After an offseason that could not have felt any longer if it tried, the NBA regular season—and Victor Wembanyama’s rookie season—is finally underway. While the 82-game schedule is only just starting Spurs fans have already been hit with a surprise: Jeremy Sochan will serve as the starting point guard to kick off a new era of tall-ball for San Antonio.
If you ask why the Spurs chose this route with their starting lineup, this is likely more a reflection of their belief in Sochan rather than a lack of trust in Tre Jones. Throwing Sochan into the fire like this should give a meaningful boost to his development as a ballhandler, even if it means fewer scoring opportunities for him next to Wembanyama, Keldon Johnson, and Devin Vassell. He also offers the starters more size and defensive upside compared to Jones.
Again, though, relegating Jones to the bench should not be seen as the Spurs not having belief in the fourth-year guard. Rather, Jones will have the chance to lead a group that doesn’t have the offensive firepower that the starting lineup will have on day one, meaning the Spurs will be challenging Jones to create offense to the best of his ability for himself and others. Jones will also likely serve as the bench group’s defensive anchor.
Being that so much is going to be asked of Jones in this role, I’ve outlined three things that could help take his game to the next level. If Jones can improve in the following three areas, expect him to make a noticeable jump and possibly even retake the starting point guard role from Sochan at some point in the future.
1.) Jones must knock down his three-pointers
We’re going to start with the obvious here: Jones would immediately become a more valuable NBA player were he to prove to opposing defenses that he can knock down jump shots. This has long been Jones’ most glaring area for improvement dating back to his two college basketball seasons with the Duke Blue Devils and something that remains an area for improvement going into his fourth NBA season.
Now, and even three years ago when Jones was selected in the draft, NBA scouts and executives will tell you that any “undersized” guard prospect—somewhere around 6-foot-3 and smaller—needs to be able to shoot the ball in order to have staying power in the NBA. Undersized non-shooters are one of the most common NBA player archetypes in the modern era that struggle to stay on the floor, and in more and more cases, are finding themselves out of the NBA rather quickly. But Tre Jones, like his older brother Tyus, is an outlier that has managed to find his footing in the league in a meaningful way rather quickly. Jones takes better care of the ball than the vast majority of NBA guards and, in fact, only trailed seven other NBA players this past season in assist to turnover ratio.
Furthermore, Jones is a shockingly good finisher around the rim for someone of his size, his talent for which is only exacerbated by his impressive instincts as a cutter. Roughly 59% at the rim may not sound like an elite number, particularly in comparison to some of the truly elite rim-finishing guards in the NBA.
To put that number in perspective, however, among NBA guards that attempted at least 4 shots at the rim per game this past season, Jones was more efficient than Jalen Brunson, LaMelo Ball, Trae Young, Tyrese Maxey, Jalen Green, and others. This efficiency, his knack for avoiding turnovers, his defensive aptitude, and his overall feel for the game make him a trustworthy backup point guard at absolute worst.
Regardless, though, for Jones to make the jump from ‘reliable backup guard’ to bona fide starting NBA point guard, he’ll need to become at least an average threat from distance. Jones only made 29% of his 2.3 three-point attempts per game this past season, and even when factoring out the few pull-up shots he took, that efficiency only rises to 30%. Jones will find more individual success on offense if he can convince defenders to close out hard on his spot-up jumpers and go over rather than under screens in the pick-and-roll, but he’ll need to convert on around 35-36% of his three-point attempts for that to happen.