With Malaki Branham still listed as doubtful after suffering a twisted ankle in Memphis, Tre Jones is reportedly set to make his first start of the season in tonight’s matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks, per multiple sources.
While Malaki Branham is technically doubtful, it sounds like Tre Jones will be starting tonight.— Matthew Tynan (@Matthew_Tynan) January 4, 2024
Lineup alert: Tre Jones said he'll start Thursday.— Underdog NBA (@Underdog__NBA) January 4, 2024
While it’s unfortunate that it took mounting injuries to get to this point, it is likely a very welcomed revelation for Spurs fans after some interesting “experimentation” with lineups have led to few wins in the first half of the season. The season began with Jeremy Sochan starting at “point guard”, but it was unsuccessful and seemingly abandoned once Branham was inserted into the starting lineup and Zach Collins was moved to the bench, which slid Victor Wembanyama to center and Sochan to his more natural position of power forward.
Other changes had been made as well, such as starting Julian Chapagnie and moving Keldon Johnson to the bench to provide some scoring oomph to the second unit, but Gregg Popovich’s apparent refusal to start Jones up to this point has baffled fans and media pundits alike, with NBA.com writer John Schumann even dubbing it the “start anyone but a point guard” approach. When asked about it by the media, Pop’s answers were always evasive in his own Popovichian ways, such as, “It’s just what we want to to do.”
The move also seems to be a welcomed one from the players, with Vassell mentioning Jones’ leadership and ability to find players being very much be needed.
Vassell on Tre Jones starting at PG with Branham likely out:— Tom Orsborn (@tom_orsborn) January 4, 2024
"The way he orchestrates and runs the team, the way he is able to find everybody, the level he brings at both ends of the court, think it’s huge. And we are going to need that today."
There is no denying that the Spurs starters have severely struggled to find Wemby at times on offense. Considering he and Jones have a positive NET rating of 2.7 in 309 minutes together — second only to Jones and Vassell at 6.1 in 355 minutes (among duos who have played more than 100 minutes together) — hopefully we will see an upgrade to the level of consistency and overall play from the starting unit.
While tonight’s game may not end up being the best measuring stick due to the talent deficit between the two teams, assuming improvement is shown, here’s to hoping this isn’t just a one-off and Jones doesn’t return to the bench the instant Branham is healthy. Johnson is a good enough player to be the main ball-handler for the second unit (as is Devonte’ Graham, for that matter), so at this point there is little reason not to give starting Jones an extended run.
Finally, the Spurs had one more addition to tonight’s injury report. Along with Branham, Doug McDermott has joined him, Zach Collins (ankle) and Charles Bassey (ACL) on the injured list with a bruised forearm.