In such an uncertain environment, there is little about the 2020 NBA Draft that is certain. Workouts will be affected, as will combines, testing information and in-person interviews. Scouts no longer have the NCAA Tournament as a one-stop-shop to conveniently evaluate.
How will the draft order even be determined in a season without playoffs?
We’re staring down the barrel of many firsts, though we are starting to see some prominent college players declare for the draft despite all the unusual uncertainty.
Even before COVID-19 breached the sports world, this 2020 NBA Draft class was seen as a weak one. Top-end prospects are severely lacking, and few freshmen made both an impact statistically and for their team’s success.
In the face of such a shallow pool, teams can look at this two ways: One is to swing for the fences, as there is a considerable downside in most prospects and for other teams. So why not swing on a home run? The other is to heighten the draft value of the dependable guys who have large bodies of work, are easier to project and, while lacking top talent, won’t get a general manager fired.
Duke point guard Tre Jones is the latter.
Reliability on his scouting report comes from two years of seeing him play, a firm understanding of how he positively impacts the game and the fact he flirted with the draft a year ago. Jones’s older brother, Tyus, of the Memphis Grizzlies, has battled some of the same physical limitations and made it work.
Pedigree matters to many in NBA circles. Playing at Duke and coming from his background only serve as positives.
As one of the earliest names to formally declare for the 2020 NBA Draft, Jones will be the first prospect to have a detailed scouting report here on TBW.
Our format is designed to discuss a prospect’s current strengths and improvement areas. We avoid the term “weakness” because that language infers the skills are outside the player’s control. Videos focus on three standout areas for each, with examples that can illustrate and reinforce those areas and how they translate to the NBA.
Jones will be one of the preeminent point guards on the board. He’s a fantastic on-ball defender and playmaker who can create in isolation, transition or the pick-and-roll.
While only 6’1″, he has a deep bag of tricks to keep himself in scoring position and slithering through the lane. He projects to be a high per-minute creator in terms of assists at the next level.
Jones is as complete a passer as you’ll find coming out of college. His feel for passing windows is tremendous, and he throws some of the most accurate cross-court passes. Shooters will love playing alongside him, as he passes them open and hits them in the hands.
While he may not be a good enough scorer to consistently have the ball in his hands within a starting lineup, Jones will elevate second units and be able to maximize shooters around him at a minimum. With as strong as he is of a playmaker, his floor is pretty high as a useful contributor.
Jones is elite in isolation situations as an on-ball defender.
He’s long for his size (a 6’4′ wingspan) and when he slides his feet laterally, his arms are usually out, which makes him difficult to drive around. Jones is so quick laterally that he can cut off driving angles and puff his chest out to absorb contact. He squares his man and is really comfortable applying pressure, making him a pest to go against.
Anybody with Jones’ (lack of) size has to be crafty and able to compensate for the physical gifts he wasn’t blessed with.
Jones knows how to play angles as a driver to prevent defenders from getting back in front of him. Few players his age are as polished with both hands as well. Jones can pass and finish with his off-hand, and is almost more comfortable driving left than right.
He’s also great with floaters and has a strong ability to decelerate in traffic. Tricks like that allow him to succeed despite the uptick in size and athleticism he’ll see in the NBA.
Some of Jones’ improvement areas are closely related to his strengths.
While crafty with the moves he uses to get to the rim, he’s still a below-average finisher. While a strong on-ball defender, he must improve how he guards the pick-and-roll. Jones has gotten so much better as a shooter, but still has a ways to go to erase the ghosts of his freshman season.
But he also shot below 43 percent at the rim as a sophomore, and that simply won’t cut it. It will dampen his upside in the eyes of scouts, as standing at only 6’1″ and lacking extreme athleticism means he has to really improve for his numbers to go up.
Jones has struggled with finishing at full-speed, either by trying to climb around rim-protecting bigs or because he takes off from too far away and doesn’t have the vertical explosion to get to a high finish.
Hopefully, improved NBA spacing will him more confidence to take an extra bounce, but that low of a number at the rim is worrisome. He was 56.1 percent as a freshman, though.
The pick-and-roll defense is also pretty tricky when evaluating Jones.
He moves his feet so well, but his stance isn’t really aesthetically pleasing. He bends at his back more than his waist, and as a result, his center of gravity moves in front of his toes. That allows him to get thrown off-balance and slowed by contact on screens.
He also has a tendency to take his eyes off his defender and search for the screen. While he could get away with that in college, pros are too good at noticing those little things and will blitz him as soon as his focus goes elsewhere.
The NBA tends to allow more physical screeners to thrive, so Jones must remedy this. He’s a tremendous defender when the playing field is level, but once an advantage is gained from a screen, he often lacks the effort or physicality to regain an advantage.
Scheme plays a big part in why Jones struggled at Duke. Coach Mike Krzyzewski ran a Drop pick-and-roll coverage and instructed Jones to act like a pinball, slamming over the top and through contact to funnel the ball towards the rim. While the coverage had mixed results, Duke’s bigs weren’t perfect with angles and were easy to get out of position.
That said, many NBA teams run this type of scheme. Jones isn’t large or strong enough right now to safely project as someone who would thrive in switching situations, either. He has to improve how he navigates screens if he’s going to use his on-ball defense as a true strength in a ball screen-dominant league.
Shooting ability is what brought Jones back to school.
A ten percentage-point improvement in his 3-point numbers—on fairly high volume—should quell many of the concerns scouts had about him a year ago (and make his return to Duke worthwhile).
Jones absolutely loves mid-range pull-ups, and is best shooting off the bounce, especially in transition. He hasn’t developed a ton of comfort pulling when teams go under high screens, though. His rhythm off the bounce is created from him knowing he’s going to shoot it, not from reacting to what the defense does. The stroke needs minor work to keep progressing, but he’s likely shown enough that shooting is no longer a concern.
Overall Analysis and Draft Predictions
In order for Jones to succeed, he’ll need to be flanked by shooting, placed with a good pick-and-roll partner and have a strong rim protector next to him. His playing style will be similar to that of J.J. Barea on offense, with similar defensive chops to boot. That is a pretty valuable prototype, even in a guard-heavy league.
There are a few games that stand out as well: Jones’ play this year at North Carolina when Duke made a miraculous comeback into an overtime victory was courageous. He bested another elite prospect in Cole Anthony, made a ton of clutch shots and flashed a scoring output that could indicate more scoring upside than anticipated.
But there’s another game which tips the scales back a bit: the Duke-Central Florida matchup from the 2019 NCAA Tournament. Jones went 1-for-8 from 3-point range and was guarded in the second half by Tacko Fall, who stood ten feet away and dared Jones to shoot or create. Such a memory tends to haunt and puts the onus on any drafting team to believe that his jumper is fully fixed.
Jones is a high-quality prospect due to what he creates overall. It’s hard to imagine him being a net-negative with how great of a passer he is and his improved pull-up scoring ability. In such an uncertain draft, a high-floor, low-ceiling player like Jones tends to climb a bit due to the uncertainty of other prospects.
Being the dependable guy in a sea of unpredictability should push him into the mid-to-late first round.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are courtesy of sports-reference.com, Synergy Sports Tech or ESPN.com, and are current as of March 23, 2020.
Adam is a TBW staff writer and college basketball coach at Dickinson College. He loves watching for offensive schemes while specializing in individual skill development, shooting technique and coach-speak. Born in New Hampshire, Adam grew up as a Celtics fan but now claims to just love “good basketball”, which does not include mid-range jumpers.