This is part of Paint Touches’ series breaking down each players’s 2011-2012 campaign and looking forward to next year. A big thank you to assistant coach Aki Collins, who provided exclusive, in-depth analysis on each player.
What he did well: When Davante Gardner went out for a month with a knee injury at the end of January, Jamail Jones was thrust into a much more prominent role than he had ever had in conference play. While you can’t exactly say he lit it up on the court, he made tremendous strides from the player who had never played more than five minutes in a Big East game, something he did seven times this season. His biggest asset to the team was his ability to play the 4 and the 5 on short notice without having the roof cave in. Baby steps.
Jones’ biggest improvement was by far his defense. A player described as utterly useless defensively during Haunted Hoops turned into an average to decent interior defender who was able to use his strength to hold his own against bigger players. He still gets caught ball watching at times, but he was much more alert in making sure his man didn’t get the ball cleanly and used his agility to play ball screens well. Basketball Reference shows he doubled his defensive Win Shares from .2 last season to .4 this year. He has ways to go but the foundation has been laid.
What he could have done better: Jones has one of the prettiest jumpers on the team, making it look like everything that leaves his hands will hit nothing but the bottom of the net. In reality though, Jones was ice-cold from the field a majority of the season, going scoreless in 17 games in which he saw action while shooting 35.1 percent from the field (20.1 percent from beyond the arc). Jones might be the most athletic player on the team and surely is the best dunker, but if he can’t hit the 15-foot-plus-jumper he is constantly being given, he won’t be able to show off said leaping abilities.
He has to be more consistent with his shot in order to begin to see regular minutes. He hit two big 3-pointers against Cincinnati to help blow the game open so we know he has it in him, he just has to put it together more often and on a more consistent basis. He has to put in the work this summer and raise his 3-point percentage to 30 or so percent before he can begin to scratch his potential.
Aki’s Analysis: “He’s a great kid. He started off the year really well. When he stopped getting playing time, I think he struggled a little bit. He hasn’t shot the ball well consistently. He’ll have days in practice where he won’t miss. I think the biggest thing with him is if he learns to be consistent and can defend, he’s one of our smarter players on the basketball court. He has a great basketball IQ,” Collins said. “He’s similar to Darius, where even internally sometimes you overlook his value because you know he’s going to be there every day. He knows everybody’s position, he knows where everybody’s going to be on the second unit. But he just has not put himself in a position where, ‘Hey, this is what I’m going to do.'”
“I think these next couple months for him, saying this could be a great opportunity for you to get playing time. And he could be one of those guys that goes from not playing at all, to playing very good minutes,” Collins said. “It’s just about having consistency to his approach and his shot, working on his shot, making sure it’s consistent. Because everything else, we know we’re going to get from you.”
“He can defend. Mello has this jog that drives me crazy, but if you broke it down to the half court, he can guard 2, 3, or 4,
Collins said. “And so he doesn’t always use his athleticism, but he always uses his mind. And so you have to use your mind, your athleticism, and your skill set together and be a consistent player, and then you’re going to play. And then you can help us.”
Best performance: Notre Dame, Feb. 4 (8 points, 3 rebounds, 19 minutes)
With Jamil Wilson in foul trouble and Davante Gardner injured, Buzz Williams had no one else to throw in to the fray but Jones. Keep in mind that Jones hadn’t scored a point in 14 games and had seen more than eight minutes only three times in that time frame. So what does he do? He goes out and plays the best game of his career — not counting Mt. Saint Mary’s — in a hostile environment, holding his own and throwing down a couple dunks. Yes, Marquette got blown out, but it wasn’t because of Jones.
Worst performance: West Virginia, Mar, 15 (0 pts, 1 reb, 15 mins)
Some will argue it was thanks to Jamail’s first half effort that we were even in this game at the intermission. Those people would be wrong. Jones was given a golden opportunity to shine without Johnson-Odom, Blue and Cadougan in the lineup but ended up doing a whole bunch of standing around. You can’t even say his defense made up for it, as Jones grabbed only one rebound. All you have to know is that when Buzz went to the bench in the second half, Juan Anderson got the nod over him. Jones would only see nine minutes on the court the rest of the season. Because of the lost opportunity, this was Jamail’s worst performance.
2012 outlook: If the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores, then the best thing about splinter-gaining sophomores is that they become juniors. You can tell Jones has improved by leaps and bounds on the defensive end, so extrapolating that improvement to next year he should become a decent to nice defender, which as we have seen is one of the keys to Buzz’s heart.
The departure of Jae Crowder will leave a gaping hole at the 4, which Jones has to take advantage of early in the season. You can expect a healthy Chris Otule and Davante Garder to take about 35 to 38 minutes at the 5, while Jamil Wilson will take 30 or so minutes at the 3/4. Jones must prove early on that he can hold his own on the offensive end to try and lock down consistent minutes the rest of the year with Anderson and Steve Taylor also fighting for minutes. No one is saying he will turn into a 25 minutes-a-game type of guy, but he should be a much more regular sub, seeing double digit minutes every game.
The athleticism and basketball acumen is there for Jones, it is now just a question of whether he can have the game slow down on offense enough for him to make a positive impact. The past two years he has had negative Win Shares and Offensive Ratings in the 80s. Look for those numbers to jump in 2012-’13.