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Tre Jones is showing he’s a starting-caliber point guard

In his third year, Jones has been a stabilizing force to the Spurs and their offense.

Boston Celtics v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

When you look across the league, there’s a gaggle of great guards, with more and more entering the league every year. The ones at the top have the ability to completely change the game and are the reason their teams compete for and win titles — à la Steph Curry and Luka Dončić. Beneath that level, you have the ones who play a great second fiddle, the type of player that can take a game over if it’s needed but shouldn’t be the No. 1 option night after night — à la Jaylen Brown and 2016 Kyrie Irving. Then, you have the guards who bring a lot to the table, have some faults, but overall, their team is better when they’re on the court, and that’s where we come to Tre Jones.

If you’re a basketball fan who solely looks at how many points, rebounds, and assists a player has at the end of the game, you’ll disagree with what I’m about to say, but this season, Jones has proven he’s good enough to be a starter for just about any team in the NBA. Obviously, the situation would dictate his standing on a team, as I doubt he’d be starting over Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland in Cleveland. In general, though, coaches would love the chance to have Jones in their starting lineup.

At face value, his 13.2 points and 6.4 assists per game seem pedestrian. While his assist numbers put him at 16th in the league, they don’t blown anyone away. And his 1.4 steals per game may rank 17th in the league, but you probably don’t shake in your boots like you might if Marcus Smart was guarding your team’s ballhandler. That’s the beauty of a player like Jones: he’s unassuming. All he does is step onto the court and plays his role. When he’s asked to do more, he does it. When he’s asked to yield to others, he does that too.

A few games ago, in a tight game against the Utah Jazz, the Jazz had come all the way back from 20 points down, but Jones made back-to-back buckets to seal a Spurs victory. Two nights ago, when Devin Vassell was out and Keldon Johnson left the game at halftime, he scored 25 points to lead the team to another win over the Detroit Pistons.

For me, it’s a play like the following that sticks out the most. Jones takes every opportunity he gets to push the ball up the court, even if he ends up having to slow it down to run the halfcourt offense. On this play, there was no slowing down.

When Jakob Poeltl is grabbing the rebound, Jones is right next to him by the block. Since he’s facing Jakob, he’s able to see that two New York Knicks, Julius Randle and Miles McBride, aren’t in position to get back on defense. That allows him to know that he has a 4-on-3 opportunity, so long as he pushes the ball up the court. His natural point guard instincts kick in here. He dribbles up into Immanuel Quickley, who does the right thing to try and stop the ball, which takes one of the three defenders away. With Doug McDermott running along the right side, Jones sees that Jericho Sims, who would ideally fall back to protect the paint, stays outside to prevent a transition three. That leaves a 2-on-1 against Evan Fournier on the left side. With Johnson running to the three-point line, Jones hesitates for a second, allowing Stanley Johnson the opening to cut to the basket. Jones hits him in stride, and Stanley lays it in for two.

This isn’t an isolated play from Jones. We’ve seen him push the pace and lob it up to Jeremy Sochan a few times this season. This is just one of the latest examples of how well he sees the court, understands pace and space, and has the ability to throw an accurate pass at the right moment.

Should the Spurs end up landing Scoot Henderson in the NBA Draft, Tre’s days as the team’s starting point guard may be limited, if not over, but until they land a generational talent at the position, I believe the Spurs have their point guard of the future that’ll enhance the skills of everybody around him.