Heading into the season, having lost Mike Dunleavy to free agency and traded Brandon Rush for Lou Amundson, the Pacers found themselves thin at the three spot. While Paul George seemed the obvious fit, the team's goal to play ten deep and give a majority of his minutes at the shooting guard position meant they would become heavily reliant on the play of Dahntay Jones.
While Jones was brought in in 2008 on his defensive reputation to help give some kind of defensive identity to a team completely lacking any, he proved to be an odd fit with Jim O'Brien's three happy offensive schemes. But as the team improved, Jones began to fit more with the team both on the floor and off it, providing some veteran leadership to a young team in need of some.
For the 2011-12 season, without anyone to fill the void in the small forward position for extended minutes, Jones was the tenth man in Indiana's ten man rotation, but with George Hill struggling to start the season, Jones took it upon himself to make plays for the team offensively, often leading to him forcing things far too often, and a team looking to make Dahntay Jones a primary scoring option can't be expected to find extensive success.
This led to considerable frustration among fans, having to see Jones try and make plays he's not adept to making, even if his intentions were in the right place. Simply understanding Jones's intentions in making the plays he did made it difficult to be too upset at his actions. After all, if Jones played as a focal point of the team, it was usually because there was little to no choice given how the team was performing. But walking the fine line between quality play and having to be over-reliant proved difficult as the Pacers were just 4-6 in games he reached double figures.
Even still, Jones provided sparks throughout the season, settling into a shockingly reliable three point specialist. Most of Jones's best play came in a spark plug role. Dahntay often made plays that were a big part in swinging momentum into Indiana's favor. Getting a jam, a three pointer, a key stop or turnover, they were often spearheaded by Jones off the bench.
Jones found his niche as the season progressed, settling into a quality role as a momentum shifter, but found himself out of the playoff rotation when the second season rolled around. Foul trouble and the second unit's general lack of contribution forced Jones into playing time when Frank Vogel hoped to extend the rotation in hopes of letting the team outlast injuries that the Heat occasionally dealt with, though most only cropped up when they needed to fish for an excuse.
Unfortunately, despite the team's defensive struggles, it was their offense that needed a kick start, and Jones, who struggled to find the same three point consistency in the regular season, was unable to give them an offensive punch to count Miami's runs. The team having to turn to Jones to provide an offensive punch was of course an emergency measure that didn't pay off.
Jones provided a lot of quality veteran leadership throughout the season. He was a positive energy off the bench and even during the times he wasn't a part of the playing rotation. His three point shooting was confusingly consistent. Hard work spent improving that aspect of his game has paid off. This is the same player who was 4-32 in 2008-09, eventually benched because he was being played against his own offensive strengths. His 33-77 season was the most consistent of any Pacer on a team that was one of the league's best at three point shooting.
In addition, Jones provided a lot of momentum shifts as the season progressed. Seeing Jones crop up with a jam or a couple of big buckets wasn't unusual as he began to grow more comfortable in the second unit. Watching Jones grow as a Pacers has been more rewarding than I'm sure many fans expected from a 29-year-old journeyman who was signed on an overrated defensive reputation on a Conference Finals Denver team. He's done a great job evolving his game while remaining positive and professional when his playing time was changed.
Most of Jones's struggles come from the team relying on what he couldn't do, which doesn't so much come from him than the team not being good enough. However, when Jones made it an effort to get something started, it was a coin flip whether or not he'd actually provide any kind of spark. Jones was best providing a spark, not being the team's fire, and the Pacers certainly weren't better off when he tried to make things happen.
But as mentioned before, Jones's intention at this points was often out of necessity. It was easy to tell Jones was frustrated when the team wasn't getting anything done. His mentality was a positive, but he simply isn't good enough to make up for a team wide collapse.
And the Future
Dahntay will be entering the final year of his four-year contract, and whether the Pacers aim to retain him through the 2012-13 season or use his expiring (albeit affordable) deal to get younger and hopefully better remains to be seen. Certainly, Jones provides a lot of positive things to a good team. There's little to suggest he can't be a rotation player on a successful playoff team, but Indiana still needs an upgrade at the three spot, whatever that means for Dahntay.
Predicting Jones's future with the Pacers is difficult. He could as easily be a possible swing player in a deal as he could easily continue to be a great piece of chemistry on a growing team that's still molding into what they hope to one day become. Regardless of whether Jones finishes out his contract with the team he signed with, he's been a better player for the Pacers than a lot of people expected upon his signing, making his signing, especially at his price, a subtle and quality move for the Pacers.