Before he became a member of the Chicago Bulls, Derrick Jones Jr. was a fan.
“This has always been my favorite NBA team. I haven’t told anybody in the NBA that. I’ve always been a big D-Rose (Derrick Rose) fan and a big (Michael) Jordan fan,” Jones Jr. said after Thursday’s Bulls practice. “Me being in this position now, I’m just so grateful. Every moment I’m out there on the floor I’m going to play it like it’s my last.”
Jones Jr. said he didn’t pay attention to any trade rumors that proved true and landed him with the Bulls in a three-team deal that sent a signed-and-traded Lauri Markkanen to the Cavaliers.
“When I got the news, I was literally at my training facility lifting weights,” Jones Jr. said. “I didn’t know anything about it until I checked my phone because I had 30 missed calls and 20 messages from everybody.”
But Jones Jr. was aware of the Bulls kicking the tires on him before he left the Heat to sign with the Trail Blazers in free agency in November 2020. That's why management is pleased with their takeaway from the Markkanen deal, which also includes a lottery-protected first-round pick from the Trail Blazers and a second-round pick from the Cavaliers.
“Like him,” coach Billy Donovan said. “I think I’ve gotta help him. I think one of the things that happens to players like him is that he has not been this elite 3-point shooter. But he brings a lot of really unique athletic talents and gifts to the table. He’s a really good on-the-ball defender. He’s a very, very good shotblocker. He’s been a really good roller. He’s been good along the baseline.
“If we just make him a floor spacer, I think it’s taking away a lot of the things he can do well. We gotta find a way to help Derrick be efficient in terms of his strengths. And that’s gonna take some time.”
Patrick Williams continues to progress from the severely sprained left ankle he suffered on Sept. 15, so the potential early-season hole at power forward may not materialize. Either way, Jones Jr. said he’s comfortable playing either forward spot, calling today’s NBA positionless.
And he has appreciated Donovan’s words of encouragement.
“Just go out there and be myself. Come out there with energy. Whenever I get an open lane, take it. If I have an open shot, take it. If I can cut to the basket, do it. If I can set an early stepover my guard on the wing, do it,” Jones Jr. said of Donovan’s message to him. “Me playing pick-and-roll, it’s something I’m very good at. So a coach that sees that and tells me do it, he’s just telling me to play to my strengths.”
Jones Jr. a native of Chester, Pa., said he liked the Bulls jerseys and colors while growing up. And Rose’s exploits made him a “superfan.”
He’s also a fan of Zach LaVine dunk contest performances, calling LaVine’s back-to-back battles with Aaron Gordon in 2015 and 2016 “arguably the best or top-three best dunk contests ever.”
Jones Jr. won the contest at the 2020 NBA All-Star game at the United Center. But if you’re looking for a dunk off between him and LaVine, well, it hasn’t happened yet.
“Zach got it. He won two championships,” Jones Jr. said. “I mean if it happens, it happens. But that’s my guy.”