In the build-up to the 2018 NBA G League Draft, one of the prospects that immediately caught my attention was former New Mexico State wing Jemerrio Jones. That immediate interest came from how unique of a player that he seemed during his time going against players in the WAC. Despite being a 6’5 wing, he put up the type of numbers that you usually see from a big man like Andre Drummond. During his senior year with the team, he put up 11 points, 13.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.1 steals per game on 50% from the field. That knack for a smaller player to rebound at that rate excited me about the possibility of watching him play.
The South Bay Lakers shared that thought as they traded for him immediately after getting selected by the Santa Cruz Warriors with the 18th overall pick. Although he wasn’t a starter, Jones didn’t take long to make an impact. In November, he put up 8.6 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.9 steals, and 1.2 steals per game on 57% from the field in only 26 minutes per game. That immediate ability to flirt with double-doubles as a rookie wing vaulted him into being a more intriguing prospect than some players that were on two-way deals at that time.
After carrying on that level of performance throughout the remainder of the year, to the point where he finished the year averaging 9.4 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.4 steals on 54% from the field in 25 minutes per game, the 6’5 wing was called up by the Los Angeles Lakers on March 31st.
Due to the Lakers already being out of the playoff hunt after LeBron James suffered a season-ending injury at the time of his arrival, Jones had an opportunity to showcase his skills at the NBA level. He did an excellent job of accentuating his strengths by averaging 4.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.2 steals on 36% from the field in 23 minutes per game. Although his efficiency as a shooter was low, the ability to immediately come in and shine as a rebounder was awe-inspiring.
Despite shining as a great rebounder in his six games with Los Angeles, the team traded him, Isaac Bonga, and Moe Wagner to the Wizards in a deal meant to give the Lakers more cap room to sign experienced free agents. Unfortunately, Jemerrio’s time in Washington would be limited as the team placed him on waivers on October 16th, just four months after arriving.
However, he didn’t have to wait long to figure out his next destination as the Bucks signed the wing to an exhibit 10 deal on the 19th. That move was meant for Jones to become a returning player for their G League affiliate, the Wisconsin Herd, as the team waived him on that same day.
Now in his second G League season, Jones has been able to recapture that rookie year magic with the Herd. During the team’s first 19 games, he’s averaging 10.1 points, 12.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 1.4 steals on 54% from the field in 29 minutes per game. That per-game production has elevated due to his stance in the team’s starting lineup, a role that he only had six times with South Bay.
Those impressive numbers have placed Jones in elite company. Among players that are shorter than 6’7, he’s currently leading the league in Total Rebound Percentage (17.5 TRB%), offensive rebounds per game, and rebounds per game. Going back to the 2007-08 season, his current TRB% is 2nd among players that are shorter than 6’7. The only player that has a higher average would be himself, as he maintained a 17.7% TRB% back in the 2018-19 season.
The best way to figure how he’s excel as a rebounder would be to look at his work on the offensive end. From that perspective, you see a smart player that recognizes where the ball is going to go before it even reaches the rim. That level of recognition combined with the work ethic that allows to out-hustle bigger opponents gives him an advantage more times than not. After collecting those offensive rebounds, the 6’5 player rarely blows that 2nd chance opportunity as he either makes a put-back or throws it out to one of his Herd teammates.
Sticking with his ability as a passer, Jones has maintained his status as a reliable facilitator. A lot of his work as a distributor coincides with his rebounding. That combination is due to how he usually leads the Herd up the court in transition after snagging a defensive board. The 24-year-old excels at this particular job through being able to spot open teammates quickly.
An example of this trait is evident in the clip below. After snagging the defensive rebound, Jones pushes the ball up to the right end of the court alongside 6’8 forward Luke Maye. After pitching the ball off to the UNC alum, our subject sets a screen on Boston Celtics forward Vincent Poirier. While that screen only lasted around two seconds, it gave Maye enough time to set himself up and nail an open three on the right elbow. Honestly, the quick recognition that the Herd wing needed to set a solid screen after the pitch is one of the reasons why he’s such an asset to the team.
In addition to rebounding and facilitating, another way that Jones has helped Wisconsin’s offense is through his work as a roll man. Despite being just an inch or two taller than backcourt teammates like Jaylen Adams or Frank Mason, he spends a lot of his time on offense setting screens and rolling to the paint. The 6’5 wing does a great job in this role as his soft hands and quick feet allow him to be a reliable target that can speed past most front-court players. That success as a roll man is evident from how he’s currently shooting 68% from within the restricted area.
Jones’ collective contributions on this end of the court have been beneficial for the Herd’s offense. Currently, Wisconsin is eight points per 100 possessions better when he’s on the court (111.3 points per 100) compared to when he’s sitting on the sidelines (103.2 points per 100). Those eight points mark the difference between having the third-best offense in the G League and being 22nd in the league.
Moving onto the other end of the floor, Jones stands as a pretty solid defender. Although there are some occasions where he loses focus and lets an opponent make an off-ball cut, it’s safe to say that he’s an asset on this end of the court. One way that he’s been able to do that is through defending on-ball drivers as his quick feet, and 6’10 wingspan allow him to prevent opposing players from getting clean looks at the rim.
Another way that he’s been a positive influence on the defensive end is through his knack of switching onto players. An example of that is evident in the play below as he defends Henry Ellenson, CJ Massinburg, Devin Cannady, and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot on the same possession. The possession with his performance against Cabarrot as the 6’5 wing plays nice weakside defense at the rim. Jones’ excellent performance forces a change of possession.
That solid play on the defensive end, combined with his ability to contribute as a passer, offensive rebounder, and roll man has allowed Jones to stand as one of the best wings in the G League. In regards to his potential to return to the NBA, there’s one weakness that might be holding him back; shooting.
Dating back to his time with New Mexico State, he’s been a bad shooter by any quantifiable data. As a perimeter threat, he just shot 14% from 3 on a total of 65 attempts during his two years in school. In addition to that, he hit 57% on 171 total free throws, which is a lackluster average from the charity stripe.
That hasn’t changed much since the transition to the G League. From the charity stripe, the efficiency has taken a hit as the free-throw percentage has dipped to 50%. Although there was some glimmer of hope last year through him shooting 34% from 3, that percentage has gone back down to normal through him shooting 14% on 1.8 attempts per game.
Although it’s nice to see that Jones can work on his jumper during the middle of games, the optimism about his potential to improve goes away when you realize that his three-point percentage is at the same level that it was during his time in college.
Despite his struggles as a shooter, Jones has been one of the most significant factors behind the Herd starting the year at 16-4. While the team probably wants him to stick around and help lead them to playoff success, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to see him return to the NBA on a 10-day deal.
The biggest reason behind that statement deals with how he’s already shown that he can rebound at a high rate at the NBA level. In addition to that, he’s made strides with being able to finish at the rim more effectively. When you combine those offensive traits with his excellent play on the defensive end, it makes sense to imagine that we’ll see Jemerrio Jones back in the NBA before the end of the year.