He was the only player in the NBA to start more than 35 games and average less than 18.4 minutes a game. There were eight Denver Nugget players who averaged more minutes per game than he did (nine if you include short timer Allen Iverson). On the other hand no Nuggets player seemed to frustrate opposing coaches than he did in the playoffs.
Well, if you read the title to this post you already know I am talking about Dahntay Jones.
When I found out the Nuggets had added Jones to their summer league roster last year I thought it was a big waste of everyone’s time. Jones was clearly a poor offensive player and had never been worth much on defense either. That is not a good combination. Jones took advantage of his time in Vegas and earned an invite to training camp thanks to his ability to play solid defense. He even scored a few points on offense thanks to his ability to get to the free throw line.
It seemed clear that Jones would not have such an easy time putting points on the board facing off against the increased talent level of the NBA. Fortunately for Jones the Nuggets had plenty of scorers, including explosive shooting guard J.R. Smith who played the same position as Jones. With the Nuggets looking to become more of a defensive squad there was a clear opening for a shooting guard who was dedicated to being a stopper.
George Karl knew the Nuggets needed a player like that too and Jones was one of only two players in camp who could fill that role with the other being self proclaimed Kobe stopper and former Nugget Ruben Patterson. I honestly do not know what the deciding factor was, perhaps Patterson at the age of 33 had lost a step or possibly Karl and Patterson still did not quite see eye to eye on some things, but the player with the defensive reputation was let go and Jones made the team.
Not only did Jones make the team, he found himself a regular starter as Karl was still not ready to hand the reins over to J.R. Smith who was not quite as interested in defense as Denver needed him to be.
As is the case with every mediocre player Jones had a few good moments and a few bad ones mixed in with a bunch of forgettable performances. Even as a player whose sole purpose on the floor was to play defense Jones was pretty inconsistent with his focus night in and night out. Plus he seemed a little too interested in shooting early in games as he forced shots on several occasions, probably because he knew after the first few minutes he would not see much more playing time.
Despite his special purpose there were only a handful of games where his defense was exceptional and those efforts largely came against point guards. There were two players in particular that he hounded above and beyond any others and they were Jose Calderon and Chris Paul.
Fortunately for Jones the Nuggets drew the New Orleans Hornets in the first round of the playoffs which gave him a chance to take on a marquee player under the national spotlight. Jones did a tremendous job defending Paul. He did such a good job that Byron Scott called him a dirty player, which I hope Jones took as a compliment. Jones did not do anything dirty to Chris Paul, he simply played him physically. He bodied him up and did not play intimidated. He also received plenty of help defending the pick and roll as Paul’s teammates pretty much made a bunch of nests around the court and started laying eggs. In a series where the Nuggets advanced out of the first round for the first time in 15 seasons and with Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony playing very well Dahntay’s play was one of the top storylines in the series.
Jones was much less important in the second round series against Dallas as Anthony Carter was a much better matchup against Jason Terry than Jones was. Jones went from playing 20.6 minutes a game against New Orleans (a number that was reduced by the wide margin of victory for Denver in four of the five games) down to 16.6 minutes per game against Dallas.
With Denver facing off against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals it appeared Jones’ talents would once again be of great value to Denver as they needed someone to slow down Kobe Bryant. Instead of playing a bigger role as expected Jones saw his playing time decrease yet again, this time down to only 15.5 minutes a gam,e as he was largely ineffective against Kobe.
Instead of proving how indispensible he was Jones may have proven that the Nuggets can get along without him just fine.
Jones deserves credit for remaking himself into a capable defensive player. He certainly did not display much competency in that area during his first couple of go rounds in the league. He possesses the quickness and strength to be a good on the ball defender, but he is not great at chasing players off of screens, which is pretty important when defending shooting guards.
Offensively he is still almost completely helpless unless he has an unimpeded track to the rim. Surprisingly, Jones shot 64.7% from the three point line during the regular season, but he only attempted 17 three point shots. That percentage definitely carried the stench of flukiness especially after he shot 3-12 from behind the arc in the post season. Still he showed the discipline to only attempt corner threes, which is a sign he was not trying to do too much. His lack of scoring is only made worse by his below average passing ability and ball handling.
One thing that deserves to be mentioned is Jones certainly seemed to be a good teammate. He was always up and applauding when he was on the bench and even though he took a few more shots than necessary on multiple occasions he was mostly content to play defense and let others shoot.
As of July 1 Jones is an unrestricted free agent. Thanks to his defense against Chris Paul there is bound to be interest in him (Boston has already been tied to Jones in the media) and it may be his one and only chance to cash in on a long term contract.
I am not opposed to having Jones come back to Denver next season, but there is no way Denver should pay him much more than minimum money. He will undoubtedly want a multiyear deal and I have no problem with that as long as the annual salaries are low.
Karl has already made references to the fact that J.R. should probably be starting at shooting guard for Denver from here on out and as I have already written I think Sonny Weems is deserving of some regular playing time next season. Denver may not need a defensive oriented shooting guard as J.R. has significantly improved his defense each of the previous two seasons. By the end of the season I do not think there is a significant difference between he and Jones when it comes to guarding shooting guards. In fact when Denver played the Lakers it was Smith, not Jones, who did the best job between the two on Kobe.
Denver can afford to play a waiting game with Jones. Even though he is unrestricted I think they can let the market fall into place and see if he is affordable or not. They definitely should not be knocking on his door at 12:01 AM on July 1 offering three years and $9.0 million and I doubt anyone else will be either. However, if some comes forward and offers three years at $4.5 million (or less) I have no problem if Denver matches it to keep Dahntay in the Mile High City.
It is not fun to have to watch every dime that is paid to free agents, but one of the good things about being pressed up against the luxury tax level is it makes it impossible to overspend for average or below average players. We do not need to worry about Jones getting a Tariq Abdul-Wahad contract. That may not be good news for Dahntay, but it is good news for Nuggets fans.