In advance of the 2020 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops is evaluating prospects with a look at what the Atlanta Hawks might be considering from now until the selection process occurs. Dozens of prospects will be profiled in this space and, in this edition, we break down the play of Duke guard Tre Jones.
It’s not often that a point guard’s calling card is his defense. Most end up being the smallest guys on the court for long stretches of time, there primarily to lead the team’s offense and simply get out of the way on defense. But Tre Jones is a legitimate force on that forgotten end of the court despite a shorter stature.
A sibling to Tyus Jones — 2015 draft pick of the Timberwolves and current member of the Memphis Grizzlies — younger brother Tre also attended Duke to join the tutelage of legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski after being named a McDonald’s All-American in 2018. He leaves after two seasons as a premier collegiate role player, but what kind of player will he be at the next level?
Jones displayed great durability in playing over 34 minutes a game for Duke in both year one and two. With a fantastic 2.88 assist-to-turnover ratio in his career, he helped the Blue Devils achieve top-ten adjusted offensive ratings in the country in each of the last two years, according to KenPom.
While not an amazing shot maker with a 46.4/31.3/76.7 shooting triple slash from two, three and the free throw line, he offers some hope he can knock down shots from many areas of the floor with decent level of efficiency.
Jones is a natural-born leader and smooth facilitator at the point guard position. He has decent enough measurables at 6’3” 185-pounds with a 6’4” wingspan, but make no mistake, he is an absolute force on the defensive end.
Jones always gives great effort in a team defensive scheme to keep his position well and harass ball handlers into mistakes. In an era when more and more teams are switching on screen sets to counter the threat of long range shooting, Jones takes it upon himself to fight through screens as much as possible.
He plays hard-nosed on-ball defense, and with 1.91 steals per 36 minutes, he can absolutely disrupt a team’s rhythm and force a change in gameplans.
It’s cliché to say Jones adds a lot of value that isn’t captured on a stat sheet, but that’s clearly true in this case. He has a lot of value in defending off the ball and preventing the primary ball handler a chance to rescue a trapped teammate. His ball denial is a featured skill and tangibly aids his team’s efforts to win, whether or not he’s impressing in the box score.
His craftiness and preparedness makes him a coach favorite and will continue to do so in the NBA. He clearly reads scouting reports, and as a result, smartly pushes guards toward their weaker dribbling hand.
From time to time, Jones has free reign to pick up guys full court and makes them work for every inch of space. Even in the half court game, he only surrendered 0.66 points per possession (PPP) in isolation according to Synergy. Despite often giving up size and strength to his assignments, he manages to defend without fouling, allowing just 1.71 fouls per 36 minutes.
He’s also tricky as an off ball defender and can bait bad skip passes or pick the pockets of unaware targets.
Offensively, he fits the mold of a game-managing lead guard. He can penetrate and thread passes when lanes open up, and knock down wide opens shots enough to make the defense respect that ability. With improved confidence in his long range shot as a sophomore, he hit 36.1 percent from that area and his stroke offers projection that he can continue that upward trend.
Importantly, Jones can operate off the ball and catch-and-shoot after running around screens. He tallied 1.18 PPP in 50 catch-and-shoot possessions this past year.
Jones is also a smart and gifted passer and sees the floor well. At over 6 assists per 36 minutes for his career, he set up his talented teammates around him with on time dishes in half court situations as well as in transitional play.
Jones was named to the ACC All-Defensive Team as a freshman, but more impressively topped that feat the following season, securing the ACC Defensive Player of the Year title in 2019-20. For obvious reasons, it’s rare to see a point guard earn defensive player of the year awards in any conference. But Jones did just that in the most difficult and competitive conference in the nation.
As mentioned above, Jones isn’t an overly impressive athlete nor does he display a ton of strength. He won’t get off the floor and throw dunks down like his teammate Cassius Stanley, nor will his first step in his dribble drive blow by defenders with any regularity.
Jones can create for others with his smooth handle and crisp passing, but not himself to shoot off the dribble. He’s a poor pull shooter at 0.76 PPP, and has a tendency to take tough contested live dribble shots from time to time.
His shaky outside shot is disappointing in a lead guard, despite improvements in year two. Even with a 36.1 percent average from three as a sophomore, he’s just a 31.3 percent shooter from three in his career. His marks of 46.6 effective field goal percentage and 50.7 true shooting percentage are low and may earn him a Rajon Rondo-lite treatment, as teams help off of him and dare him to shoot from distance.
Jones needs to develop a floater as someone without much height or the repeated ability to pull up and drain shots. Jones logged just 0.83 points per possession on floaters per Synergy and could stand to practice his touch from 15 feet and in.
For such a sagely defensive wizard, his pick-and-roll game on the offensive end is nothing to write home about. As a passer and shooter in those situations, Jones logged just 0.84 PPP on a high volume — a whopping 326 possessions — as a sophomore. Defenses will sag off Jones during these actions and force Jones to create for himself, a role for which he’s simply not suited.
Jones’ lack of size and strength means he’s a poor finisher at the rim, recording just a 0.85 PPP in the restricted area. Any time he gets downhill, he would rather avoid contact than fight through a tough finish.
While a very accomplished college guard, Jones’ limited upside means he’s probably just a career back-up point guard. Even in a less than stellar draft, his odd skillset that is primarily built around high effort defense means that his lockdown streak may not quite carry over into a league of some of the world’s best athletes.
Possible fit with the Hawks
Tre Jones has the game to stick in the NBA as a back-up point guard for a long time, make no mistake. He has a great understanding of the game and works hard in a team environment to give everything he has to help an organization win. There are definitely physical and skill limitations, but given that he plays within himself and tries to minimize those weaknesses, he is a coach’s dream coming off the bench.
For the Hawks, who could certainly use a backup point guard and a solid perimeter defender, Jones could join the rotation in Atlanta at the right price. Based on projections, it’s unlikely he’d slide to the 50th spot that the Hawks own via the Houston Rockets, but this organization has never been shy about moving up to target a specific player. Jones would fill and need and certainly fit well, but the decision-makers will have to ask themselves if the price to move an asset to grab someone with limited upside is worth it.