Christian Jones’ season was threatened by two separate injuries during non conference play. The lack of health limited Jones to just five appearances prior to Mountain West play starting, but now that he’s back and healthy, Jones has become a post-up threat for UNLV.
The injuries have limited Jones’ counting stats, but on a per game level he has gotten the fifth most post-ups among Mountain West players at 3.5. He also ranks sixth in efficiency at 0.943 points per possessions, according to Synergy Sports.
What Jones does as well as any big in the conference is draw fouls; 20 percent of his post-ups result in free throws. It is something UNLV as a whole does well as the Rebels rank 81st in the country in free throw rate.
But Jones also turns the ball over on 23 percent of post-ups—the third highest rate in the Mountain West. That was on display against New Mexico, where Jones had four first-half turnovers—two traveling calls and two mishandled passes. But that didn’t deter Marvin Menzies from turning to his big man to start the second half.
Here’s the first offensive possession after the halftime break against New Mexico.
This a terrific play that takes advantage of Jovan Mooring’s skills on the pick and roll to get Jones a post-up. New Mexico uses an aggressive hedge on the ball screen between Mooring and Cheickna Dembele. This leaves Dembele open rolling to the basket and Tim Williams, the Lobo defending Jones, has to be ready to help if the pass is delivered to Dembele.
But those few moments of distraction allow Jones to get into good position by creating the contact. Williams nearly falls over, and by the time Jones has the ball there is no chance for a shot block.
A couple of positions later UNLV went straight into Jones without any distractions. He takes Williams one-on-one and spins around him to draw a double team, which Jones sees before making a great pass to Dembele.
That drop by Dembele basically took two points—and an assist for Jones—off the scoreboard. The freshman center has struggled catching passes all season, but that play shows off Jones’ vision.
Why was New Mexico double teaming a guy who had made just one shot all game? That spin move toward the baseline is Jones’ best move.
There is a lot of dribbling from Jones, but he shrugged off a half-hearted double team attempt by Utah State before muscling his way into an easy shot. That post up also came off a set play to start a half. It has other options, as does the one UNLV ran against New Mexico, but Menzies loves to get a post touch early in each half.
Jones hasn’t been as effective when teams make him turn back into the traffic in the lane. A few times he’s spun towards the baseline and found himself under the backboard, creating a difficult finish at the rim. But Jones can make defenders pay if he gets single coverage, and provided his teammates hold onto the ball, he can beat a double team too.
Jones is a hard worker in the post. If he can’t get proper position right away, he’ll keep working until there is a passing lane.
Against Colorado State, the Rams were looking to front Jones while having a help-side defender ready to steal a lob pass. So Jones kept working, adjusting his angle until he got the defender on his back. Then all that was left to do was spin to baseline.
That kind of determination makes it easier for Menzies to call post-ups for Jones. Just because the defense takes away the play initially doesn’t mean Jones won’t get his way and give the offense an advantage.
Jones does have the habit of taking face up jumpers from 15 feet out, as he leads the team with 58 percent of his shots coming from the mid range. Although he makes a solid 40 percent of his made-range shots, UNLV is better off with Jones attacking the rim, where he is second on the team in finishing at 65 percent.
This year is the most any team has relied on Jones to score in the post. In his previous seasons at St. John’s, Jones never got significant chances to post up until last season. But under Menzies, Jones is getting more touches per game and converting in the post at a higher level.
The Menzies effect led to Pascal Siakam being a first-round pick in the NBA draft out of New Mexico State. Christian Jones may be the first of many Rebels to see a boost in post-up play thanks to the man at the head of UNLV basketball.