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Derrick Jones Jr is a highlight waiting to happen, and has been for the Miami Heat during every minute he has been on the floor this season. On the fast break he is terrifying, finishing in traffic off of cuts or lob passes. He makes dastardly steals, gets his hands on a lot of balls in the passing lanes, and isn't afraid to chase someone down for a highlight reel block either. These things make you wonder, "How did this kid go undrafted?" but even more, where was this type of play when he did get his opportunity in Phoenix?
How does a 6'7" wing and former "Philadelphia Mr. Basketball," with this type of freakish athleticism not draw a look from at least one organization? How was he not worth a second round pick at least? Furthermore, how does an organization that used a 2017 top pick on a smaller and less athletic version of Derrick Jones Jr (see Josh Jackson) not find minutes for a guy with prototypical size and length in 2019's NBA? These questions may remain a mystery, but what we can be certain about is that he seems to have found a home in the Miami Heat, and here's why they've been a perfect fit.
The first thing you notice about Jones is his length. Even though he stands at 6'7, the length of his arms makes it seem as though he could scratch his knee caps standing straight up. After he starts to move around, you notice the fluid athleticism, seemingly hitch-less as he gets from place to place on the court in effortless and efficient motions. After he fully extends his wings for take off, all bets go out the window. Jones literally is the single greatest leaper in the NBA right now, bar none. When he gets up, it seems easy, and often times unintentional. Unintentional, in that often times it seems as though he doesn't know how high he is. Amazingly enough, there is something else about Jones that doesn't get the attention that it deserves. Unlike most other great leapers, whose initial gathers take so much out of the legs, Jones' has an outstanding multiple jump ability. This allows Jones Jr to get off the floor quickly at about the same intensity as his initial leap when he needs to.
These qualities would make for a great developmental project in any franchise, but when it comes to pulling the most out of any given player, the Miami Heat are in a league of their own. From rookies to veterans, the Miami Heat organization has been known for helping a player get the most out of his game. Even with the ups and downs of the past season or two, it was the Heat that allowed Hassan Whiteside to become a defensive force, when he is motivated to play. It was also these same Miami Heat that took a combo guard out of Tennessee with a second round pick, and proceeded to help him develop into one of the premiere two way players in the league. Now that same guy, Josh Richardson, is more than likely an all defensive team NBA caliper player. If that doesn't tickle your fancy, answer this one for all the money. Where was it that LeBron James, the best player on the planet, went to become the best version of himself? The answer is clear.
It could be the the fact that everyone is coached fairly, consistently, and just as hard as the next man on the bench. It could be that Miami Heat players magically end up in the best shape of their lives while playing in South Beach. Regardless of what it may be, Jones Jr's physical tools combined with the developmental capabilities of this Miami Heat franchise were tailor made for each other.
Early Season Highlights
If you have ever had the chance to witness Miami Heat head Coach Erik Spoelstra talk about his team, you know that no one player is bigger than the team. It is this type of selflessness and will that goes into defining what is known as Heat Culture. Jones Jr is a living example of these principals every time he laces them up. Whether it's selling out for a loose ball, where he'll most likely end up on the floor or putting his face right in the middle of things to make the right play for his team, Jones Jr is doing whatever it is to make the team better. There is also one thing that really stands out to me about Jones that proves he is all about the success of the team. Usually when a player has the bounce of Jones Jr and has made some of the highlight type plays that he has, it becomes apparent. They then tend to leak out, or are run to the offensive end for a quick bucket before the defensive possession is over. Not Jones Jr, and not only is he there, but often times in the mix to grab the board. These are the small nuances and habits that prove Jones Jr is selfless and about the team, and thus another reason why he and the Heat fit so well.
When thinking about the ideal Miami Heat player, a few things immediately come to mind. Miami Heat players will know the value of hard work, as the Miami Heat way is all about effort and outworking opponents. As mentioned previously, you also think that as a member of the Miami Heat, any given player will physically be the best version of themselves. However, there is something that most don't consider when thinking about Miami Heat players, and that is the versatility that they seek out. In looking at a few key examples, let's start with Justise Winslow. Known for a lack of jump shooting ability coming out of Duke, Winslow was still a top pick in his draft class because of everything else he could do. At around 6'6, Winslow could not only guard positions 1-4 consistently, but could be your pseudo point guard on the other end of the floor. Moving on to another Miami Heat wing man, Josh Richardson was actually more of a point guard coming into the league. Although he has the frame and defensive capability of a typical NBA wing, he has been called upon quite a bit to be the main ball handler during his time with the Miami Heat. For further reference here, he was also one of the main ball handlers during his time as a Tennessee Volunteer, willingly and marvelously setting up former college teammate and superstar Jordan McRae.
There are many more examples that could be used here, but the most vivid example of all time would be the way that LeBron James was used while with the Heat. It was here that LeBron was at times the point guard, and at others the center. It was actually in this frame of time, not with the Golden State Warriors as many erroneously believe, that small ball became a thing in the NBA. It was simply due to the versatility of LeBron James. You can't forget about the many roles Shane Battier and Chris Bosh played there too, but it all proves the same point.
No, before anyone insanely makes this accusation, this is not to say the Derrick Jones Jr is any of the players mentioned above. What this does say is that he can be as versatile or even more than any mentioned above. Thinking about the length mentioned earlier, this creates the potential to be devastating in the passing lanes and defensively in general. It would allow him to stick with smaller more quick players, not having to be as quick to cover as much ground. It also gives him the mere girth and size to cover bigger players if need be. The length combined with his extreme athleticism makes him a terror in the open court, which goes without explaining if you've seen his work. To put a bow on this package, Jones Jr sports a wiry strong frame, which doesn't seem to be as stringy as it is lean. At around the ideal height in today's NBA, 6'6-6'9, Jones Jr is the ultimate Swiss Army knife, and the Miami Heat know it. That's why he's there and why they were the perfect pairing.