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Derrick Jones Jr. deserves consideration for Most Improved Player

Jones is putting up some of the best numbers of his career

In-Season Tournament - Los Angeles Clippers v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

Derrick Jones Jr. continues to impress as a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Now in his eighth season at age 26, the veteran journeyman is coming alive. Playing alongside All-Stars Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving in Dallas’ starting lineup, Jones looks comfortable and is making head-turning plays.

Known for his athleticism and defense, he has been a force on both sides of the ball this season. He’s the team’s primary wing defender and is helping fuel a potent offense, knocking down open shots from deep and throwing down ferocious dunks. Jones is worthy of being in the Most Improved Player conversation, thanks to his elevated play.

“Derrick is a pro,” Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd said. “He can play with stars. He can play with anybody. He understands how to play the game on both ends, defensively. He’s shooting the three well for us. He’s going to be open a lot of times just because Kai and Luka are going to pull the double team. So far, early here in the season, he’s been able to knock them down. He understands his role. He’s a pro. [He] comes to work every day. We like what he’s doing so far.”

Friday night, Jones recorded one of the best games of his career. In a 144-126 blowout win over the Los Angeles Clippers in Dallas, he had 11 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, and three steals. His 11 points and 10 rebounds marked his first career double-double, and his three steals in the first quarter are new career-high steals in the first quarter and tied for the second-most steals in a single quarter in his career.

His 10 rebounds led the team — Doncic and Irving had the second most with six apiece. Jones has a career average of 3.3 rebounds per game. This season, however, he already has three games in which he’s grabbed five or more rebounds. He only had seven such games last season. Rebounding has been an issue for Dallas, and the team made it a point of emphasis after the Toronto Raptors out-rebounded them 50-38 Wednesday night.

“Yeah, we got beat on the glass in that Toronto game,” Jones said. “That’s something we really are harping on. Tonight, I had 10 rebounds. I just made sure I had to go out there and get whatever rebound that I could [and] do whatever I could do just to make sure that we could win the rebounding battle.”

It’s not just rebounding where he’s making his presence felt. While he hasn’t been known as a prolific scorer, Jones has already had games with 22, 17, 15, and 11 points this season. His 22 points in a win over the Memphis Grizzlies were the most he’s scored since March 11, 2020. His four games of double-digit scoring this season put him on pace to pass last year’s mark with the Chicago Bulls when he had 10 games with 10 or more points, with a season-high of 16 on December 10, 2022.

Jones is having one of the best offensive starts in his career. He’s averaging a career-high 9.1 points this year on 50.8 percent shooting overall, 69.2 percent on two-pointers, and 37.1 percent from deep. His three-point shooting percentage is another career-high mark.

His All-Star teammates love the effort they’re seeing. In the last two games, the three-man lineup of Doncic, Irving, and Jones has played 37 minutes and posted an offensive rating of 144.3 and a defensive rating of 111.4. The trio has played together for 90 minutes in seven games this season. It has an offensive rating of 117.5 and a defensive rating of 111.9.

“He’s fitting great,” Doncic said Wednesday. “Obviously not just this game, every game he’s participated in. He don’t complain about nothing, whether he gets shots or doesn’t get shots. I’m really glad he’s on our team.”

One of the reasons that Jones has been so effective alongside Doncic and Irving is his willingness to get out in transition, run the floor, find open spots around the arc, and attack the rim, especially early in games. He’s averaging 12 points in the first half this season, third-most on the team behind Doncic and Irving.

“D-Jones … he was running up and down the court. It’s easy to find somebody that’s picking up that pace, just playing alongside [him], especially at the start of the game,” Irving said Wednesday. “[I] just want to continue to give him confidence as well as I do for my other teammates, but D-Jones, he’s been knocking down the shots, [it’s] easy to throw lobs to him. Just want to get him going early.”

It’s not just his teammates and coaches that are happy to have Jones in Dallas. He’s thankful for the change in scenery and the opportunity to be a significant contributor, build trust, and grow as a player.

“I’m very glad I’m here. I’m so happy that I’m here,” Jones said. “I’m glad I got the teammates that I got [and] the coaching staff that I got. Everybody is installing confidence in everybody. I feel like we are going a long way with the chemistry and the trust that we have on the floor with each other. We’re just going to keep building with that.”

The Mavericks have only played nine games — almost an eighth of the season — but Jones has already established himself as a starter and a significant part of Dallas’ core rotation. Despite his humble demeanor off the floor, if Jones continues posting career-best numbers and Dallas keeps winning, he will cement his candidacy for Most Improved Player.

“I’m going to keep playing the way that I’m playing, doing what I got to do to help my team win these games, and just be who I am,” Jones said.