When you are in the same recruiting bunch as the top three players in the country, it is very easy to be overlooked. But with expectations soaring through the roof for the 2018-19 Duke basketball team, there might not be a more important player than freshman point guard Tre Jones.
While Duke made history by nabbing the top three recruits in the class of 2018–R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish–Jones, the younger brother of former Duke star Tyus Jones, was the first to commit to Mike Krzyzewski‘s program. And despite being ranked as the 17th-best player in the class of 2018 by ESPN, the product of Apple Valley was widely regarded as the best point guard in the class.
Williamson and Barrett have already donned the Duke uniform, suiting up as part of Duke’s Canadian exhibition tour back in August while Reddish and Jones would sit out due to injury. However, it is Jones’ role in the backcourt that might make him Duke’s most pivotal player this season.
For the past two seasons, Krzyzewski has struggled to find a point guard that could adequately get Duke into their offensive sets.
Trevon Duval was incredibly dynamic and quick on the defensive end, but he could not extend defenses to the three point line and struggled to make the right basketball play. Grayson Allen could certainly shoot, but was equally turnover prone and not as adept and taking defenders off the dribble.
Jones, much like his older brother, appears to be a hybrid. The 6’2″ guard showed an ability to catch and shoot and take defenders off the dribble throughout his high school career, as well as a determination to get out in transition. These qualities will be absolutely crucial for a Duke team that has plenty of dynamism, but little experience. If Jones can command the offense and get Duke into their sets, he will not only be a key distributor but also space the floor and create for himself when called upon.
Interestingly enough, Jones finds himself in a very similar situation to that experienced by his brother in 2015, when Duke relied on the freakish two-way abilities of Justise Winslow and the post dominance of Jahlil Okafor. Despite the excellence of those two players, it was Tyus Jones who was arguably Duke’s best player in crunch time and at the end of the season, as he was named the most outstanding player of the Final Four and helped Duke raise another banner.
This time around, it is the high-flying exploits of Barrett and Williamson that are commanding the headlines as Duke prepares for the beginning of regular season play. But once again, it might be a Jones that could steal the spotlight. With so much attention being given to his teammates, there will likely be plenty of opportunities for Jones to shine.
Time will tell if the big-game moments run in the family. Regardless, Jones holds the keys to the offense, and will have an enormous role in making everything tick.