Having become a crucial member of the rotation, the Miami Heat face an important decision regarding the high-flying Derrick Jones Jr.
There’s been one relatively under-the-radar storyline building amid the dynamic 29-12 start to the season for the Miami Heat. That is the impending free agency of forward Derrick Jones Jr.
Given the continued injury struggles of Justise Winslow and the considerable growth in his own game, Jones is on course to present a sizable dilemma to the Heat this summer. After missing 14 games early this season due to a groin injury, Jones has emerged as a vital component of head coach Erik Spoelstra’s rotation.
Since Dec. 10, Jones ranks fifth on the team with 29.1 minutes per game, which includes eight games with at least 30 minutes of playing time. When you consider that Jones played over 30 minutes on just four occasions in his first 78 games with the Heat, this is certainly some kind of leap.
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Over his past 18 games, Jones is averaging 10.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals . Furthermore, Jones is second on the team during this time with 2.7 deflections per game. Jones’ elite athleticism, combined with his 7-foot wingspan, presents opposing perimeter players with a host difficulties trying to attack the Heat’s defense.
Following his career-high 19-point performance on Jan. 5 during a win over the Portland Trail Blazers, Spoelstra commented on Jones’ evolution as a player:
“This has been building, and again it’s about reliability, being available, being professional….really dedicating himself to the things outside of the basketball court, such as the training room and the weight room. He has a very strong, wiry body that he still needs to work at, and to be able to handle the contact.”
Spoelstra often has utilized Jones to cover whichever opposing player has the hot hand at a particular point in a game. In a recent home win over the San Antonio Spurs, Jones covered DeMar DeRozan, Patty Mills and Bryn Forbes at various stages of the contest.
Given the demands on Jimmy Butler at both ends of the floor, having the luxury of throwing out an incredibly athletic and versatile wing to try to help temporarily shut down an opposing player is something Spoelstra certainly doesn’t take for granted.
But ultimately, it’s at the offensive end that will determine just how far Jones’ career trajectory will travel. While shooting at just a 23.0 percent clip from long range, Jones must be commended for having the courage to take a vastly increased amount of attempts from 3-point range, with the opposition defense primarily honing in on the other threats on the floor.
Moving forward, however, the Heat have a big decision on their hands. An unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, Jones at just 22 will be one of the more intriguing prospects on the open market this summer.
With it being somewhat of an open secret that the Heat are aiming to keep their cap space clear for the summer of 2021, investing heavily in Jones is far easier said than done. Seemingly improving by the week, who knows what his value will be come playoff time.
So while the Heat are almost the standard bearers for identifying and developing young talent, the dilemma comes when contract time arrives. Having substantially overpaid for Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Johnson in recent years, Pat Riley and the Heat front office will be determined not to make the same mistake again.