Trail Blazers

Can Derrick Jones Jr. play a role in the Blazers-Nuggets series?

Trail Blazers

With 8:43 left in the second quarter, Norman Powell picked up his third foul sending him to the bench of Game 2 between Portland and Denver.

In his place came Derrick Jones Jr., the Blazers marquee free-agent signing who had fallen out of the rotation following the trade deadline acquisition of Powell. 

During a 5:27 stint, the Blazers went on a 20-13 run to close a 16-point deficit to 9-points when Carmelo Anthony re-entered the game for Jones Jr.

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Considering the point differential is his stint and his energetic play all season, some Blazers fans are wondering if Jones Jr. will see his name called again sometime during the series. 

After reviewing each possession, it's possible but it seems unlikely unless Powell gets in further foul trouble. 

Jones Jr. has been considered the team's second-best perimeter defender this season, but in the nine second-quarter defensive possessions, the Blazers allowed Denver to score 1.44 points per possession. That was actually higher than the Nuggets pace for Game 2 where the team scored 1.33 points per possession.

It's a small sample size, but Jones Jr. did not appear to substantially help the Blazers defense in this matchup. 

Then on offense, he will be too easy to exploit. 

The Nuggets adjusted to pre-rotate from the backside on the Damian Lillard pick-and-rolls which routinely would come from the man guarding Jones Jr. The lack of three-point gravity from Jones Jr. allows his defender to clog the paint further because a three-point attempt from a career 29.4% three-point shooter is a win for Denver. 

 

Here, Porter Jr. ignores Jones Jr. in the corner to assist inside the paint. 

This happened multiple times, as shown below as Millsap helps on the Nurkić roll despite Jokić being in a good position. 

There are counters to this defense but beyond Jones Jr. making three-pointers, it will have to come on backside cuts from the dunker's spot which happened twice during the second quarter. But Jones Jr.'s lob came off of Dame beating a trap creating a downhill, 4-on-2 situation between Melo's spacing and Jones Jr. at the rim.

If Millsap blitzes the pick-and-roll properly, then Denver's never in that situation.

Then another time, Gordon cheated too high up allowing Jones Jr. to cut backdoor again, but Denver contested the layup well enough to force a miss.

Of the 20 points the Blazers scored, 12 of them came off of Lillard three-pointers (all but one being self-created by Dame). Another bucket was a Nurkić lay-in with a contest from Porter Jr. but if Denver had to respect the backside corner more, that rotation would be even later giving Nurk a dunk. 

The NBA Playoffs are about exploiting weaknesses and Jones Jr. gift-wraps an adjustment for Michael Malone and his staff to help slow down Portland's offense. 

If Michael Porter Jr. goes off and begins to torch Powell, then maybe it's worth exploring having Jones Jr. and his 7-foot wingspan enter the game to bother the 6'10" scorer. But even then, Jones is just one inch on Powell's height and wingspan, but Powell gets the respect of being a 41.1% three-point shooter and he can attack a hard closeout. 

Barring Powell getting into foul trouble, Jones Jr. does not have a place in the series and even then, Nassir Little may be worth exploring over Jones Jr. as he shot 35% from three on 82 attempts this season. The 2020 first-round pick has the same height as Jones Jr. with a longer wingspan by two inches, so it's not like the Blazers would be giving up any size either. 

Jones Jr. is a fine NBA player, but his limitations on offense and inability to raise the team's performance on defense make it hard for him to see the floor in meaningful games.

Portland will need to outscore the Nuggets given how poor the defense was this season and Jones Jr. does not help accomplish that. 

While a case could be made Jones Jr. could be more valuable than Carmelo Anthony, who gets blown by constantly and stops the ball to isolate far too often, Melo also has immense respect from the Nuggets and shot 40.9% from three this season. Also, the Blazers are not going to bench Carmelo Anthony.

Perhaps Jones Jr. or Little can see some playing time in place of Anfernee Simons' minutes or as a small-ball five when Jokić sits and Millsap anchors the team, but that would require lowering Enes Kanter's minutes too, which seems like a longshot.

 

All in all, Jones Jr. appears to be the odd-man-out.