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Matt Jones - An Appreciation

Some guys are just more subtle than others and you have to watch more carefully to appreciate what they do. That’s Matt Jones.

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Michigan State v Duke
DURHAM, NC - NOVEMBER 29: Matt Jones #13 of the Duke Blue Devils sets a pick for teammate Grayson Allen #3 during the game against the Michigan State Spartans at Cameron Indoor Stadium on November 29, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke won 78-69.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

We read this passage in Al Featherston’s article today and were struck by it:

“Jefferson and [Matt] Jones have asserted their team leadership, especially at the defensive end. Jones offers an interesting test of basketball knowledge – he had a horrid shooting night against Michigan State and many fans were trashing him. Yet, in postgame, both coaches cited him as perhaps the key player in the Duke win.

“‘Matt Jones is a stud,’ Krzyzewski said. ‘That kid’s defense and heart were magnificent. He’s one of the best defenders in the country. We put him on every outstanding player that we play against. Nobody ever notices that, I guess.

‘He had a spectacular two-point performance tonight.’”

Seriously? People don’t understand what he’s done with this team?

Jones has been amazing.

Remember in 2000 when Duke had a six-man rotation and used Mike Dunleavy off the bench to fill in for three different positions? He would play either forward spot or off guard (or wing or whatever you want to call it). He allowed Duke to rest everyone in a predictable pattern, barring foul problems and that team stayed fresh until he came down with mono.

Jones is filling a somewhat similar role (gratefully, sans mono).

First, he can fill in for Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard, Frank Jackson or, to an extent, even Amile Jefferson.

He can defend almost any player on the court, as Coach K rightly noted. It was no accident that Michigan State’s sensational freshman, Miles Bridges, finished with just 11 points on 4-13. A lot of that is down to Jones, who taught Bridges some valuable lessons.

It’s easy to be seduced by scoring. A guy like Allen or Kennard gets hot and it’s spectacular.

It’s also easy - almost inevitable for casual observers - to follow the ball. We learned a good lesson from Bob Knight some years ago when he said if you want to understand the game, don’t follow the ball.

If you watch Jones, you’ll see some pretty cool things. Obviously he’s a great defender. He’s proven that against a lot of players. You could ask anyone from Cat Barber to Sam Dekker. He’s good.

Thing is though that’s not all he does.

We watched him in one game this year - it was either Grand Canyon or more likely William & Mary - and there was a point where Duke got a certain amount of game pressure.

You could almost see Jones rise to the challenge - a great defensive stand here, a tipped ball there, an assist, a rebound - he personally picked his team up and made everyone play to his level.

We’ve seen guys at Duke do that sort of thing before. Jones, who is not the sort of athlete that some of these guys are, is in a special class as Coach K rightly notes.

How special?

Here are guys at Duke who’ve been able to do that:

  • David Henderson
  • Chris Carrawell
  • Grant Hill
  • Shane Battier
  • Jon Scheyer
  • Kyle Singler
  • Bobby Hurley
  • Chris Duhon
  • Brian Zoubek
  • Dave McClure

You might not think the last two belong on this list but they absolutely do. McClure could come into any game and make Duke better. And when Zoubek became a starter in the last few months of his Duke career, he not only gave Duke a reliable rebounder and interior defender, he also gave Duke a kind of toughness that really defined that team.

The best example of this was when he fouled out against Baylor in the 2010 Final Four. Do you remember?

Miles Plumlee came in for him and on his way off the court, Zoubek put a finger in Plumlee’s face and said something ferocious to Plumlee.

It gave us chills to see that. Plumlee nodded quietly and went out and did what Zoubek told him to do.

It was a great moment, but like many of Joneses own great moments, it probably wasn’t appreciated by everyone.

No one should underestimate how important Matt Jones is to this team. The veteran core - Jones, Jefferson, Allen, Kennard and Jeter - have become a strong and formidable group.

None of those guys define this team in quite the way Jones does.

Next time you watch Duke, ignore the ball for a while and watch Jones. He’s a remarkable player who deserves a ton of respect from Duke fans.

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