NBA Draft: Tyus Jones ready to show off the total package


NBA Draft: Tyus Jones ready to show off the total package

With freshmen Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow struggling through foul trouble and off-shooting nights in last season's National Championship, Duke needed a spark down the stretch.

Fellow five-star freshman Grayson Allen helped the Blue Devils erase a nine-point Wisconsin lead with eight straight points for his team that cut the deficit to four at the under-12 TV timeout. That's when head coach Mike Krzyzewski subbed in Tyus Jones, who had been limited to four first-half points against Wisconsin's lengthy defense.

Jones had tallied six early points in the second half, but his historic evening was just getting started. The freshman scored 13 of Duke's final 21 points on 4-for-6 shooting, including a a 3-pointer with 4 minutes to play that put Duke ahead for good, and another triple with 90 seconds remaining that sealed Duke's fifth NCAA title.

[MORE: NBA Draft Profile - Duke PG Tyus Jones]

Jones, the smallest starter in the game at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, played biggest when his young Duke team needed him, helping him earn Most Outstanding Player honors for the Final Four. Two days earlier, in a blowout victory over Michigan State, he tallied a team-high four assists while Okafor, Winslow and senior Quinn Cook took care of the heavy-lifting scoring duties.

That three-day span cemented Jones' spot in Duke lore, and was a perfect example of the complete point guard Jones had been all season for the Blue Devils.

"A complete point guard, a pure point guard," Jones responded at last month's NBA Draft Combine when asked what about his best traits. "Someone who is a leader and is a winner. Someone who can make their teammates better, who can set up their teammates and most importantly, win."

[MORE: 2015 NBA Draft - Analyzing the Top 5 point guards]

In his lone season with the Blue Devils Jones, the No. 7 recruit in the country who came to Durham as a package deal with the Chicago native Okafor, averaged 11.8 points on 42 percent shooting and was second in the ACC with 5.8 assists per game. He was a terror in transition, was the floor general for the country's 3rd ranked offense and saved some of his best individual performances for primetime, most notably in two wins against rival North Carolina; he averaged 23 points and 7.5 assists and sent the first game to overtime with a last-second layup.

It's why, despite his sub-par measurables and clear deficiencies on the defensive end, he'll hear his name called in the first round of the NBA Draft on June 25. Jones is experienced for being just 19 years old, having five seasons of high school basketball under his belt (he played with his brother on the high school team as an 8th grader), in addition to spending time with USA Basketball as well as playing under a spotlight all year with the Blue Devils.

He proved to be a capable 3-point shooter, making 1.2 triples per game at a 38 percent clip, and was 17th in the country in free-throw percentage (88.4 percent). He struggled at times finishing at the rim, though he won't be asked to play the same style in the NBA as he did with the Blue Devils.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Past the Combine numbers, his averages and postseason accolades - he was named to the All-ACC Third Team - Jones is simply a winner. Pardon the cliche, but even playing for a perennial powerhouse with the country's best crop of freshmen and a Hall of Fame head coach, Jones made the plays necessary for the Blue Devils to win 35 games and an NCAA title.

NBA teams looking for smart decision makers - his assist-to-turnover ratio was third in the ACC, 17th in the country and second among freshmen - with the ability to make shots on a second unit will love what Jones brings to the table. He's not the potential franchise-altering prospect that D'Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay are, he doesn't have the length of a Jerian Grant or the defensive upside of a Cameron Payne, but Jones is banking on his ability to win and step up in clutch situations to carry him at the next level.

"You don’t know who’s going to draft you, what’s the situation with that team or that roster, so you just got to be ready for any circumstance, you have to be ready to go in and be a backup, you have to be ready to be a starter," he said. "You’ve just got to be ready, so I will be."

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment


Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

There were no Lakers or Clippers in the 2018 All-Star Game, but Los Angeles was well-represented with plenty of homegrown talent, plenty of historians with Los Angeles ties and all the pageantry L.A. can provide.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George and James Harden are among the All-Stars who came home to put on the biggest show of entertainment the league has to offer, and the new format featuring captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry produced one of the most competitive finishes in recent All-Star history as the spectacle wasn’t lost on DeRozan, who plays for the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.

“It was a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “I’ll forever be a part of this, and to come out and be a starter in my hometown, it was a dream come true.”

With Chicago hosting the event in 2020, one wonders if the city or the Bulls will be as represented.

“What better time to do it than in Chicago?” Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen said about his aspirations of being an All-Star sooner rather than later.

New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, to this point, is the only Chicagoan carrying the torch as an All-Star. For years, Chicago could claim their homegrown talent rivaled the likes of Los Angeles and New York, the self-proclaimed “Mecca”.

But now they’ve fallen behind in the way of star power, as Derrick Rose has gone from MVP to one of the biggest “what if” stories in modern-day sports. Jabari Parker was expected to be next in line but his future as a star is murky due to the same dreaded injury bug.

“I didn’t know that. But there’s a lot of great players (from Chicago),” Davis said Saturday during media availability. “Jabari is just coming back, Derrick is going through what he’s going through. That’s fine. D-Wade is getting older. We have a lot of great guys. Guys have been hurt, in D-Wade’s case he’s just getting up there in age now (laughs).”

Davis is arguably the league’s most versatile big man, keeping the New Orleans Pelicans afloat while DeMarcus Cousins is out with an Achilles injury. He’s had to watch the likes of George deal with free agent questions about the prospect of coming home to L.A., even after he was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City in the offseason.

It still hasn’t stopped the chants from Lakers fans, panting after George in the hope he’ll be a savior of sorts. And even though his contract isn’t up for another few seasons, teams are lining up in the hope they can acquire him through free agency or trade.

It could very well be him getting the chants when the All-Star party comes to Chicago and he could be joined by the likes of Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the big game.

LaVine was in Los Angeles for the weekend and Markkanen opened eyes around the league with his showing in the rising stars game as well as the skills challenge.

Davis could wind up being the object of everyone’s affection and could find himself being recruited by the likes of LaVine.

Even though 2021 is a long way away, a guy can dream, right?

“I mean, I’m cool with a lot of dudes in the NBA. I feel like I’m a likeable guy,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com about recruiting star players to the Bulls franchise. “I can talk about situations like that, it would be my first time being put in a position. It would be a little bit different but I think I can handle it.”

LaVine has his own contract situation to take care of this summer, being a restricted free agent but understands the Bulls’ salary cap position and their long-term goals.

“Yeah I think once the offseason comes and everybody settles down, and I’m comfortable, and I know the position I’ll be in,” LaVine said to NBCSportsChicago.com.

“I think we’ll start having those conversations because we want to get the franchise back to where it was, on that high plateau. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

“I’m trying to solidify myself in the league to a certain degree. Once you start reaching those points you can talk to anybody to get to where you want to get to.”

LaVine attended several events over the weekend and shared the same space as several All-Stars in non-media settings. It’s easy to see why he would think he could have that affect with his peers.

Being careful about the rules on tampering, he said about a potential sit-down with Davis, “I would bring some Harold’s chicken to the meeting and we’ll be all good.”

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie


Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

Los Angeles—Lauri Markkanen called himself “The Finnisher” when asked what the movie of his life would be called.

Apparently, that moniker didn’t apply to the All-Star Skills challenge as he took down the best big men but couldn’t close against a former Bull, Spencer Dinwiddie, in the final.

The contest highlights players’ ability to dribble around cones shaped like NBA logos, throwing a chest pass into a net while having to complete a layup and then 3-pointer before their opponent does.

Markkanen took down Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid before facing off with Dinwiddie. He held a pose after hitting a triple to beat the uber confident Embiid, in what will likely be used as a memorable gif following the weekend.

His confidence doesn’t come across as blatantly as Embiid’s, but that snapshot shows he’s no humble star in the making. He didn’t even practice for the contest, by his own admission.

“I heard some of the guys did,” Markkanen said. “I didn’t do much, just before the competition, I did a little warm-up.”

Missing on the first pass attempt into the circular net in the final, it gave Dinwiddie the advantage he wouldn’t relinquish, hitting on his second 3-point attempt before Markkanen could make it downcourt to contest.

“It’s a lot harder than I’ve seen,” Markkanen said. “I thought it was gonna be super easy but it was kind of tough. Maybe I need to hold my follow through (on the pass).”

“I saw he missed (the first shot) and I started going. I thought he would’ve missed it too. I think I would’ve gotten it on the third shot.”

Being one of the multi-dimensional big men in today’s game who can be adept on the perimeter as well as the interior, it almost seems like the contest was made for Markkanen. Although he doesn’t do much handling in Fred Hoiberg’s offense, it’s clearly a skill he will develop as time goes on.

The last two winners of the skills challenge were Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and Markkanen was well aware of the recent trend.

“The last two years the bigs have won,” Markkanen said. “I’m kind of pissed that I couldn’t keep the streak going after (those two). I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that now, it’s why they changed the format to bigs versus smalls.”

For Dinwiddie, who was discarded by the Bulls last season after a promising start in the preseason so they could pick up R.J. Hunter, he’s taken advantage of an opportunity with Brooklyn.

“I think for Chicago it was just another series of unfortunate events,” he said. “They were in win-now mode. I was an unproven guard on a non-guaranteed contract and they felt Michael Carter-Williams gave them a better shot to win.”