Derrick Jones Jr. represented the Miami Heat, not the Phoenix Suns, and won the 2020 NBA Slam Dunk competition. Did the Suns get rid of him too soon?
The Phoenix Suns have drafted and signed many rookies over the last several years, most of which, whether they were a top 10 pick or an undrafted free agent, now find themselves meandering about the G-League or overseas.
This is not the case with Derrick Jones Jr., who plays a vital bench role for the surprisingly successful Miami Heat.
Jones, affectionately called Airplane Mode, earned his spot into the world’s most prestigious professional basketball league because of his uncanny athleticism. The dude has moon shoes for feet.
But after a little over one lackluster season with the Suns, Jones moved on to Miami, where now he is winning slam dunk competitions.
I’ve seen a few grumblings online along the lines of, “Why did the Suns let him go?! They never keep any good players. Ugh!”
Derrick Jones Jr. actually did represent the Phoenix Suns in the 2017 Slam Dunk competition, where he was 3 missed attempts away from a between-legs-from the foul line dunk that would have ended all dunk competitions for eternity.
The issue with Jones, however, is that aside from the occasional posterization highlight reel, the rest of his basketball acumen was below average for the Suns.
Jones averaged just 4.7 points per game and despite his leaping ability, only 2.2 rebounds per game in 38 total appearances.
Fast forward to this year where Jones, now 22 years old, is starting to figure it out for the 4th best team in the Eastern Conference. He is averaging a respectable 8.7 points and 4.2 rebounds off the bench, and while his 3-point shooting is still a not-so-stellar 29%, he is shooting 63% from inside the arc.
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Should the Phoenix Suns have been more patient with the teenager with the type of athleticism that screams potential?
Maybe. Probably. With projects like Jones, you can’t expect to see immediate results. You have to wait a few years to allow them to develop.
Luckily for the Phoenix Suns, they have another chance with someone in this Derrick Jones Jr. ilk. His name is Jalen Lecque, the winner of the 2022 NBA Slam Dunk competition.
Lecque fits the mold of a few others that earn a paycheck more so because of their athleticism than their basketball prowess. These players like Jones and the 2019 Slam Dunk contest winner, Hamidou Diallo, who have out-of-this-orbit athleticism, but the basketball skills of a G-leaguer, and their timeshare between the two leagues is based on which one outweighs the other in a given month.
Lecque is only 19 years old, and already has the first viral dunk of his career. He is still honing the rest of his basketball skills, so the question is whether the Suns will stay patient during his development or cut him loose like they did Derrick Jones Jr.
Patience. That is what players like Jones, Diallo, and Lecque require, and is a virtue the Phoenix Suns haven’t exactly shown to exhibit a great deal of the last few years.
They didn’t show it with Derrick Jones Jr., and maybe they should have. They have another shot with Jalen Lecque. Let’s see how patient they will be with him.