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Good things happen for the Spurs when Tre Jones is leading the break

The young guard might still struggle on offense in the half court, but he’s been using his speed and decision-making to be a huge plus in transition.

NBA: Mexico City Game 2022-Miami Heat at San Antonio Spurs Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

When Tre Jones started to get consistent minutes last season once Derrick White was traded, he seemed like the safe prospect he was in college. The lead guard was extremely turnover averse, only took shots he was comfortable with and relied on his floor game to be useful.

This year, as Dejounte Murray was shipped out and no replacement was acquired, he has been asked to do a lot more than that. While there have been some ups and downs, the most interesting aspect of Jones’ season so far has been the revelation that he could actually be better suited for a faster, more aggressive style on offense than previously thought, especially as a passer.

Jones ranks third in the league behind Nikola Jokic and Tyrese Haliburton in the percentage of the points he generates in transition coming as the result of an assist as opposed to a bucket, according to Synergy Sports. He also ranks second in assists in transition among players who have finished at least 50 possessions on the break. His assist-to-turnover ratio isn’t elite but it’s solid, as he ranks 20th right above Jokic and Trae Young. Those numbers paint him as a near-elite transition orchestrator on a team that ranks around the middle of the pack in terms of points scored on the break. When the Spurs are running and Jones is leading the charge, good things tend to happen because he has the right amount of speed, patience and good judgment.

As a scorer, Jones’ limitations are still there in transition and, as mentioned, he typically looks to pass instead of finishing himself more than almost every player in the league, but he can still do damage when attacking quickly. In plays in which he takes a shot between the first six seconds of the possession, Jones is shooting 61 percent. After that, he’s shooting 37 percent from the floor. Granted, most players have better efficiency early in the shot clock, since normally they only pull the trigger if the opportunity is there for an easy look. For a player with such a low field goal percentage despite not taking a lot of threes, however, it does seem that those early looks are more important for Jones’ viability than they are to most other players, so it’s good that he seems to be hunting for them more often.

The other side of the coin to Jones being a great set-up man in transition and a solid scorer early in possessions is that those strengths are mostly easy to notice because he struggles against set defenses. Jones ranks 34th in assist percentage and 27th in assist-to-turnover ratio in the half court, which is low for a starting point guard. As mentioned, he shot under 40 percent from the field in the half court despite not taking many threes. Against a set defense Jones struggles to make an impact, which is an issue because he’ll always have to play the majority of possessions under that context. His floater has not been on this season, as evidenced by the 32 percent he’s shooting in the paint outside of the restricted area, which has really hurt him since it makes his lack of a jump shot more obvious and allows opponent bigs to stay closer to the rim.

Those issues would be really worrying if they pertained to a player dubbed the future of the franchise or a core piece, but Jones is someone who will likely be a career backup point guard, and in that role, his lack of scoring ability in the half court won’t be a huge liability. He still has a great floor game and is a good decision-maker who plays hard on both ends, which should keep him in the rotation even if eventually the Spurs get an upgrade. And if the floater becomes reliable or he works on an elbow jumper, the lack of a three-pointer shouldn’t be as big an issue.

This season was always going to be about development, so instead of harping on weaknesses, it’s better to focus on whether the young players show something new to their game or get more comfortable in certain settings. When looking at things through that lens, it’s undeniable that Jones being able to weaponize his quickness in a system that encourages running to become a fantastic playmaker and solid scorer early in the shot clock is a huge step in the right direction.