The Bulls have been in a tough spot with Patrick Williams to say the least. Javonte Green has come in and provided energy and intentional play that has helped the Bulls stay competitive. But a guy like that can only bring that type of jolt in spurts. Billy Donovan needs someone to eat into those remaining power forward minutes. And if his play during the Celtics game is any indication, Derrick Jones Jr. might be that guy.
After getting DNP’d in the first two games, Donovan has praised Jones for staying ready.
“I just give him a lot of credit, he’s a total pro,” Donovan said. “He goes through the first two games, doesn’t get in. Plays really, really well against Cleveland and I wanted to give him another opportunity, and he played really well tonight.”
In his first play against the Cavaliers, he immediately hit a corner three. That’s been an area of focus for him over this past offseason.
“Mostly shooting and ball handling,” Jones said during training camp. “Getting into the paint, finishing. My defense is always going to be what my defense is. I just try to work on my timing a little bit, like my weak side help.”
Jones’ three point shooting was all over the place last year, largely because he is a streaky shooter. But he shot a tick over 40 percent prior to missing time with his finger injury, and only 20.8 percent after returning, all on low volume.
“It was just something mental,” he continued. “If your fingers hurting and you catch the ball every time and it just hurts a little bit, it’s always a mental aspect you got. Like I said, right now I’m 100 percent and feel as best as I ever did. That finger is long gone out of my mind.”
He’s only 1-for-2 in his 32 minutes early this year, but if he can at the very least make defenses pay for leaving him open on the perimeter. That will open up paint touches and lanes to the basket that the Bulls need to create an advantage in the half court.
Against the Celtics, Jones came in for the start of the second quarter with the Bulls down 39-30. In only eight minutes he completely changed the fortunes of the game in the Bulls favor. He scored 10 points on two-for-four shooting while shooting perfectly on six free throw attempts. When he left, the Bulls leading 53-46.
The Bulls want to incorporate randomness into the flow of their offense. But at times, they just end up moving the ball around the shell without putting any pressure on the rim.
Jones immediately made an impact because he was able to put pressure on the rim. This went a long way towards causing mistakes from one of the league’s best defenses.
Zach LaVine makes a great read with Jones getting the inside track on Jayson Tatum. From there, his quick leaping is just too hard to stop.
Here’s another example of the Bulls new-look offense, where they are operating more on the outer thirds of the court. Getting into an empty side pick-and-roll from the corner is not something you see much. But Jones does a great job making himself available for a pass, which causes a fissure in the defense.
And from there it was just the little things. If the Celtics are going to put their center on him and play free safety, you have to be able to capitalize, either by shooting or cutting.
We’ve seen flashes of this from Williams, but his lack of consistency and willingness to recover from bad moments makes it hard to rely on him to create space in the half court.
You’re not supposed to get too high or too low in basketball. Especially when you’re working with small samples. But what we’ve seen from Jones so far has been really encouraging. At the very least, he has put some pressure on Donovan to consider all three of his options at power forward.
“At that spot, there’s going to be a level of sacrifice for all those guys because you’ve got [Green], you’ve got [Williams] and you’ve got [Jones],” Donovan said. “Maybe at times we get to a point where we put two of those guys out there at the same time. There’s a possibility of that.”
The early returns appear to be a power forward rotation by committee, and that’s probably for the best. If Williams can develop a more consistent, reliable level of production, both Jones and Green can come in and apply pressure through energy. It could be the balance the team needs to find at that position.
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