As soon as the Cleveland Cavaliers got a commitment from LeBron James this summer, their first free agency moves were to sign three veteran wings to provide depth at the Cavs' weakest spot. Mike Miller, Shawn Marion, and James Jones were brought in on relatively cheap contracts in order to fill in the bench depth behind LeBron James and Dion Waiters on the wing, and to provide specific skills for short spurts: Miller and Jones were to provide shooting, and Marion was here to provide wing defense.
So far, there's been some disappointment regarding the play of these three. Marion has been a pretty solid defensive player throughout the season, but offensively he's been very iffy, particularly his shooting, and he's dealt with a fair share of injuries this season, ultimately missing the last 13 games before the Cavs' game against the Heat on Monday with a hip issue. Miller has fallen off a cliff on both ends, shooting just 32 percent from both the field and three this season, and with the additions of Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith, he's completely fallen out of the rotation; Miller last played more than 13 minutes in a game on January 11th, and his removal from the rotation has coincided with the Cavs' big second-half turnaround. Jones, meanwhile, hasn't done anything but shoot this season, though you could hardly call him a disappointment, as no one really expected much of him coming in.
As we hit the stretch run, though, it's Jones, not Marion or Miller, that's still playing regular rotation minutes. Over the last 15 games, Jones has averaged 17 minutes per game, far more than the 5.5 Miller has received in half the amount of games played. While Marion has sat out with his hip issues, Jones has stepped in as a regular part of the rotation, and he's outperformed the way he did earlier in the season when he was seeing around 10-11 minutes per game. He's averaged 4.4 points per game this season on 37.7 percent shooting, but over the last 15 games, that's increased to 6.7 points per game on a much more lethal 42 percent shooting. His three-point percentage has increased to 43.3 percent, tops on the team over that stretch, and even his astronomical three-point rate, buzzing along at 89.9 percent of his total attempts this season, has increased to 91.8 percent over the last 15.
Jones has been much more effective as the Cavs have found a more concrete role for him to play as a pseudo-stretch four in the second and fourth quarters. Over this recent stretch of games, Jones has been playing a majority of his minutes in lineups with Tristan Thompson at the five and one or both of Kyrie Irving and LeBron on the floor. The results of this have been mostly good. Here's the list of the top five Jones lineups of the last 15 games, minus the garbage time squad of Jones, Joe Harris, Matthew Dellavedova, Mike Miller, and Kendrick Perkins. Coincidentally, most of these lineups have been used exclusively over this 15-game sample:
As you can see, even though it's woefully small sample size, the offensive capabilities of these groups are quite remarkable. Jones is able to stretch the floor in ways that guys like Miller, Marion, and even Shumpert cannot, and using Jones as a four when Love sits has been a great idea, even if the defense can bleed points at times. It's a useful tactic for short stretches, especially when LeBron and Jones share the floor, where the Cavs have a +10.0 net rating over 11 games in this span.
Back before the season, I was perhaps the only person who was high on James Jones's potential on this team. And even though he struggled early, and I backpedaled on this positivity quicker than Kevin Garnett during an on-court scrap, he's found a pretty effective role lately as a stretch four that can spread the floor and add a small-ball dimension to the Cavs' offense. We will have to see if this role stays constant now that Marion is back, but in certain playoff matchups (Such as potential showdowns with Washington or Chicago, neither of whom have the frontcourt flexibility to adequately handle a Jones/James/ Thompson frontcourt), Jones could see significant minutes as a key contributor. My dream of James Jones burying a team in a playoff game with an avalanche of threes is still alive, but even if he doesn't do that, Jones is showing he has value in the rotation as the Cavs gear up for a playoff run.