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Looking Forward to the NBA Draft: Tre Jones

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The search for potential backup point guards continues

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Tre Jones is a 6-foot-3, 185-pound sophomore point guard from Duke, coming off a season in which he was named the 2020 ACC Player of the Year. On paper, Jones fits the bill of the typical Sixers draft prospect — a ball-handler who can create for himself, is more of a polished player than a long-term development project, and is projected to go in the late first round or early second by most draft experts.

But of course, we here at Liberty Ballers do not just put blind faith in reports and generalizations. We dig into the film and find out what’s really going on with the guys our beloved Sixers are considering.

Jones was the fourth freshman on the stacked Zion-Barrett-Reddish Duke team, and returned to the program mainly due to his lack of outside shooting. He greatly improved in that area this season, jumping from 26.2 percent from 3 to 36.1 percent, and finishing four percentage points better in terms of overall true shooting at 52.4 percent.

Below you can see the totality of Jones’ numbers, courtesy of KenPom.com and Hoop-Math.com.

Overall, his shooting form is acceptable. He follows through, does a good job generating flow and power with his legs, and is very consistent in his motion.

You’ll notice at the end of that sequence, Jones hits a very tough 3 in transition, a big need for the Sixers as that is a rare occurrence for the team. While Jones doesn’t typically pull from deep off the dribble, he is more than willing to create something out of nothing and take a pull-up from mid-range.

Jones, despite not being a great vertical athlete, does a good job at creating hang time on his jump shot, making it hard for a defender to time his own jump right and successfully contest the shot.

In that well-known win at North Carolina earlier this year, Duke’s primary offense was isolating Jones versus Cole Anthony or another Tar Heel guard. Jones would consistently maneuver his way to a 12-to-15-foot distance from the basket, before turning around for the shot, and it worked. It’s similar to how Tre’s brother Tyus Jones helped the 2015 championship team at Duke, by manufacturing buckets without set plays or plans.

However, even though Jones is capable in this area, the efficiency is concerning. In his total shot profile, 42.3 percent came off of two-point jumpers, and he only shot 38.3 percent on those shots, which by itself (not including free throws), comes out to an ugly 0.766 points per shot.

By my estimation, when he misses, it’s often because he’s fading too far backward on his jump, and that lack of dynamic vertical leaping ability makes it hard for him to generate enough power to get it over the rim. As you’ll see, he misses most of these short off of the front rim.

And while his percentage from the 3-point line was encouraging, I still have doubts about his ability to hit 3s off of movement or ball-screens. His form is very rigid and does not lend itself to adaptable scenarios where one might have to split his feet in a different way or release the ball at a different speed.

But shifting back to the positives, Jones’ passing ability really stuck out as a bright spot. He possesses that rare Kyle Lowry-like ability to throw perfect hit-ahead passes from the guard position that catch a defense out of position, giving easy, open layups to big men sprinting up the court.

That first clip is an absolute beauty, and something that is sorely missed in the Sixers’ style of play.

Jones is also a fairly adept passer in the half court, good at reading help defenders and making the correct read. He’s not any kind of master manipulator along the lines of the greats like Luka Doncic, James Harden, or LeBron James, but he usually makes the right decision and passes the ball before the window has closed.

Now, this is the part where we usually transition to defense, and for those of you who know your college basketball, you’d think the next few paragraphs would be a glowing endorsement of Jones. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

I came in expecting solid and even great defense from Jones, but instead, what I saw was lazy off-ball action and some glaring athletic deficiencies.

Similar to what I saw in my draft profile of Joel Ayayi, Jones is often disengaged when he is not the primary defender, which often leads to over-rotations by his teammates to compensate, and eventually, scores by the opposition.

Take this play, where Jones (#3) simply stops playing after trading off his assignment of Cole Anthony to the big, then doesn’t even turn his back to see the rolling big man, forcing his teammate to foul.

Even when he’s directly involved in plays, there are very concerning signs regarding activity level. He did a very poor job finding his way around ball screens throughout the year, getting easily screened off by bigger players, and failing to lift his feet in time so he could duck and swerve around them. Being able to guide oneself around an on-ball screen is key to an unheralded guard sticking around in the league, so this does not bode well for Jones.

Not everyone can be an all-world defender. Some players just don’t have the proper physical tool set, making it a necessity for them to be smart, all-out-effort guys in order to compensate. Others are naturally gifted, but don’t play with the same fire inside of them, which can make them subpar defenders. The kicker is when a player fits the worst part of both of these descriptions (this is known as the “Trae Young Methodology”), and I’m afraid Jones might be one of those guys.

You watch these clips of lackadaisical defense and tell me if you’d want this guy in your NBA foxhole.

There’s almost never a good reason to be standing still with your hands down on a basketball court, yet you’ll often find Jones in exactly that position.

Jones, similar to his older brother Tyus, is also not an exceptional athlete. Certain moves by quicker guards would leave him absolutely flat-footed and grasping at air as the opponent got into the paint and caused trouble for Duke.

This is even further compounded by Jones’ tendency to reach and gamble for steals, which he probably does due to his reputation as a “great on-ball defender.”

Top-notch guards salivate when they see silly reaches like these, as they know that they won’t be plucked and can simply break out a countermove to get moving in a straight line past the defender.

Of course, Jones is far from the worst defender in this draft. He can be very reliable in easier one-on-one matchups and actually showed some good signs as a face-guarder and top-locker of other small point guards.

There were also occasions where his effort was a huge positive, such as this play, where he does not give up on challenging the big at the rim, and actually gets the block.

Or this play, where Jones gets switched onto the 7-foot-1, 243-pound Jay Huff, he could have easily conceded, but instead, he finishes with a successful boxout that secures the possession for his team.

Even when Jones is at an athletic disadvantage, he could theoretically overcome it on defense by simply trying harder every play and grinding on that end of the floor. However, the same cannot be said of his offense. Athletic limitations most especially hold him back on his forays to the rim, where he often isn’t able to elevate and is forced to throw up an off-balance, high-difficulty shot that has little chance of going in.

Conclusion

I don’t just write about prospects that I think are really good. I don’t come in with a pre-conceived belief and simply try to impose that thinking on you, the reader. I come in wanting to learn more about a player, then I try to share with all you what I have learned.

What I learned in this profile is that Tre Jones is probably not a good fit for the 76ers, and just not a great professional prospect in general. His ceiling was already probably capped at being a quality backup point guard like his older brother Tyus, but I’m not even sure he has that in him. He doesn’t possess the same drive and passion that Tyus plays with, and his jump shot, while not broken, is also not confidence-inducing.

Jones is currently ranked as the 22nd best overall prospect for the big board on Tankathon.com, and The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie projected him to go 23rd overall in his latest mock draft. That’s right in the range of the Sixers’ current first round pick, but I would highly recommend that the team not take him. Maybe if he somehow slides deep into the second round you roll the dice on Jones, but I’m personally just not a fan after diving deeper into the film.