophy. As such, Jones went 4-32 from three point range, and the lack of shooting buried an otherwise useful player towards the end of the 2009-10 season.
While his defensive reputation didn’t exactly live up to the billing, he did provide the Pacers with enough of a look that made him a grossly misused product of the Jim O’Brien system. With the early season play of Brandon Rush and the return of a competent Mike Dunleavy; not to mention rookie Paul George, plus some failed T.J. Ford/Darren Collison backcourt experiments, Jones was pretty far out of the team’s playing rotation for the first half of the 2010-11 season.
Despite not being a truly gifted offensive player, Jones had shown tenacity on the offensive end, and a willingness to get things done, a trait that may have been helpful in the dark recesses of December and January when no one in the team’s second unit could find the basket. His defense could’ve been useful on nights when all they needed was a stop. Even still, Jones had played in just 10 of the team’s first 44 games; 74 minutes, 2.7 points, getting extended play in just one game where the team was short Danny Granger.
Despite some possible frustrations with the lack of time, Jones remained on call, and following the coaching change, saw his role change considerably. It clearly helped as Jones became one of the key pieces in the short lived Goon Squad which helped Indiana jumped out to an 8-1 start under Frank Vogel. Jones was paramount in the team’s win against Minnesota, salvaging a maligned effort with a huge fourth quarter.
The second unit of the Pacers would be an important key to the team’s success down the stretch, the abilities of Jones being a huge part in that growth and success. Spotted with deficits from the starters? It was Jones who helped erase that. Needing a final push down the stretch? Dahntay was going to make his effort. If he had it, you could ride him to the end, but unfortunately, he didn’t have always it.
That would be Jones’s biggest detriment to the team on nights he would search for his shot and not quite be on top of it. He would often take too many, leaving the team a possession short. But there’s no discounting his value down the stretch on both ends. He played well in the postseason and was one of the team’s designated stoppers on Derrick Rose for the second half of the series, as Indiana clamped down and created the blueprint for slowing down the league’s MVP, getting eleven points in a Game 3 effort and winning Game 4 in part thanks to his play down the stretch on Rose.
So how did Dahntay impress?
Jones’s season was limited, but he showed far more value in his play under Vogel than at any point with O’Brien. It was never a matter of whether or not he could provide anything, but that he wasn’t being utilized to his strengths. Jones did improve his three point shooting, shooting a steady 36%, but didn’t rely on it. Offense was key for Jones, where he did add a new dynamic to Indiana’s second unit that had struggled to create offense under O’Brien. Defensively, he showed more than he had last season, even getting the call in Game 4 against Chicago to shut down Derrick Rose, a task he took for most of the second half as he and Paul George held Rose to a woeful 6-22 shooting with only four free throw attempts in the Indiana win.
Plus, he gave a fan 17 pairs of shoes, which is just an all around cool story.
And how did he disappoint?
Dahntay is one of the few players on the Pacers with the desire to take a game over. Unfortunately, the players who have that desire night in and night out for the Pacers typically didn’t have the tools capable of sustaining that kind of energy. It was certainly no difference with Jones, who would have a great showing followed by a fairly disappointing showing. While inconsistency is to be expected from a role player like Jones, his desire to persevere despite not having his best stuff often put the team in a bad situation as he would look for a shot instead of finding someone who would hit it.
So what’s next for Jones?
Jones has two years left on his contract, and unless the team trades him, he’ll remain with the team for the foreseeable future. What his role will be moving forward remains the far bigger question, though with questionable statuses on Mike Dunleavy and what kind of role Brandon Rush will have, it shouldn’t be a surprise if Jones remains a focal point in the team’s second unit.
While that’s all well and good, it does speak to the necessity of addressing the team’s depth at the two spot where the Pacers currently feature a trio of solid defensive players (Rush and Paul George), none of which have shown consistent offensive form to this point, and only George would be expected to. After two seasons, we know who Dahntay Jones is. But as he has shown throughout his career, he’s a valuable player in the right circumstances. For the Pacers moving forward, he can be that kind of player in Indiana.