Ray Allen’s pregame routine is well-documented, but he’s not the only player who arrives to arenas hours before games to fine-tune his outside shooting. James Jones is on the Heat’s so-called “early bus” as well, even though most nights Jones knows he’s probably not going to play.
Jones’ preparation and extra practice hours despite normally being buried on the Heat’s depth chart has earned him a level of respect among his teammates and the team’s coaching staff that is akin to reverence. That’s why when Jones’ three-pointers started dropping against the Magic on Wednesday, the Heat’s bench reacted so dramatically.
Jones had four three-pointers in the third quarter of the Heat’s 120-92 victory at Amway Center and as each attempt arced through the air, Jones’ teammates watching from the far sideline rose out of their chairs with excitement.
Jones’ positive attitude toward his playing time and role on the team represents an important yet underappreciated aspect of the Heat’s long-term success, team chemistry and overall stability. Erik Spoelstra constantly preaches “sacrifice,” and Jones is the gold standard of that credo. So, when he makes a three-pointer in a game, considering all those thousands of shots his takes in practice, his teammates kind of overreact with their courtside celebrations.
“We have a lot of professionals in that locker room, but J.J. could probably write the textbook on professionalism and keeping yourself ready, embracing a role and playing that role really as well as everyone in this league,” Spoelstra said. “He is mentally tough.”
Jones wasn’t always so resolute.
He struggled internally with his limited role in the beginning, but that frustration never showed. For that, he has always been a leader in the Heat’s locker room. Every offseason since 2010, the Heat has added an outsider shooter and every time that player — Mike Miller, Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Michael Beasley — has stepped ahead of Jones in the rotation.
“In order to have that depth, you have to have the right kind of guys,” Spoelstra said. “I say it time and time again. It’s much easier said than done. If it were easier, more teams would do it.
“More often in pro sports, you see guys who want more at the expense of winning. Our guys are taking less for something more significant hopefully at the end of the year. It is very gratifying when guys accept that type of role.”
It’s difficult to go from never playing to starter and provide instant offense, but Jones has delivered when called upon. Filling in for Dwyane Wade in the Heat’s past two games, Jones went 7 of 10 from three-point range in back-to-back nights. He played 20 minutes against the Magic and scored 17 points after playing a total of 20 minutes in the Heat’s first 11 games.
With LeBron James drawing a double-team from Orlando, Jones was left wide open on the perimeter, and he didn’t often miss. He was 5 of 7 from three-point range, and James assisted on three of Jones’ four three-pointers in the third quarter.
“I told them on the floor to stop doubling me,” James said. “I actually told them on the floor to stop doubling me because I’m going to find the open shooter, and J.J. happened to be the recipient of those plays.
“And they kept coming with the double and we just swung the ball around, and J.J. was in that corner and he was able to knock some shots down.”
Said Jones, pragmatic as always: “You just pick your poison. That’s every team. This league is full of guys who can make shots. I’m just blessed to be on a team with guys that are willing to make the extra pass because many, many teams you’ll find that team’s best players are reluctant to get off the ball. LeBron, D-Wade, Mario [Chalmers], Norris [Cole], they get off the ball really well.”