Like most rebuilding teams, the Spurs have a lot of up-and-coming former first round picks on their roster, including some lottery talent. Under those circumstances, it can be hard for less heralded young players to carve out a spot for themselves.
Tre Jones, a former second round pick, couldn’t really crack the rotation his rookie year, but due to absences and the Derrick White trade, he finally got a shot at showing his value this past season, and he didn’t waste it.
The question now is, should he be considered part of the core or an interchangeable piece that might become ill-fitting in the future?
Traits, expected role and stats
Tre Jones is a 22-year-old 6’1 point guard who was drafted by the Spurs with the 41st overall pick in the 2020 draft and spent most of his rookie season in the G League.
Going into his second season, he was expected to provide point guard depth behind Dejounte Murray and Derrick White.
In in 69 games, he averaged six points, 3.4 assists and just 0.7 turnovers in 16.6 minutes a night.
In the 2021 portion of the season, Jones’ role was predictably small, as the Spurs staggered Murray and White as their lead ball handlers, leaving limited minutes for the young floor general. In those first 32 games, he averaged under 12 minutes per game and had as many DNPs as he had nights in which he played 20 minutes or more. Jones was serviceable when called upon, but his skill set wasn’t really required when everyone else was healthy. A few missed games at the start of 2022 due to COVID seemed to be hurting his standing on the roster even more, as he really didn’t find a consistent role after his return, getting ample playing time when the team was shorthanded but little run when it was at full strength. It was the type of quiet season that could have led to Jones finding himself in a precarious place going forward.
Then, things really changed for Jones after the trade deadline. Once the Spurs dealt White and reassembled their rotation, the young guard found himself with consistent playing time and the responsibility of keeping the second unit running. Jones’ minutes went from 13 prior to the deadline to 23 after it, but even in a much bigger role, he managed to remain a solid playmaker that rarely made mistakes, actually improving on his already stellar assist-to-turnover ratio in the second half of the season. His small stature and short wingspan prevented him from making the type of defensive impact he had in college, but he showed tenacity by pressuring ball handlers and a budding ability to draw charges. It was not a star-making turn by any means, but it showed how helpful Jones could be to the team by simply doing what he does best.
Season grade: B
Jones did exactly what was expected when he was drafted as a safe bet in the second round. Just like his older brother Tyus, he showed that he could provide a steady hand off the bench, be a capable fill-in as a starter, and a smart, hard-working player on both ends of the floor. The slow start wasn’t really his fault, since the Spurs had Murray, White and even Bryn Forbes ahead of him, so it’s hard to blame him for it. The lack of a jumper, on the other hand, is impossible to ignore, and it did cause trouble at times for both Jones and the team. But in general, Jones was a steadying force most nights, which was actually valuable for a young team that struggled with consistency.
Jones will enter the last year of his contract, which is fully non-guaranteed. Considering his age, how cheap he’ll be for his production and the fact that the team has other holes in the roster it needs to address, it would be shocking to see him gone by opening day of the 2022/23 season. As far as stopgaps go, it would be hard for a rebuilding team to find a better one.
Can he be more than that, though? It will depend on two factors, only one of which Jones can control. If Jones can develop a passable three-point shot, he could be a fantastic backup, as he can already drive to the rim and has an elite floater. He won’t need to hit 40 percent or even be good when guarded, but he’ll need to be willing to pull the trigger when left open and hit at least in the mid-30s on those looks to avoid creating huge spacing problems when he’s off the ball. Jones has proven to be a smart cutter who can make opponents who don’t pay attention to him pay by moving with purpose, but eventually he’ll need to be a credible outside threat as well. Otherwise, he won’t be able to share the floor with ball-dominant teammates, which brings us to what he won’t be able to control: how the front office builds the rest of the bench.
Right now, the Spurs have two shooting guards in different places of their development who can handle the ball and should get time as on-ball scorers or creators off the bench. Both Lonnie Walker IV and Josh Primo can shoot the three, so they can be off the ball if needed, but we’ve seen how much better Walker looked with the green light to create, and Primo has shown flashes of a strong pick-and-roll game. If Lonnie re-signs, there’s a case to get a taller 3-and-D backup point guard in the George Hill/Alex Caruso vein to play with those two instead of Jones, who despite being tough can’t really bother shooters when he contests and could struggle in the switch-heavy defensive scheme the team employs. Maybe Primo can actually be that tall hybrid guard, eventually making Jones unnecessary or relegating him to third stringer, a role he’s too good to accept.
Solid but unremarkable players like Jones have long careers in the NBA, but their impact often depends on the circumstances. On a team that needs a reliable floor general, Jones could be tremendously helpful. It remains to be seen if that’s what the Spurs end up wanting from their backup point guard.