Bryce Dejean-Jones has the tools to be an elite offensive player at the college level. He’s got good size, tight handles, a smooth shooting stroke, and the type of aggressive mindset it takes to convert buckets in tough situations.
Still, I believe it would be unreasonable to expect him to excel right away as the Rebels’ top scoring option this season.
To be sure, there were times last year when Dejean-Jones looked like a natural born scorer. He poured in 22 points (7-11 FGs) in 25 minutes in the regular-season matchup against Cal. He dropped 18 points in 22 minutes in an overtime win over Air Force. And in a four-game stretch from Feb. 20 to March 5, he averaged 14.8 points on 62.9 percent shooting—not coincidentally, the Rebels won all four games.
Fans remember performances like that. And they can see that Dejean-Jones possesses the necessary offensive skills to be a star. In a perfect, scarlet-and-gray-colored world, BDJ would slide seamlessly into Anthony Bennett’s spot as the Rebels’ go-to guy and produce at a high level.
But things aren’t ever that simple. Yes, Dejean-Jones is a very talented player, but a closer examination of his game reveals that he still has a ways to go before he’s the type of high-efficiency scorer that can lead a team into the NCAA tournament.
The team can’t just anoint him the No. 1 option, give him more opportunities and expect him to morph into a legit lead scorer overnight. Dejean-Jones is going to have to make some significant adjustments in his approach before he’ll be ready to carry the Rebels offensively:
Cut back on isolation
This is the most obvious impediment to Dejean-Jones becoming an elite offensive player. Last year, the Rebels were fortunate enough to have a bona-fide No. 1 scoring option—Anthony Bennett. Problem was, he almost never got enough touches or enough shots, and Dejean-Jones was often part of the problem.
Dejean-Jones forced too many contested shots, and most of those came when BDJ isolated his defender and tried to go one-on-one. For the season, 29.7 percent of his possessions ended in an isolation shot attempt, by far the highest ratio on the team (Anthony Marshall was second at 23.2 percent; Bennett was at 9.7). The success rate wasn’t pretty, either—on isolation plays, Dejean-Jones shot just 32.5 percent.
The good news is, Dejean-Jones appeared to progress in this area as the season went along. He was at his most effective during the aforementioned four-game stretch of conference play, when he let the game come to him and sought out high-quality looks. Unfortunately for the Rebels, his old habits reappeared at the end of the season in the Mountain West title game loss to New Mexico (6-16 FGs) and the NCAA loss to Cal (5-15 FGs).
If he is to excel as the Rebels’ go-to scorer this season, he’s got to ditch his desire to go one-on-one and focus on finding good shots within the flow of the offense.
De-emphasize the mid-range
There’s another area of concern when it comes to Dejean-Jones’s shot chart—his reliance on mid-range jumpers.
From a value standpoint, the 2-point jumper is the least efficient shot in the game. It should be a last resort on any possession. But last year, the mid-range J was a staple of BDJ’s arsenal. Thirty-seven percent of his field goal attempts were 2-point jump shots, and predictably, he did not convert at a high rate—BDJ made just 42 percent of those shots.
Dejean-Jones spends a lot of time after every practice working on his 15-to-18 foot jump shot, and his dedication is admirable. But in games, it would serve the team better if he wasn’t so quick to settle for those shots. Opposing defenses leave them open for a reason.
Attack the basket
This goes hand-in-hand with the previous point. Dejean-Jones was too quick to fire up mid-range jumpers last year, and too reluctant to drive to the rim. Just 24 percent of his field goal attempts last year came at the rim—among Rebels, only Katin Reinhardt got to the hole less frequently (14 percent).
By staying out of the lane, Dejean-Jones also kept himself off the free throw line. And free throws are a scorer’s best friend.
For the season, Dejean-Jones averaged just 0.27 free throw attempts for every field goal attempt. That number pales in comparison to the Mountain West’s other top perimeter scorers: New Mexico’s Kendall Williams was at 0.64, San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin was at 0.52, and Nevada-Reno’s Deonte Burton was at 0.59.
That’s a wasted opportunity for UNLV. Dejean-Jones shot free throws at a respectable 72.8 percent last year, and I’d expect that number to go up this season. Physically, there’s no reason why BDJ should be kept out of the lane so easily. He’s got great size for a swingman, he’s quick enough to beat defenders off the dribble and he’s athletic enough to cut to the rim, catch a pass and finish in traffic.
The Rebels have to figure out a way to get Dejean-Jones around the basket more often. Otherwise, they’ll never maximize his potential as a scorer.
The bottom line
Basically, Dejean-Jones was a glorified jump shooter last year. And that can’t be the case if he’s to be the team’s go-to offensive option in 2013-14.
The good news for UNLV is that all of Dejean-Jones’s flaws are fixable. He showed signs of improved shot selection as last season went on, and another year in the system should make it easier for him to find better shots within the natural flow of the offense.Dejean-Jones has all the physical skills to be one of the Mountain West’s top offensive weapons, and as the leading returning scorer on a team with so much turnover, it’s only natural to expect him to make the leap this season. And if he makes the adjustments and plays a high efficiency game, the Rebels can win with BDJ as the focal point of the offense.Just don’t expect it to happen right away.
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