One of, if not the best part of NBA All-Star Weekend is the Slam Dunk Contest. From Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins in 1988, Vince Carter in 2001 and, Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine in 2016. Those are just a few of the many amazing Slam Dunk Contest participants and winners that have etched their way into the history books of the NBA with high flying and gravity-defying dunks.
With 2017 All-Star Weekend right around the corner, the league itself has been in the process of announcing who will compete in various events during All-Star Saturday Night. On February 2nd, the Slam Dunk Contest Participants were announced: Aaron Gordon, Deandre Jordan, Glenn Robinson III and, Derrick Jones Jr. If you are wondering who Derrick Jones Jr is, you definitely are not alone. The 19-year-old Small Forward has only played 11 minutes this year for the Phoenix Suns, but his RAW talent and ultra athleticism are helping put him on the map.
For Jones, the road to the Slam Dunk Contest and the NBA itself has not been an easy one. After spending just one season at the University of Las Vegas, (UNLV) the then 18-year-old decided he was ready to declare for the 2016 NBA Draft. Over the course of the 2015-2016 season, the Freshman Small Forward would average 11.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. Jones would also score 20 or more points 5 times and, lead the Mountain West Conference with the best 2-point field goal percentage. At the NBA Draft, Jones would go undrafted but, the young man once dubbed “the best dunker in the nation” by Ballislife, would not give up there.
Due to the NBA Draft only consisting of 60 selections, often times former High School and College standouts go undrafted but as soon as the draft ends they are contacted by various NBA teams looking to fill out their Summer League rosters. For most, NBA Summer League is the last shot they will ever get at trying to make it in the NBA. Scouts from all 30 teams across the NBA observe each game trying to find the next breakout star. For Derrick Jones Jr, his Summer League opportunity came with the Sacramento Kings however, Jones would be unable to play during the tournament due to a groin injury, enduring another roadblock on the road to the NBA.
The Phoenix Suns seem to have a knack for ultra athletic, young talent with RAW potential. After drafting Marquese Chriss this past summer, the Suns decided to take a chance on Jones and sign him for training camp. Nothing after was guaranteed. A healthy Derrick Jones Jr would have an impressive camp with the Suns and, make the opening night roster. Suns coach Earl Watson described Jones as “The most athletic player on our team and that says a lot with Marquese Chriss sitting right here.” Jones had seized his opportunity with the Suns but, his roster spot would be no guarantee.
For many NBA Rookies, getting playing time can be extremely hard. Especially for those who were not in their team's immediate plans such as, Derrick Jones Jr. On November 3rd, 2016, Jones would eventually be sent down to the Phoenix Suns NBA Developmental League affiliate Northern Arizona Suns and finally receive the playing time he deserved to show the world just how great he could be.
In Just 18 games with the Northern Arizona Suns, Derrick Jones Jr has taken the Basketball world by storm. From absolutely vicious dunks to scoring outbursts, the now 19-year-old is slowly turning his NBA dream into reality. Dunks aside, Jones is also a lethal scorer. Averaging over 30 minutes per game, Jone has scored 18 or more points 6 times, twice on 80 percent, or higher shooting. Technology is truly one of the best tools we have this day in age because, without the ability for Jones’ rookie “mixtape” to circulate around the internet, many basketball fans and media personnel may not have had the chance to see just how great this young talent is. If you have not seen Jones best D-League Dunks compilation yet, you can find it here:
The legend of Derrick Jones Jr is just starting to grow however, his story should be one of inspiration to everyone. From going undrafted to not being able to compete in NBA Summer League, and then making the Phoenix Suns roster only to be sent down to developmental, the story of Derrick Jones Jr is one of dedication, belief, and perseverance. On February 18th, the man averaging 1.0 points, 0 assists and 0 rebounds in just 3 NBA games played, will have the opportunity of a lifetime to showcase his talents in front of millions of people worldwide on one of the biggest stages in professional basketball.