Welcome to #CavsRank, where the entire Fear the Sword staff voted to rank every Cavs player heading into the 2016-17 season. This is the first of 14 installments.
Only nine players in NBA history have been to the Finals in six consecutive seasons. It’s a list that includes some of the game’s all-time greats: Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, LeBron James. It’s also a list that includes James Jones.
Yes, Jones mostly owes his place in history to the fact that he’s been fortunate enough to be teammates with LeBron James for the past six seasons. But that wasn’t just luck, or a fluke. He’s been on LeBron’s teams because LeBron consistently wants him on his team. Last season, LeBron told ESPN that Jones was his “favorite player of all time.”
That’s what Jones—or “Champ,” as he’s known to his teammates—brings to the Cavs. He’s the guy everybody likes. And with 13 NBA seasons now under his belt, he’s always been there to provide a veteran perspective on a team that went through some growing pains during his first season after he followed LeBron over from the Miami Heat.
Jones was the mastermind behind the championship trophy puzzle that the Cavs secretly put together throughout this past postseason: 16 pieces, one for each win the team needed to secure it’s long-awaited title. That’s the kind of gesture that makes Champ so beloved by his teammates.
Of course, his leadership was never more needed than it was three months ago, when the Cavs found themselves down 3-1 in the NBA Finals. Jones said publicly at the time, “If you take the view that we have to go in and win every moment, you realize three games is just a long string of moments. Focus on moment to moment, keep your head down, and you will find yourself doing something historic.” I can only imagine that, behind the scenes, he played an incredibly important role in keeping the team focussed on the idea that winning three games in a row against the 73-win Warriors was possible.
It’s not all good news to report about Jones, however. There is a reason we ranked him 14th in #CavsRank.
In his first season in Cleveland, 2014-15, Jones made a decent contribution on the court, often playing as a stretch four in David Blatt’s offense. He appeared in 57 games during the regular season, averaging just over 11 minutes per game. He attempted about three three-pointers per game and made them at a 36 percent clip. As the Cavs became decimated by injuries during the postseason, he averaged 15.6 minutes per game in the playoffs, including 18.8 minutes per game during the 2015 Finals.
Then last season, Jones saw his role reduced. He appeared in 48 regular season games, averaging just over nine minutes per appearance. He actually made a slightly higher percentage of his threes than he did the year before, on fewer attempts. But when the playoffs rolled around, he appeared in only 12 games.
There’s no reason to expect Jones’s on-court production to increase in 2016-17. He’ll turn 36 years old in next month, and the return of Channing Frye and addition of Mike Dunleavy suggest that there probably won’t be much need for his shooting off of the bench.
It’s a long season, and Jones will still get some reps from time to time. When he does, he’ll likely show that he’s still capable of hitting an open three.
His real contributions, however, will come in the locker room, on the team plane, and in other moments that nobody sees. He will be an outlet for LeBron, and a veteran presence for the younger players. That alone makes him worth the one-year deal the Cavs re-signed him to, which was reportedly worth $1.55 million.
If the Cavs are able to successfully defend their title, it won’t be because James Jones hits a big shot in a big moment. Nonetheless, Jones will play a critical role this season. He will just be playing it when nobody is watching.
10th place votes: 1
11th place votes: 5
12th place votes: 1
13th place votes: 1
14th place votes: 5