Suns fans might not have known a lot about James Jones when he was acquired from Indiana for a second-round pick and signed to a four-year, $11.1 million contract in August, but they are about to get a crash course in what he’s all about.
No one player could benefit more from Amaré Stoudemire’s long-term absence due to knee surgery than the 6-foot-8 Jones, who will likely move into the vacant spot in the starting lineup and will have a good chance to earn big minutes if his shooting eye and reputation as a smart player and defender hold true.
So far, so good. Even with Steve Nash (flu) out of action, Jones was one of six Suns in double figures Friday, collecting 18 points and hitting three of Phoenix’s 13 3-pointers in a 114-113 win over the Sonics in Seattle.
Jones will make his first appearance at home tonight when the Suns face the Los Angeles Clippers at America West Arena. Jones will start at small forward as he continues to make the transition from the Pacers’ deliberate style to the run-and-gun Suns.
"He’s young and a lot of people don’t know about him because he hasn’t played a whole lot," Suns coach Mike D’Antoni said. "But he’s solid, he shoots the ball real well and he defends — that translates into a pretty good ballplayer. We have someone (Nash) who will pass him the ball, and if he can knock down shots, he’s gonna get a lot of points in this system."
Jones shot 40 percent last year, but his ability to defend is also important. Shawn Marion will likely play Stoudemire’s power forward spot on offense, but don’t be surprised to see Jones pick up Marion’s man on the defensive end.
"We’ll figure out a way to score, we just have to defend better than last year," D’Antoni said. "James seems to have that ability. He was in a good system in Indiana where they put a premium on defense. He’s 6-8, he’s long and he’s very intelligent."
D’Antoni was pleased to see Jones pick up the concept of helping on the weakside quickly and anticipating defensively, making steals and deflecting balls — things that send the Phoenix offense off and running. His play has allowed Phoenix, at this point, the luxury of bringing Jim Jackson and his ability to provide instant offense in off the bench.
"Jimmy is an important piece and a veteran leader for us,’’ D’Antoni said. "He’ll get the same minutes he’s had, but he might be a guy on the floor at the end of the game as opposed to the beginning.
"We’re not set in stone on anything, but we need a surprise, someone to step up and take over a spot to help us.’’
But if Jones blossoms in Phoenix, D’Antoni won’t be surprised at all.
Clippers at Suns
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: America West Arena
TV/Radio: None/KTAR (620 AM)