MIAMI — Derrick Jones Jr. is known for his athleticism.
The 20-year-old forward flashed that athleticism last season when he finished as the runner-up in the NBA All-Star Game’s Slam Dunk Contest. But after signing with the Heat on a two-way contract on Sunday, Jones knows how he can impress his new team.
“I know I’m a defender first, go out there and play defense and the offense is going to come,” Jones said after his first practice with the Heat on Tuesday. “… That’s something that I harp on. I want to be one of the top five defensive players in the league one day.”
But Jones’ athleticism is hard to ignore.
“It’s hard not to notice his athleticism and his explosiveness, his talent, all of those things at an extremely high level,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of Jones. “He’s young. It’s an opportunity to spend some time with a young player that has a lot of physical talent and see if we can help each other. We’re excited about it. He was available. We still want to develop Matt [Williams Jr.] in Sioux Falls. But [Jones’] skills are a little bit more advanced at this point. We felt he was a little bit better fit for the two-way contract.”
Entering Tuesday, Jones had 26 NBA days remaining on his pro-rated two-way contract from the annual 45-day limit. The Heat waived guard Matt Williams Jr. from his two-way deal to make room for Jones.
But Williams returned to the organization when he was acquired by Miami’s G League affiliate — the Sioux Falls Skyforce — as a returning player on Tuesday. He can now be signed by other NBA teams, though.
Derrick Walton Jr., who is also on a two-way contract, remains with the Heat.
“Just come in here and grow as a player and person,” Jones said of what he wants to accomplish with the Heat. “Just being able to jell with the team and just contribute wherever I can contribute.”
Jones had been playing with the Suns’ G League affiliate after being waived by Phoenix on Dec. 7. In 16 games with Phoenix’s developmental affiliate — the Northern Arizona Suns — this season, he averaged 15.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 1.8 assists and 1.2 steals while shooting 48.5 percent from the field.
But the 6-foot-7 Jones also has some NBA experience. After going undrafted out of UNLV in 2016, he played in 32 games last season and six games this season with the Suns.
Jones scored double-digit points for the Suns in six games last season, with his career-high coming when he scored 15 on 5-of-11 shooting against the Mavericks on April 9, 2017.
With forwards Justise Winslow (strained left knee), James Johnson (right ankle bursitis) and Okaro White (left foot surgery) injured, there’s a chance Jones could see immediate playing time with the Heat during their three-game homestand that begins Wednesday against the Pistons.
“Just go out there with an open mindset, and just go out there and play my game,” Jones said when asked about possible playing time. “Whatever comes, it comes. Don’t go out there forcing anything. Just let the game come to me and let it flow.”