Things can change.
What is said in April may not hold as true come late June, when the business of basketball gets real in the NBA.
But Derrick Jones Jr. certainly sounded convincing when he answered “for sure” after being asked if he plans to pick up his $3.3 million player option to return to the Chicago Bulls in 2023-24.
“Like I told Coach (Billy Donovan) and everybody else, I’m locked in for two years. I didn’t sign for two years for no reason. So I’m here for two years,” Jones Jr. said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. “I just gotta sit down with my agent and talk to him, figure things out. But I don’t see why not. I got no other plans, yet.”
Jones Jr. appeared in 64 games off the bench, averaging 14 minutes. It’s his least amount of playing time since 2017-18, his second season in the league split between Phoenix and Miami.
Nevertheless, Jones Jr. said he’s happy in Chicago.
“I just love being with these guys. I know my role isn’t always what I want it to be. I’ve been through a few injuries that might’ve set me back a little bit. I feel like a healthy DJ for all 82 is very special,” he said. “But I feel like I’ve played well when given minutes. I’ve done everything I can do with the role that I was given. Sometimes, I need to be a little more aggressive offensively. But defensively, I just do what I do.”
That included his game-saving block of James Harden in the Bulls’ double overtime road victory over the 76ers in March. And it also featured his ability to switch, a key component to Donovan’s small-ball lineups utilizing the 6-foot-5-inch Jones Jr. at backup center.
Of course, possessing a vertical jump bordering on ludicrous---the 2020 NBA Slam Dunk champion said he once recorded it at 46 inches---doesn’t hurt, either.
“I just love guarding,” Jones Jr. said. “That’s one thing I learned in my career: Defense wins championships. I want to be All-Defensive team one day. I feel like I could do it. I just need the right opportunity and proper amount of minutes.”
Offensively, Jones Jr. averaged 5 points in 14 minutes per game. He showcased his ability to convert lob dunks in pick-and-roll situations and in transition, consistently hit the offensive boards and shot 33.8 percent from 3-point range. That included 41.9 percent on 13-of-31 shooting from the left corner, above the league average of 38.5 percent, albeit on low volume.
“Corner is where the money is at,” Jones Jr. said, smiling.
If Jones Jr. indeed returns by his late June deadline to decide, that could spell the end of Javonte Green’s time in Chicago. Though they possess different games and styles, their roles essentially were the same for the 2022-23 Bulls.
Green, an unrestricted free agent, never regained his rotational spot after undergoing knee surgery in January. He’s also over 3 years older than Jones Jr.