Before Tuesday’s game against Nevada-Reno, Dave Rice made a decision that must have been tough for him. He decided to start Bryce Dejean-Jones at small forward, which meant Mike Moser would be out of the starting lineup and forced into a reserve role.
Coming into the season, Moser as a sub would have been laughable, both because of his production last year and his status as a veteran and a team leader. But with the way the Rebels are currently constructed, Dejean-Jones may be the better option long-term.
His potential is tantalizing. The sophomore has frustrated fans throughout the season with his questionable shot selection and seemingly out-of-control drives, but a closer look at his numbers suggests he might be ready to take off in the second half of the season. So the question becomes, just how good can BDJ be this year?
The traditional stats aren’t eye-popping: 9.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists per game, and 39.2 percent shooting. Advanced metrics, however, show a player who could be a dynamic offensive threat with a few tweaks to his game.
Dejean-Jones is already a great offensive player in some situations — his adjusted field goal percentage of 52.8 on spot-up shots is second on the team behind Anthony Bennett, and his 58.3 adjusted percentage off screens leads the Rebels. So when he’s in catch-and-shoot mode or moving without the ball, he’s an offensive force.
His problems (and this should be obvious) come when he’s forcing plays in isolation or being over-aggressive in transition. Dejean-Jones isolates more than any other Rebel, even though he shoots a team-low 19.2 percent in those situations. And while he shoots well enough in transition, he turns the ball over at a team-worst 32.7 percent clip on the fast break.
The good news is, those are fixable flaws. Rice has said on several occasions that Dejean-Jones is a special player when he lets the game come to him, and there is some evidence that he may be coming around in that regard.
In the last two games, I charted Dejean-Jones isolating just five times. Two of those iso plays (one in each game) resulted in offensive fouls, but most of the time he was moving without the ball and working within the offense. Foul trouble limited him against Wyoming, but against Nevada-Reno he tallied 11 points (4-of-9 FGs), eight rebounds and four assists in 24 minutes. That’s an extremely effective stat line. If Dejean-Jones continues to play that type of game — using screens, not holding the ball, and pulling back a little in the open court — he becomes a much better player and an offensive upgrade over both Moser and the early-season version of Dejean-Jones.
Can he keep it up? People seem to forget that Dejean-Jones came into this season with less than 20 games of college experience, so he’s still growing on the job. For someone with his offensive arsenal, it must be tempting to believe he can take every defender off the dribble, but I think he’s realizing that simply isn’t the case at this level.
If Dejean-Jones can truly temper his game and work within the flow of the offense, both he and the Rebels will be better for it.
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