(Photo Credit: Boston Herald)
Welcome to the first of our four-part series analyzing Duke’s premier players as we lead up to the IU v. Duke showdown on Tuesday, November 27th. Each article will be divided into three sections: (I) general overview of the player and comparison to his IU one-on-one matchup, (II) the player’s signature strengths, and (III) potential game plan strategies to minimize the player’s impact. In the first edition of the series, we will focus on Duke point guard Tre Jones.
Tre Jones is not the best player on the Duke’s roster. He is not the best NBA prospect. But, he is one of the most important players on the team. Jones is often forgotten when discussing Duke’s elite freshman or cast aside as the “fourth guy,” but his impact on the team is invaluable. Jones is the cog that keeps the Blue Devil machine running at full tilt. He is simultaneously a calming influence and an omnipresent threat. He can shift from a perfect complementary player to a dangerous weapon that can take over a game.
It is rarely talked about but the point guard position is always the defining piece of the Duke system. Each year that they have won the national championship, they have had a quality point guard that could distribute the ball but also be a scoring threat (1991 and 1992: Bobby Hurley; 2001: Jay Williams/Chris Duhon; 2010: Jon Scheyer; and 2015: Tyus Jones). Tre Jones is potentially the next evolution at the position. Time will tell how successful the team will be but there is no question that Jones has the perfect skill-set that fits the mold of championship-caliber Duke point guards.
The reason why Jones is so pivotal to the team is because of his ability to orchestrate the offense. With so much talent around him, it is on Jones to throw different looks at the defense but also keep each superstar satisfied. Jones ensures that Reddish, Barrett, and Williamson each have individual standout performances yet play within the team concept. He always makes the right pass and typically prevents them from falling into the common trap of clear-out isolations.
Jones is also effective in both fast-breaks and half-court offenses. He is an underrated ball-handler and an underrated defender. He limits turnovers. He is a terrific passer but also adds scoring.
Matchup Comparison – Jones will be matched up with IU point guard Rob Phinisee. In a lot of ways, Jones is a lot like Phinisee. For each, their game management skills are their best qualities. You never have to worry about reckless turnovers or selfish plays. However, Jones is a slightly more aggressive scorer and is slightly more polished.
Jones’s Signature Strengths
• Ball pressure defense – Jones is a solid defender. He often pressures starting near half-court. This is mainly because Bolden, Reddish, and Williamson provide great help side defense, allowing Jones to be aggressive. This constant pressure can force opponents into turnovers and cause them to fall out of their offensive rhythm.
• Outlet passes – On fast breaks, Jones likes to quickly initiate the break by firing long passes, causing odd man situations and easy buckets.
• Cross-paint passes – Another common move for Jones is to drive along the wing near the sideline towards the corner and then quickly stop and whip a pass through traffic to the exact opposite baseline where a shooter is waiting. This rapid ball reversal effectively catches the defense before they have time to recover and typically results in a high-quality shot for Barrett or Reddish.
• The Floater – Jones has a terrific floater. He will usually deploy the shot about a step inside of the free-throw line, typically off of his right hand. He made about three of them against Gonzaga. It’s a shot he can get anytime he wants.
• 3-point shooting – Jones is the most efficient Duke player from beyond the arc, shooting 54.5% from three. However, he doesn’t shoot often, only averaging 1.8 threes per game.
• Ballhandling and running through traffic – Jones has great handles and can weave through traffic with ease.
• Cutting – Jones typically was at the top of the key running the offense during the first few games but has been forced off-of-the-ball more recently. During these occasions, he will drift on the wings when someone else has the ball and look for crevices in the defense. When he finds a lane, he is great at cutting to the basket and exploding toward rim, often resulting in free-throw opportunities. Yet, like most of the Duke team, Jones is not a great free-throw shooter, only shooting 60% from the stripe.
• Ball management – As an ideal point guard, Jones has a 5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Moreover, he also adds 1.3 steals per game.
Game Plan Strategies to Minimize Jones’s Impact:
- Limit fast breaks – Since Jones is terrific in the open court, limiting fast-breaks will slow down the offense and prevent Duke from getting easy points. Auburn decided to run with Duke and struggled, but were much more competitive when they decided to slow down the game. Similarly, Gonzaga beat Duke by playing efficient, half-court offense. Jones had 17 points against Gonzaga but only 3 assists. In the slowed down sets, it was more difficult for him to find open players and the offense was not nearly as potent. Look for IU to do the same and make the game more deliberate and less of a track meet.
- Don’t let Jones run the point – In the Gonzaga game, there were times when Jones gave the ball up to Barrett or Williamson and drifted to the wing. When this happened, Duke fell into isolation sets and were less productive. Similarly, Barrett and Williamson are much more turnover prone. IU would be much better served by forcing the ball out of Jones’s hands.
- Foul play – Another potential strategy would be to try to get Jones in foul trouble. Yes, it is certainly true that Barrett, Reddish, and Williamson can play the point. They are all good passers. But, the offense is not nearly as efficient or fluid with them running the show. Similarly, Duke’s backup point guard Jordan Goldwire has played limited minutes and the offense has stalled when he is in the game. He has played 52 total minutes this year and only recorded 5 assists and 1 point. If Phinisee and Green can get Jones in foul trouble, this could severely disrupt the Duke offense.