Javonte Green’s surgical procedure on his right knee has opened the door for Derrick Jones Jr. to land in the regular rotation for weeks.
Jones Jr. has drawn the dreaded “Did Not Play---Coach’s Designation” five times this season. He’s averaging over 3 minutes less playing time per game than last season.
And yet, he always has stayed ready whenever his number is called. He’s just a bit conflicted about it getting called under these circumstances.
“I’m happy I’m in the rotation now. But I’m also sad that my guy is out. That’s my brother and I’ve always said from Day One that I want to see him be great,” Jones Jr. said. “We have a great relationship. That’s my ‘dawg.’ I want him back now.”
Green underwent surgery on Wednesday and will be re-evaluated in two weeks. The hope is that he can return around after a month absence, give or take some days depending on the rehabilitation process.
Either way, Jones Jr.’s playing time is about to increase. He logged 18 minutes---around his average playing time from last season---in Wednesday’s loss to the Washington Wizards and contributed 7 points, 4 rebounds and two blocks.
“Derrick is active. He has a really high basketball IQ. He’s a really good slasher and cutter,” Chicago Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “He’s got a really good feel on how to play and play around players.”
Donovan consistently has praised Jones Jr. for his professionalism.
“There have been times for our team when we’ve had 11 players available who could play. And you could make an argument for any of those guys playing. But I think when you get to trying to play 11 people, it’s just way too much,” Donovan said. “He’s kind of been the guy who has been the odd man out. But even when he’s been out, he has kept himself ready to play.”
It’s not an easy task to remain idle out of the rotation and instantly produce when given a chance. But that’s what Jones Jr. has done more often than not.
If you ask Jones Jr. from where this mental fortitude flows, be prepared for an answer with depth.
“I guess it starts from draft day, coming into the league,” Jones Jr. said in a nod to his undrafted status coming out of UNLV in 2016. “Nothing was given to me. Ever since my rookie year, I’ve had to work to get my spot on the team, work to get minutes. My second year, I was waived (by Phoenix) and brought to Miami on a two-way contract. I had to work to get a two-year deal after.
“So it’s always about work. And I’m going to keep going until my time is done.”
With the Bulls, Jones Jr. has carved out a niche role as a small-ball center. His athleticism, leaping ability and defensive instincts allow him to play bigger than his 6-foot-5-inch, slender frame.
Jones Jr. also has battled injuries. He missed five games this season with a sprained left ankle. Last season, he fractured his right index finger while working out after missing time with a bone bruise in his right knee.
Jones Jr. returned earlier than expected from the finger fracture, wearing a splint for some stretch-run games last season.
That’s the price he’ll pay to get minutes, minutes that are going to be coming his way consistently over the coming weeks.
“Obviously, I want to be in the rotation from the get-go and know my spot is solidified. But if I got to prove myself, then I’m going to do it,” Jones Jr. said. “It doesn’t matter where I get put on the floor. I’m going to do whatever I can do to make winning plays and do what I can do to help my team win.”