Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Duke’s Tyus Jones Projected As Late-First Round Draft Pick, Begging the Question, Who Plays the Point at Duke Next Year If He Leaves?
INDIANAPOLIS — While Duke freshmen Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow are projected as top-5 picks in the NBA Draft, their fellow freshman Tyus Jones is widely considered a late-first-round pick.
DraftExpress.com projects Okafor at No. 2, Winslow at No. 5 and Jones at No. 26.
“[With] Tyus Jones, the further Duke goes I assume it solidifies him as somebody they may take at the back end of the first round,” one veteran NBA scout told SNY.tv. “I think he’s a second-round pick but somebody may take him at the back end of the first round.”
Asked if he saw Jones as an NBA point guard down the road, the scout said, “Oh, yeah.”
It’s unclear if the 6-foot-1 Jones will enter the NBA Draft, but with Duke set to play Michigan State here Saturday in the national semifinals, his stock may never be higher.
“He doesn’t have much left to prove,” one NBA executive told SNY.tv.
“He’s ready to cash an NBA paycheck,” Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com told SNY.tv.
Asked if Jones was NBA-ready, Givony added: “You can count on one hand the number of guys in this draft (or any draft) that are ‘NBA-ready.'”
After committing to Duke in a package deal with his good friend Okafor, Jones is averaging 11.6 points, 5.7 assists and 3.5 rebounds.
If the Blue Devils can get past Michigan State, they would play for Duke’s fifth NCAA championship on Monday night against the Kentucky-Wisconsin winner.
“It’s just special,” Jones said. “It’s just special. You can just feel it in the air, how important it is, what it means to us to be here. To have a practice in Lucas Oil, just look out and see how many seats are out there. On Saturday night, those seats are all going to be filled. It’s a special feeling and we’re honored to be here.”
Much was made entering the season about how Jones, a freshman, would coexist in the backcourt with senior Quinn Cook.
But the two have jelled to become one of the best backcourts in college basketball, if not the best.
“Myself and Tyus, a lot of people try to make a big deal about us playing the same position, us not playing together,” Cook said here Friday. “That’s made us closer. He’s grown up so much, always asking advice, always seeking advice from everybody on the team. He just improved so much, man. I’m happy that I share a backcourt with him because in my eyes, he’s one of the better guards in the country. So I’m happy he’s passing me the ball and I’m passing him the ball instead of me guarding him. I’m just proud of him and what a successful freshman year he’s had.”
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski credited Cook for mentoring Jones.
“He’s had a good teacher, and it hasn’t been his coach,” he said. “It’s been primarily Quinn.”
If Jones ends up heading to the NBA after this season, Duke will face a major question mark at the point guard position going forward since both he and Cook will be gone.
They will still have Grayson Allen coming back next year, but he is a natural shooting guard, as is incoming freshman Luke Kennard, a 6-5 scoring sensation from Franklin (Ohio).
Duke has talked with Findlay Prep point guard Derryck Thornton about reclassing to 2015 and joining the Blue Devils, but Thornton has yet to announce his college plans.
“If Duke were to lose Tyus to the draft, they’d almost certainly have to rely on Luke Kennard to play some on the ball,” Evan Daniels of Scout.com told SNY.tv. “While he’s skilled and can play some point guard in a pinch, he’s better suited off the ball. I’d bet they’d try and find a grad transfer or someone to fill that void.”
Among the immediately eligible transfers out there is former Villanova guard Dylan Ennis, who is looking to play the point next season. No word yet on whether Duke has reached out.
“He’s looking for a situation were he can play a traditional point guard roll with the ball in his hands,” Tony McIntyre, Ennis’ father, told SNY.tv.
Photo: USA Today Sports
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.