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Derrick Jones Jr. has been great. Should the Heat keep him?

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Two writers discuss the forward’s year — and what the Heat should do with the impending free agent.

Miami Heat v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

After suffering injuries that kept him out of all but two games in November, Derrick Jones Jr. has become an indispensable part of the Miami Heat. He’s anchored Miami’s zone defense, become a late-game stopper and offered some of his usual highlight dunks.

But Jones Jr. also is shooting just 23 percent from 3-point range this season. And he will be a free agent this off-season. Should the Heat eat into their 2021 cap space to re-sign Jones Jr.? Brandon Di Perno and Diego Quezada discuss.

Q: How did Derrick Jones Jr. break into the rotation this season?

DQ: Justise Winslow got hurt. Winslow’s last game played before he suffered a bone bruise in his back was Miami’s 19-point loss in Boston Dec. 4. Jones played just five minutes in that game. But after that, Jones’ minutes shot up. He’s also gotten lots of minutes for a reserve because James Johnson was in the doghouse until recently.

BD: After being hurt at the beginning of the season himself, he scooped up Justise’s minutes. That coupled with the fact that James Johnson was having issues with the team opened up an opportunity that he’s thoroughly embraced. So while Justise and JJ’s absence may have led to the minutes it’s his impressive defensive play that’s kept him there.

Q: What is Jones doing that makes him valuable?

DQ: Jones’ defensive versatility has been great for Miami. Erik Spoelstra used him at the top of Miami’s zone as a lengthy defender who can disrupt passes and close out to shooters. His quickness allows him to defend everyone from point guards to small forwards. Although he’s a net negative on offense, his defense makes it worthwhile for him to stay on the court.

BD: Jones’ defense is what is keeping him on the court. According to Cleaning the Glass, Jones ranks in the 89th percentile for block percentage and in the 92nd for steal percentage. To put that in perspective he’s averaging 1.4 steals and 1 block over his last 10 games. That coupled with his tendency to this to opponents:

makes him quite valuable for the Heat. He’s fearless and willing to dunk on anybody. It might be an intangible, but the Heat seem to burn hotter after a DJJ slam.

Q: What are his weaknesses? What are his liabilities?

DQ: The biggest one is his lack of 3-point shooting. He’s made just 15 of his 64 attempts from downtown, and teams have been willing to leave him open in crunch time. Although he made a clutch 3 in Miami’s road win over the Philadelphia 76ers last month, he also missed 3s in the Heat’s recent losses.

At the end of last season, Erik Spoelstra said that he wanted Jones to have the build of Scottie Pippen. But Jones is still rail-thin, and that prevents him from being better able to defend the best wings in the NBA.

BD: I agree with Diego here. Derrick just can’t shoot from beyond the arc right now. He’s averaging 23% from deep this season and 15% over the last 10 games. That makes him a liability in late game situations, especially if the Heat are down. Where his defense might make a difference it just makes more sense to bench him for an extra shooter (be it Duncan or Tyler). If Jones can clean up his three point shooting though, he becomes very valuable.

Q: Has he done enough to merit a new contract next season?

DQ: This one is tough to answer, because it depends on how the Heat front office view Justise Winslow (and, to a lesser extent, KZ Okpala). If Miami is still optimistic that Winslow can be a key cog for this team moving forward, Jones becomes a nice-to-have player, but not someone who should command a contract that will significantly limit Miami’s flexibility in 2021. Remember, the Heat will want to sign Bam Adebayo to an extension, and already have Jimmy Butler under contract for 2021-22.

But since Winslow hasn’t been available this season, the better option may be to trade Winslow and sign Jones.

BD: I think it’s too early to tell, and Diego makes some good points. Miami has their priorities and other teams might be willing to outspend the Heat. The Heat need to be careful not to get into another Tyler Johnson type spending scenario if they want to keep him. However, with Justise shut down indefinitely, Jones Jr. has the chance to make himself invaluable to the Heat, or at least get himself a pay raise this summer somewhere else.

Q: Who threatens his minutes the most?

DQ: James Johnson and Winslow threaten Jones’ minutes. Johnson has shot well from 3 since he’s re-entered the rotation. And while he’s not a knockdown 3-point shooter, Johnson at least is respectable from out there; teams won’t deliberately leave him open, as they’ve done with Jones.

BD: Right now its James Johnson, over the last couple of seasons DJJ’s minutes have come in games where Johnson was off. Now that he’s back in the rotation, and playing well he stands to be the most trouble for Jones. As Diego said, James Johnson can at least be a threat from beyond the arc unless Jones manages to clean up his shooting soon I fear he might see his minutes decline rapidly. Hopefully his defense will keep him in the mix.