DeQuan Jones turned heads this preseason and forced the Magic into a difficult choice. It was a choice that cost the franchise $5 million. Jones may not make more than $500,000 this year, but the decision to cut Quentin Richardson cost 10 times that amount.
The undrafted rookie from Miami was not much of a scorer or offensive player in college, but became a revelation in the preseason. Before Arron Afflalo's return against Memphis, Jones played in all six preseason games, starting in three of them and scoring 10.0 points per game in 29.8 minutes per game. At that time, he is led the team in playing time, getting both a look with the starters and with the Magic's bench players.
Jones finished the preseason averaging 9.6 points per game in 28.4 minutes per game, shooting 56.3 percent from the floor. Amazingly, he started in three games, sending a clear message that he was making a serious bid to be part of the Magic's plans this year.
To say that Jones' emergence this preseason was stunning is selling it short.
This was a player who scored fewer than 10 points per game at Miami and came off the bench for a team that was outside the NCAA Tournament field for the majority of his career. His biggest claim to fame was competing in the NCAA Final Four slam dunk contest last season.
Again, nobody saw Jones clicking this much with the Magic. He did not even play this well at Summer League where he averaged around five points per game.
Jones came out of nowhere. And he unseated a 12-year veteran owed north of $5 million for the next two years.
So what is it that Jones can give to the Magic?
Obviously limited minutes will cut down his raw numbers. But his hustle, athleticism and versatility are things the Magic want from him and likely what earned him a spot on the roster. These are things that will push players in practice and establish a tone for the entire team. If the No. 15 player on the roster is working and scratching so hard just to get playing time, then certainly Players No. 10-14 have to play harder and that trickles up the roster.
It was very clearly difficult to keep Jones off the floor with the way he was playing in the preseason games (and assumedly in practice). He found his niche and stuck. that is all you want when you have the opportunity to play as an undrafted invitee to a training camp.
It remains uncertain how much Jones will play. Playing well in the preseason is one thing, carrying that over to the grind is another. The other issue is the Magic are plenty deep at shooting guard and small forward. Arron Afflalo and J.J. Redick are two of the team's best players and will split most of the minutes at shooting guard (whatever is left might fall to E'Twaun Moore). Hedo Turkoglu, Maurice Harkless and Al Harrington will likely take the majority of minutes at small forward too.
Jones' work is not done. Not by a long shot.
To get playing time, he will have to work hard in practice once again and show that he has a skill no one else on the roster has. He will have to unseat some established veterans and prove he can play defense against the NBA's wing players. That is a tall task, but Jones has already beaten incredible odds.
Orlando, to its credit, said it will try to get its young players playing time. Harkless, Andrew Nicholson, Nikola Vucevic and E'Twaun Moore will all be thrown into the fire this year. Jones will have his chance too.
Through the preseason though, Jones put everyone on notice. He made his point that hard work can pay off and that is what it takes to make it in the NBA more than anything else.
This is certainly a message Rob Hennigan wants to send his team and is certainly part of the culture Hennigan wants to establish in Orlando. The Magic made it clear what kind of player they want to have by electing to keep Jones around (although Quentin Richardson certainly fell into that category with his reaction to the move, he simply was not able to produce at a level that warranted keeping him around).
Jones made his point in the preseason and made the roster.