The first season of the two-way contract era has been a remarkable success for the NBA and the NBA G League. The Dallas Mavericks and the Texas Legends have certainly played their part in the fun, the Mavs signing Johnathan Motley to occupy their first two-way slot.
That’s…worked out pretty well.
Jones, a Dallas native, is a second-year pro who is on his second two-way contract. The first one came with the New Orleans Pelicans, before he switched over to the Mavericks. He admits he wasn’t crystal clear on what exactly the two-way deal was but knew all he needed.
“When I signed, I didn’t know much about how the two-way worked,” the 24-year old said. “But I knew I was going to get a chance to be in the NBA.”
Jones was actually a Maverick before he was even a Maverick. Sort of. (Not really.) As the Pelicans are one of four teams yet to adopt a G League franchise, his talents were outsourced to the Legends when the Pelicans sent him for development.
“It’s definitely been a roller coaster. One minute I was with the Pelicans, then I switched over to the Mavericks. To be playing with the Legends on assignment, getting waived by the Pelicans and picked up by the Mavericks and being able to stay with the Legends, it was just a crazy situation.”
It seemed like fate then that the Dallas native would end up a part of his hometown organization.
“It all worked out for itself because this is where I’m from. I still got to be around my family and friends through the whole journey. It was a crazy situation but I think everything worked out perfectly fine.”
After a decorated high school career at Mansfield Timberview in Arlington, Jones began his college career at Southern Methodist University, playing there for two seasons before transferring to Texas A&M.
As an Aggie, he was named second-team All-SEC as a junior and first-team as a senior, helping A&M reach the NCAA Tournament in 2016.
After going undrafted a few months later, he played for the Toronto Raptors in the NBA Summer League. His next stop came with the Maine Red Claws, G League affiliate of the Boston Celtics, where he put together an All-Star year.
In 46 games for the Red Claws, all starts, he averaged 21 points and nine rebounds on his way to All-Star honors. In the offseason, he would sign two-way one of two with the Pelicans. With New Orleans, he played on assignment first with the Greensboro Swarm and then went to the Legends.
Then, well, he became a Legend. And a Maverick.
“It’s like a dream come true. To be able to play high school, college and professionally all in one city, in the same area, I never thought that would happen as a little kid. I’m just blessed to be in this situation and happy to be a Maverick.”
Despite his successful career at Texas A&M, he went undrafted. Even during an all-star season with Maine and before and after each of his two-way signings, Jones somehow manages to remain one of basketball’s best kept secrets.
“I feel like I’ve always gone under the radar. I feel like I’ve been underrated my whole life. I think that’s what drives me. I strive for success because I feel like I’ve been underrated no matter what I’ve done. I never look at it as a downpoint, I look at it as motivation to get better and better until people respect you and take notice of what you’re doing. It’s something I carry on my shoulders.”
This season for the Legends, Jones has appeared in 17 games, averaging 18.5 points on 48 percent shooting while grabbing 6.4 rebounds.
The true value of Jones’ game cannot be discovered by scanning numbers. You need to watch him play to appreciate his versatility and significant capabilities as both a scoring wing and a ball-stopping defender. A defender that can cover any player.
“The main thing for me is to be wherever the coach wants me at. I can play the three or four. My primary position in the NBA is going to be the three and I look at myself as a 3-and-D guy. I can guard multiple positions, one through five. I’ve always worked at my game down low and worked on my game as a wing. Wherever the coach puts me out there, that’s what I’ll do.”
A serendipitous reunion in Dallas has been more than a dream come true for the 6-foot-7 Jones. It has also given him the opportunity to play under coach Bob MacKinnon, the all-time leader in NBA G League call-ups.
“Obviously it’s home, but I think coach does a great job at bringing the best out of his players. He’s never going to sugarcoat things, he always wants to bring the best out of you. He’s all about getting you ready for the next level.”
Before Jones even walked through the Dr Pepper Arena doors, MacKinnon had a plan in place to get the most out of Jones and for Jones to get the most out of his time with the Legends.
“I remember when I first came to the team he said, ‘I understand you get a lot of points from the four position, but a lot of people want to see you play the three and that’s what I want you to play for me on this team.’ He told me that from the jump. He gave me the ultimate confidence to bring the ball up the court more than I have in my career, let me facilitate things, showing people I can pass the ball off the dribble.”
Praise for MacKinnon is commonplace in the G League. After all, he helps players accomplish the one goal they have: play in the NBA. Simultaneously, Jones is learning to adjust full-time to a new position.
“Coach has done a great job building that confidence in me as a wing player. That’s what he does, that’s what he’s great at. I’ve learned a lot in my time here with the Legends.”
That time will be up soon, and then it’s off to Dallas for Jones. From there, you can only assume he will start popping up on all sorts of radars.