Wade: “I definitely love playing with a guy like that to go to the roof’’
The comment, uttered by Kenny Smith on the most recent edition of TNT’s popular Inside the NBA, was pretty stunning.
After Ernie Johnson narrated a highlight of Derrick Jones Jr.’s recent gravity-defying dunk against Toronto, where he essentially flew through the air and threw the ball in the basket, Smith said this:
“A guy with that athleticism, you give me three months with him and he’ll be the best player in the league.”
Jones is ready to take Smith up on that offer.
“If he’s offering to help, I’m 100 percent in; he was a great player,” said Jones, who has impressed the Heat with his energy, athleticism, defense, offensive rebounding and improved offensive game. “Whatever help I can get in this league to become a great player and impose my will on other teams, I’m taking it.”
Ask Jones how far he is from his ceiling as a player, and he put it this way while standing inside Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum on Friday afternoon:
“Me laying down and that roof up there, that’s how close I am; I am very far away” he said hours before closing with 11 points, 7 rebounds, three assists and a steal in 25 minutes of Friday’s 116-87 loss at Milwaukee.
“I’m only 22 years old. I work hard. I am in the gym every day. I’ve seen improvement from day one of me stepping in this Miami Heat culture to now. My game has changed a whole lot. Everything is different for me. The game is a lot slower to me.”
Jones, incidentally, has targeted one personal goal: becoming the best defensive player in the league.
“Until I get that accolade, of being Defensive Player of the Year several years in a row, then my defense isn’t at the top of its ability,” he said. “That’s the one thing I want to be – a lock down defender, Defensive Player of the Year multiple years in a row. I want to be that player where if team needs a stop no matter who that person is, you put me on him and I will do it.”
During another introspective moment recently, Jones revealed how far he has come.
“Coming into this league, I was a very young kid,” he said. “I’m not afraid to say it: I was immature. Coming to this team, being around all these vets and all these great players, that made my game change, my mentality change. On the court, off the court, everything has changed about me.
“Being late was one of my main problems in Phoenix. I was late a few times, but it was nothing that actually made them waive me. Here, if we have walk through at 4:30, I’m trying to get on the court at 3:30 for warmup before we have our pre-walk through. I try to be here an hour before we actually have to be here.”
Jones - who entered the weekend averaging 7.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 18.9 minutes in 51 games - also credited an improved diet as a factor in his growth this season.
“My father is a chef and I can cook something that’s really healthy for me,” he said. “Talking to the dietician here helped my game because I feel a lot better on the court. I don’t feel sluggish. I feel I’m in top share out there.”
THIS AND THAT
The Heat remains at a loss about how to defend Milwaukee, which outscored the Heat by 75 points in the four games this season, including three Bucks wins.
“They’ve got size and length at all positions, are good defensively,” Heat forward Kelly Olynyk said. “That’s what makes them so good. How to defend the paint and take away their three-point shooters; that’s what everyone is trying to figure out.”
▪ Dwyane Wade said he appreciated how the Bucks handled potentially his final game in the city where he played college ball.
“He’s definitely a mentor and someone I would watch from afar,” said Bucks forward Khris Middleton, who had 18 points and a season-high 10 assists.
“I haven’t had too many conversations with him, but the ones that I have had meant a lot to me. [We talked about] his approach to the game and he felt I should grow my game and how he grew his game as a young guy and an old guy.”
▪ Bucks MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, on the possibility of facing the Heat in the first round: “I don’t really think about it. They might be the team, or the Pistons or Orlando. Whoever the team is, we’re going to get better and be ready for them.”
Here’s more fallout, reaction and nuggets from the Heat’s loss, including the dramatic difference in Miami’s performance against Eastern and Western Conference playoff teams.