Through two preseason games, second round pick Colby Jones has looked like a natural NBA role player.
Last weekend, he described his approach and role with the team with a positive attitude in front of reporters, illustrating his understanding of both his place among a talented roster and the identity of the squad. Moreover, he did so with self-belief and an eagerness to grow.
“I feel like coach (Mike) Brown just on the defensive end — I feel I’m really just trying to take everything he’s saying and try to implement that, and I feel like I’ve been doing a pretty good job of it,” he said on Saturday after practice.
Antonio Harvey followed up to clarify for sure that the primary message has been about pace and defense.
“Yeah, like that (as well as) getting to the corners on offense and playing together,” Jones added.
The sense from that short interview seemed to indicate that Jones is well aware of the importance of defense, playing fast, spreading the floor, and sticking to his role in order to maximize the cohesion of the on-floor unit.
Beyond talking the talk, the rookie has so far been walking the proverbial walk.
He was the standout contributor of the third unit on Sunday, and that group was commended by coach Brown for being the most physical five. Plus, it was the lineup that significantly cut down the margin in what was a bit of a blowout up in Vancouver.
On Wednesday against the Lakers, Jones got minutes earlier into the game, entering in the second quarter and playing with some of Sacramento’s best players. In that situation, he fit right in, being an impact player without having the ball in his hands for the most part, checking a lot of the emphasized boxes for him and the team this training camp.
Though he went just 1 of 4 from the field (and missed his two free throw attempts), Jones was an adequate role player, grabbing 3 rebounds and posting one assist and steal each to go along with no personal fouls in a little over 12 minutes played. Overall, he finished with a +5 in the box score.
He immediately came in and zeroed in on crashing the glass, cleaning up a bat by JaVale McGee on the offensive end to provide another scoring opportunity. It seemed like he, Trey Lyles, and Sasha Vezenkov were consistently getting down low to try and vie for a board in that contest.
The second thing that instantly surfaced in his minutes was his defense. On one play, he navigated through a screen with good defensive pace to get up for a contest that resulted in a missed basket for LA’s Gabe Vincent.
Jones’ ability to move fluidly and physically to get around and minimize the efficacy of opponents’ screens was on full display during his time at Xavier as well as in Summer League, and it appears to be translating to the next level.
Furthermore, he contributed to some nice efforts in transition defense, which did not look good for Sacramento on Sunday against the Raptors. Defending in the full court, he had a great contest against fellow rookie Jalen Hood-Schifino around the 8-minute mark in the second.
He also poked a ball away for a steal and pushed it up the floor to earn a trip to the free throw line about a minute later.
After Monte McNair drafted Jones and Jalen Slawson, he noted that both fit the mold of player the organization likes: guys that can be “connecting pieces” that “finish plays, that can make … the hockey pass,” and who have a “high IQ.”
Jones had two instances where he was a heads up connecting piece. In the second quarter, he got a great pass off to Domantas Sabonis that led to free throws for the big man. Later on, in the fourth quarter, he made a quick decision to link up with Alex Len on a connecting pass for an assist.
Topping things off, and preventing his shooting night from being an 0-for, Jones also knocked down a three-pointer from the corner, showing that there is a chance he can spread the floor in this league, which is perhaps his biggest question after he only had one good shooting season in college.
The 34th overall pick may not have an immensely high ceiling like McNair’s first three feature selections in his tenure with Sacramento, but he does align with Haliburton, Mitchell, and Murray in terms of character and projecting to have a legitimate place in the league. That role may be vastly smaller for Jones compared to the others, but he’s owning it and showing that he is capable of making an impact in his first NBA season.
With Kevin Huerter, Malik Monk, Chris Duarte, and even Kessler Edwards on the team, it did not immediately appear that there would be many, if any, minutes for the Xavier product, but Mike Brown’s indication after Saturday’s practice said otherwise.
Coming into camp, questions remained about a third point guard for the Kings. Matthew Dellavedova returned to the NBL in Australia and Sacramento signed Jordan Ford to a two-way deal. While Ford is a local kid and a feel-good story, his size is a huge limitation for his prospects as an NBA player.
Brown said Ford could have what it takes to be a third point guard in this league, but he told reporters that he has a different vision for that role, which isn’t a huge priority given the multitude of potential ball-handlers on the team.
“The neat part about it is we have two young guys in Colby and Keon (Ellis) that I’m going to give an opportunity to as well to possibly play that third guard position,” Brown explained on Saturday. “If you think about our offense, we don’t have a guy that needs to traditionally come down and be the main pick-and-role player or break the defense down to get guys easy shots. We rely on our spacing, our pace, our ball movement, our ability to attack and re-space to get great looks. We just need somebody that’s conscious enough to — when nobody’s there — to go back and get the ball and bring it with pace, and I think both those guys may have an opportunity to do that sooner than later.”
Different from Dellavedova’s time as the third point guard, Brown trusts Jones and Ellis to have a chance to fit into the mix as the next man up with an ability to direct and push the pace. More than anything, it’s about their ability to be role players.
Ellis notably saw no floor time on Wednesday, and with Jones playing really well, it seems like he is quickly tightening his grip on that role.
After all, Brown wants that “third point guard” to be able to stay ready and fit right in, and Jones seems to be fitting in nicely.
It’s been a pleasant start for Colby Jones, but going forward, it’s clear that the trajectory of his NBA career will depend on whether he can consistently hit from deep range. Nevertheless, he looks like he’s offering enough to demonstrate that he belongs.