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Tre Jones’ best weapon has failed him this season

After looking lethal last season, Jones’ floater has been inconsistent this year, which could be a problem since he’ll need that shot to reach his full potential.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Tre Jones came into the season with the burden of expectation on his shoulders after being made the starting point guard, and it’s safe to say he has done well under that pressure. The third-year guard has made a leap, proving that he can not only be a caretaker half court ball handler, but also a high-pace orchestrator. Overall it has been a positive year for Jones.

One of the areas in which he seems to have taken a step back, however, is arguably the one in which he was showing the most promise in the past. Jones went from having a great floater to struggling with those short shots this year.

Last season, Jones attempted around 37 percent of his total shots from the area inside the paint but outside the restricted area, which is normally known as floater range. He made a very solid 49.6 percent of them, a better mark than some of the players considered to have a deadly floater, albeit in much fewer attempts. Two thirds of those looks were not assisted as well. This season, Jones has taken around 32 percent of his total shots from floater range and has connected on just 39.9 percent of those looks, a mark that ranks as the sixth worst among the 25 guards who have attempted at least 200 of such shots. Jones’ ability to hit floaters and short jumpers might have not fully disappeared, but it certainly has not progressed, as he’s attempting fewer of his total shots from the area and making them at a lower rate.

There are several possible reasons why that has happened. Jones has had to create more of his own shots in general, and his floater has not been an exception. It’s not the same to catch the ball in stride and face a backpedaling big than it is to have to attack a set defense in the pick and roll. Jones has also missed some games so it might have been tough for him to regain his touch at times after being out. He’s also been attempting more jumpers, which is exactly what he should be doing in a season that is all about development. In a way, it would have been disappointing to see Jones continue to only do things he knew he could do at a high level. It’s a good thing he’s trying to expand his arsenal to include more weapons, even if he has to take a step back in his efficiency with his most reliable one.

It’s still something to keep track of going forward, however, because having a reliable floater will probably be a must for Jones. He’s one of the shortest players in the league and doesn’t have the hops to play above the rim on drives or the strength and body control to finish through contact. He can use his quickness and craftiness to get to the rim and score at a solid level, but he has to be opportunistic when deciding when to attack, being at his best on the break or before the defense is set. Unless he develops a killer elbow jumper, his success as a pick-and-roll ball handler could be tied to his floater, not only as a scorer, but also as a set-up man. The threat of the floater can make big men commit, which opens up lob passes to the dive man. Trae Young is a master at manipulating the defense that way, for example.

There’s no need to panic at this point, of course. Jones is still really young and he has shown in the past that he can effectively use a floater. This season has been a tough one for most players in terms of adjusting to new roles and a carousel of lineups due to all the regular absences. In the last 10 games, Jones has actually been great from floater range, so it’s not like he completely forgot how to make those shots. And an overreliance on a type of field goal that doesn’t create free throws is not necessarily a good thing. Jones has been thrust into a much bigger role and given the green light to take different kinds of shots and he has at least attempted to expand his game. Some growing pains were expected and being less efficient from one spot on the floor shouldn’t factor in too heavily in his contract negotiation in the offseason.

It’s still important to track the development of individual skills, since it has been so hard to figure out what the Spurs as a team look like among so much turmoil in terms of lineups and rotations this year, and it’s noteworthy that Jones has seemingly regressed in an area in which he seemed destined to excel. With any luck, it will just be a temporary issue and Jones will be back to punishing defenses regularly from floater range next season while still wearing a Spurs jersey.