Spoelstra: “This season without question would be the growth of our young players”
The Heat has a first-round pick this year. But in a way, the Heat actually has two first-round selections.
That’s because if forward Derrick Jones Jr. had chosen to stay in college for four seasons, he would be part of this year’s draft. Instead, Jones just finished his first full season with the Heat.
“Derrick Jones Jr. would be considered probably a late first-round pick,” Heat president Pat Riley said last month during his season-ending press conference.
After starting this past season as a situational player, Jones became a consistent part of Miami’s rotation because of his athleticism and versatility on both ends of the court. Jones, a 22-year-old who went undrafted out of UNLV in 2016, averaged career highs in points (7), rebounds (4) and minutes (19.2) while playing in a career-high 60 games (14 starts).
Nicknamed “Airplane Mode” because of his high-flying game and a vertical leap that was once measured at 48 inches, the 6-7 Jones turned himself into one of the NBA’s top offensive rebounders for his size. Among players who stand 6-7 or shorter and played in more than 30 games this past season, Jones grabbed the offensive rebound on a league-best 7.6 percent of Miami’s misses when he was on the court.
That skill, plus Jones’ improved three-point shot and ability to play at the top of the 2-3 zone forced coach Erik Spoelstra to play him even with a roster that included Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson also battling for playing time at power forward.
“He was making it very compelling and tough for me to play all of my fours,” Spoelstra said of Jones. “And that wasn’t necessarily something that I anticipated. But that’s what you ultimately want from your players — make me make tough decisions.”
There are still plenty of areas Jones needs to improve in, though. Continue to work on the outside shot, become a player who can create offense off the dribble and improve as a one-on-one defender are just some of the items on that list.
“Nothing in my game is perfect,” Jones said. “My offensive game definitely isn’t perfect. My defensive game definitely isn’t perfect. So just breaking down as much film as possible, and watching my shots go in and also just repeating those shots and taking as many shots as I can this summer.”
Jones shot 49.4 percent from the field, 30.8 percent from three-point range and 60.7 percent from the free-throw line this past season. The biggest jump came on threes, as he made just 18.8 percent of his shots from deep in 14 games with the Heat in 2017-18.
“I think he’ll be a mid-70s free-throw shooter the way he works at it and a couple of minor things that [assistant coach Chris Quinn and shooting consultant Rob Fodor] will help him with this summer,” Spoelstra said. “He already improved his three-point shooting from basically nonexistent to 31 percent. Now you’re a stone’s throw away from getting to 35, 36 or 37. We’ve done that before. It’ll take a monster summer of work, but he’s committed to that.”
Spoelstra also wants Jones to continue adding muscle to his wiry frame.
“I would like to see him — and he will after a summer of work — really look like Scottie Pippen,” Spoelstra said. “He has that kind of frame. It’s a matter of just fine-tuning it, and Pat says all the time, world-class shape. Best in the world. I think his game and being able to withstand injury will go to another level.”
Jones, who missed 14 games this past season because of injury or illness, said he began his Heat tenure in 2017-18 at 6-7 and 192 pounds. He ended this past season at 6-7 and 210 pounds. Pippen ended his NBA career listed at 6-8 and 228 pounds.
“I’m going to do whatever I possibly can. I’m going to do what I did this year, 10 times more in the summer time,” Jones said. “I lifted a lot this year. I changed my body a lot from last year.
“My game has changed a lot and my weight has changed a lot. That’s just being here as much as possible and just trying to get my body in as great shape as possible so I can stay on the floor as much as I can.”
Jones is due $1.6 million for next season, but the salary is non-guaranteed. The full salary becomes guaranteed Aug. 1, and the Heat is expected to guarantee his contract to bring him back as part of its young core.
Could summer league again be part of Jones’ offseason? He played on the Heat’s summer league team last year and, while not expected to, didn’t rule out doing it again this year.
“I don’t think anybody ever outgrows summer league. But it just depends on if your organization wants you to play,” Jones said. “If they want me to play, then I’m not going to say no.
“Nobody is guaranteed tomorrow and nobody’s spot is guaranteed. Anything can happen tomorrow. ... So I just go out there every day and just try to outwork everybody that’s in front of me to stay on the floor.”