For any team to be successful over the long haul that is an NBA season, contributions must come far and wide. Everyone needs to step up to the proverbial plate when that time comes.
Over the last few weeks, perhaps no player on the Cleveland Cavaliers has personified that idea more than James Jones.
Admit it, when the Cavaliers signed Jones this past August, your response was somewhere along the lines of, “Well, they’re just signing another one of LeBron James’ buddies,” “Who cares, he won’t play anyway,” or “James Jones? Really?”
That type of response was justified, especially considering Jones’ recent track record.
Last season, the small forward played only 20 games for the Miami Heat while averaging 4.9 points. His three-point shooting percentage (51.9 percent) was impressive, but we’re talking about just 20 games here.
Keep in mind that Jones had not averaged more than 13 minutes per game since the 2010-11 season. In fact, over entire 12-year career, he has averaged more than 20 minutes per game on just two occasions.
So yes, by all accounts, it appeared as if this signing was simply an effort to appease the King.
But here is what many of us seem to forget.
LeBron James is a basketball genius. That’s not an overstatement, either.
Every move he makes is formulaic, meticulous and calculated. His intellect might be the most underrated facet of his game.
It’s easy to lose sight of that when watching James’ wonders of athleticism, but it’s clear that he has a plan, and he always sticks to it.
In fact, I firmly believe that the moment the Cavaliers secured the No. 1 overall draft last year was the moment that James decided to return to Northeastern Ohio.
He then saw the promise. He knew the potential.
But still, who can honestly say they were excited when it was announced that the Cavaliers had signed both Jones and Mike Miller? Sure, there was a level of optimism surrounding Miller, especially since he was coming off one of his best recent seasons in Memphis, but Jones? His career three-point percentage of .403 and his career free throw percentage of .848 were enticing, but no one was throwing a parade down Euclid for this one.
However, it was clear that James desperately wanted to add Jones to the Cavaliers’ roster. And as noted above, there’s always a method to the King’s madness.
As the Cavaliers enter the stretch run of this season, the method with regard to Jones is revealing itself.
Over the last couple of weeks, Jones has been thrust into action due to the left hip strain suffered by Shawn Marion. That’s a significant change from the early part of the season for Jones, who played in just 30 of the Cavaliers’ first 41 games.
However, take a look for yourself at how he has responded.
|James Jones, Oct. 30-Feb. 11||30||0.337||0.329||9.2||3.2||1.0||0.5||2.0|
|James Jones, Feb. 12-March 7||11||0.451||0.467||15.5||6.8||1.7||0.4||4.7|
Every important statistic has improved significantly. Jones has been brilliant from the outside as the defense focuses its attention on Kyrie Irving or James, leaving him with plenty of wide-open looks.
Take a look at the chart below:
Over the last 11 games, Jones has taken 55 shots, and 88 percent of them have been 3-point attempts. The volume there may seem high, but he’s been knocking down 47 percent of those shots. He’s essentially a one-trick pony, but that trick is working.
Here’s the most important thing. Not only is Jones hitting shots, he’s hitting shots that matter.
That was most evident in this past Wednesday’s contest against the Toronto Raptors. As the Raptors began to rally from a 17-point deficit, the Cavaliers found themselves holding a narrow 88-84 lead with 9:38 left in the quarter. Irving then found Jones, who proceeded to drain a 25-footer to build that lead back up to seven.
That was only the beginning. Jones’ standout moment in the contest came later in the quarter at the 5:33 mark with the score all tied at 97-97.
After an assist from James, Jones nailed a 27-footer to give the Cavaliers a 100-97 lead. Cleveland would not trail again in the contest.
Overall, Jones scored 14 points in the contest, his 14 most-important points since becoming a Cavalier.
This is not to suggest that we should expect performances like this every day from Jones, but it does, however, prove he is capable of them. For so much of the season, we wondered just what exactly is Jones’ worth, but he has spent the last month proving it to us.
In Jones, we have another valuable role player — someone who’s not afraid to take the tough shot; no moment is too big for him. We should have known that though as he made a lot of big shots in the playoffs while he was part of those two Miami Heat championship teams.
Analytics continue to become more accepted in basketball circles, and the value of the 3-point shot has never been clearer. The Cavaliers believe that as well as that’s the prime reason the team ranks first in the Eastern Conference with 26.6 three-point attempts per game.
Thankfully, with Irving, James, J.R. Smith, Kevin Love, Matthew Dellavedova and Miller, the team has a strong contingent of marksmen from behind the arch, all ready and able to pull the trigger at a second’s moment.
We now know they have another.
As this last month has proved, Jones is not afraid to get a little trigger happy himself.