Derrick Jones Jr., Dallas Mavericks Embrace Guarding Clippers Superstars: 'I Fear No Man'

Dallas Mavericks' Derrick Jones Jr. embraces guarding LA Clippers' stars like Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Harden, and Russell Westbrook in the NBA playoffs.
Apr 23, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George (13) dribbles
Apr 23, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George (13) dribbles / Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports
In this story:

DALLAS — As the NBA playoffs intensify, Dallas Mavericks forward Derrick Jones Jr. exemplifies the team's mentality gearing up to compete fiercely against a daunting array of talent from the Los Angeles Clippers. He continues to fill an X-factor role where his shooting results, play finishing, and defense are critical.

“He’s been stopping guys a lot,” Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic said about Jones. "And he’s been shooting very well, so his impact is very important to us.”

Apr 23, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George (13) dribbles
Apr 23, 2024; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George (13) dribbles / Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

Tasked with defending top players like Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook, Jones is one of various wing defenders whose versatility is needed to keep them in check. In this series, Jones might switch from guarding Leonard one minute to George the next, then face the challenge of Harden and Westbrook shortly after.

“They’re great future hall of famers,” Jones said following Thursday’s practice session. “You’ve got to lock into their tendencies and know what they like to do. They’ve been playing the game a long time. I’ve been watching them since before I was in the league, and ever since I got to the league I’ve always been watching their game.”

Jones approaches his defensive matchups with a unique blend of humility and confidence. Tasked with guarding some of the NBA's elite talents in the playoffs, Jones does not shy away from the challenge. Instead, he embraces the opportunity to measure himself against the best, recognizing the common humanity he shares with star rivals.

“It’s a great opportunity to go out there and play against them,” Jones stated. “And like I said before, they’re human, they’re a man just like me. They put their pants on one leg at a time just like me. I fear no man. I have no fear in my heart for no one.”

Each of the Clippers' big-name players has their own unique approach to the game, requiring Jones to use a catered approach in containing them.

“Obviously, it’s not that they’re difficult to guard. It’s just they just do different things," Jones said. “One might like to get to the mid-range a little bit more. One likes to get to the basket more. Just make it a physical game and muck the game up a little bit.”

Jones significantly improved his performance in Game 2 compared to the Mavericks' series opener. Initially, he scored no points, missed four shots in 18 minutes, and saw his role diminish in a loss. However, he rebounded by scoring 10 points on 4-6 shooting, collecting seven rebounds, blocking a shot, and playing 32 minutes in a crucial victory. He credits his enhanced aggression in the follow-up performance as the key to his success.

“I feel like the first game I wasn’t as aggressive,” Jones said. “I feel like I was a little timid. Even on-ball defensively, I felt like I was a little reserved.

“So, in Game 2, I just made sure I stepped it up a little bit," Jones explained. "Whenever somebody was picking up full court, whenever my man was picking up full court, I was up there with him and just trying to make it a nasty game. That’s what I like.”

The Mavericks' defense has been pivotal, especially while their offense has faltered. In Game 2, they held the Clippers' four stars to just 40.7% shooting, and Jones was instrumental in achieving this defensive success.

“I thought D-Jones did a great job of making it tough," Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. "That’s all you can do when you talk about PG, Kawhi, Harden, and Westbrook. Those guys are really good."

Daniel Gafford recently commended Jones for being an essential part of the Mavericks' defensive tactics, highlighting his readiness to take on the task of defending the league's premier players. Gafford noted Jones's ability to make significant defensive impacts, from blocking shots of outstanding players like Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant to performing energetic weak-side defensive rotations to protect the basket.

“When he comes out, he puts his body on the line and he puts everything on the line when it comes to guarding the best player on the floor," Gafford remarked. "From guarding Stephen Curry to guarding anybody else, at the end of the day he puts it all on the line."

Despite his considerable impact and playing 76 regular season games, Jones does not qualify for all-defensive team honors because he did not meet the NBA's minimum games requirement. It was a goal expressed to the media at various points of the season, but he embraces the challenge of meeting the mark in 2024-25.

"I played 70-plus games," Jones noted. "For me not to be eligible is crazy. But it is what it is. I ain’t really tripping on it. I know next year I’m going to get it – if not second (team) or first (team). You always got next year."

As the series progresses, with Game 3 looming, Jones's role becomes increasingly critical. His ability to adapt defensively and handle multiple elite scorers could be key to Dallas maintaining competitiveness in this closely contested series.


Published
Grant Afseth

GRANT AFSETH

Grant Afseth is a Dallas Mavericks reporter for MavericksGameday.com and an NBA reporter for NBA Analysis Network. He previously covered the Indiana Pacers and NBA for CNHI's Kokomo Tribune and various NBA teams for USA TODAY Sports Media Group. Follow him on Twitter (@grantafseth), Facebook (@grantgafseth), and YouTube (@grantafseth). You can reach Grant at grantafseth35@gmail.com.