INDIANAPOLIS — It didn’t take long for Derrick Jones Jr. to leave an impression on his Heat teammates and coaches.
After signing a two-way contract with Miami on Dec. 31, Jones was thrown right into the fire and he survived. The 20-year-old athletic wing has played in the Heat’s past four games and has started the past two in place of the ailing Tyler Johnson.
Jones is averaging 5.8 points and 2.5 rebounds in 17.8 minutes over four games with the Heat
“It’s been going smooth for me,” Jones said of his time in Miami. “Just learning all the terminology. At the end of the day, it’s going out there and playing basketball. It’s what we’re all here to do. As long as you know the reason and everything you need to know, it’s going to be simple.”
With the Heat off until Sunday’s home game against the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami’s two two-way players Derrick Walton Jr. and Jones joined the Sioux Falls Skyforce on Thursday to be a part of this week’s G League Showcase. But it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Jones, who has 18 allowable NBA days remaining on his two-way contract, back with the Heat soon.
That’s because Jones, who went undrafted in 2016, has proven to be useful. With Dion Waiters (sprained left ankle), Justise Winslow (strained left knee) and Rodney McGruder (left tibia surgery) still out, Jones (6-7, 200 pounds) has given coach Erik Spoelstra another healthy body to play at shooting guard and small forward.
Most already knew about Jones’ crazy athleticism (he said his vertical leap was once measured at 48 inches) after he finished as the runner-up in the 2017 NBA All-Star Game’s Slam Dunk Contest. And he hasn’t disappointed in this department, as five of his 11 made field goals with the Heat have come on dunks.
“His nickname fits him, ‘Airplane Mode,'” Dragic said. “It’s unbelievable how athletic he is. He’s a young player. He still needs to learn a lot. But what I saw [against the Raptors] and [against the Jazz], he can really help this team and we’re lucky to have him.”
But Jones isn’t just athletic, he’s also shown the potential to be a quality perimeter defender. He defended Raptors star guard DeMar DeRozan during stretches of Tuesday’s win over Toronto, helping to limit him to an inefficient 25 points on 10-of-29 shooting.
In 10 games this season (six with the Suns and four with the Heat), Jones is limiting players he’s guarding to 41 percent shooting — 5.6 worse than their normal shooting percentage.
“Welcome to the Heat,” Spoelstra said when asked about giving Jones tough defensive assignments like DeRozan. “Get in there and defend somebody. Don’t get up on a shot fake, OK. We like the minutes that he’s been giving us. It’s more about developing the right habits and approach and behavior, about developing his future.
“Like we say all the time with our young guys, including Bam and Derrick, that future is now. So we also expect you to be able to produce when you get out there. He doesn’t have to play outside his role. He doesn’t have to do anything bigger than expected. He just has to bring a lot of energy, athleticism, attention to detail defensively and that’s enough for us right now.”
With the Heat’s reputation as one of the league’s top organizations in developing undrafted players like Tyler Johnson, Rodney McGruder and Udonis Haslem, Jones was excited when he heard Miami was interested in him. The decision to join the Heat was a no-brainer.
“I was very excited to come here because at the end of the day it’s a bunch of hard workers in this locker room and a bunch of hard workers that came from this organization,” Jones said. “And I feel like that’s something that I want to be. I want to be one of those hard-nosed players that go out there and my teammates can rely on me to do whatever they need me to do.”