NBA Daily: Derrick Jones Jr. Finding a Role in Miami

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Success in the NBA can boil down to one thing really, and that’s opportunity. Countless players have been placed in situations where it just wasn’t a good fit for them and they’ve struggled because of it only to change teams and flourish.

This season, Derrick Jones Jr. appears to have found his opportunity with the Miami HEAT.

It wasn’t always an easy path to the NBA for Jones. Upon arriving at UNLV following high school, an investigation by the NCAA was launched into Jones’ ACT scores. He was initially cleared but later had his scores canceled and was deemed ineligible.

He was suspended for UNLV’s final games of the 2015-16 season and he ultimately decided to enter the NBA draft rather than seek a possible return to college basketball.

“Everybody has their own things that they go through in their life. I got suspended from college for my ACT scores. I got an email saying it wasn’t me, it was the test instructor that took my ACT,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “At the end of the day, that’s something I had to go through but I don’t worry about that anymore. I’m at the place where I’m at now for a reason.”

And although he’s found the place where he’s been successful thus far, it still didn’t get any easier at the beginning. Despite having a solid freshman season at UNLV where he finished as the Runnin’ Rebels second-leading scorer that year, he went undrafted in the 2016 NBA draft.

The Sacramento Kings picked him up for summer league, but a groin injury sidelined him. The Phoenix Suns eventually came calling and signed Jones for preseason. It was there that he made a big enough impression to warrant the Suns keeping him on the opening night roster.

Although he had reached his dream of playing in the NBA, Jones didn’t see much action with the Suns. He spent most of his rookie season down in the G League with the Suns affiliate, the Northern Arizona Suns. When the Suns cut him last season and the HEAT picked him up, they signed him to a two-way contract and placed him with the Sioux Falls Skyforce.

In all, Jones has spent the majority of his time in the NBA down in the G League. Despite that, Jones has always maintained an upbeat attitude.

“It was a good experience. I like going through different things,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “Ever since I was a kid I’ve had a different basketball experience. That was just one thing I had to go through and it was a good learning experience.”

Now in his third year in the league, Jones has finally received his opportunity to be the valuable NBA player he always knew he could be. He’s become one of the key guys off the bench for the HEAT this season.

Jones is averaging a career-best 6.1 points per game and 4.3 rebounds. He’s shooting decently at 45.9 percent from the field, but what’s stood out the most is his improved shooting from distance. He never attempted many three-point shots during his first couple of years in the NBA, and even this season he still isn’t taking them much, but his shooting is up to 32 percent.

Since his early days with the Suns, Jones was looked at as mostly a high-flying athlete who could throw down highlight dunks. He can still do that and has already had some jaw-dropping moments this season, but his improved three-point shot is part of his expanding game that he hopes people will take notice of.

“Everybody knows I jump high, I’m an athlete. But there’s a lot of things to my game that people haven’t seen. In summer league I got to show off a little bit but that’s just a little bit of what I got in my package,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “I’m not really worried about what other people think about my game or what other people see my game as I know what I can do. Whenever the opportunity presents itself, that’s what I’m going to do.”

The HEAT recently returned from a six-game road trip that saw them post a 4-2 record. During that stretch, Jones was an integral part of the rotation. His energy on the defensive end as well as on the glass was invaluable to the HEAT’s wins.

On the road trip, Jones put up 9.4 points and 9.4 rebounds per game in addition to a few highlight blocks. Against the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers, Jones had back to back double figures in rebounds with 11 against the Clippers and 14 against the Lakers. In the final two games of the trip, wins over the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans, Jones had double figures in points with 13 against Memphis and 11 against New Orleans.

“I feel like I’m that guy that whenever my name is called, my number is called, I’m going to get in the game and give it 110 percent,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “No matter how many minutes I get, no matter how much I play, it really doesn’t matter to me. I’m just going to go out there and do what I got to do. At the end of the day, I make sure that I play my heart out. This is game that I love, that’s what I’m giving my team.”

The HEAT are currently 13-16 and fighting for one of the final playoff spots in the East, where they sit a game out of eighth place. Right now, Jones is focused on playing his role and contributing to the team’s success, but he wouldn’t mind being invited back to the dunk contest if the opportunity arises.

“I really don’t have any personal goals, but I think going to the dunk contest, obviously I want to win that,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “I just want to be the player that my team can depend on, on defense or if we need a clutch shot. When I get the ball in my hands, they can depend on me making a shot. Whatever it takes really, being that player that does whatever it takes to win.”