Derrick Jones Jr. viewed his Bulls' return as 'no brainer'

Why Jones Jr. viewed return to Bulls as 'no brainer' originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

When last season ended, Derrick Jones Jr.’s return to the Chicago Bulls wouldn’t have been considered a slam dunk.

But the 2020 Slam Dunk champion from the NBA All-Star game at the United Center is back at the United Center---for reasons that are more defensive-oriented than dunking-oriented. Not that Jones Jr. won’t destroy a few rims if he gets out in transition or, perhaps more pertinently, gets into the rotation.

The Bulls quickly pivoted to re-sign Jones Jr. after their pursuit of Danilo Gallinari concluded with Gallinari choosing to sign with the Boston Celtics and conversations about pursuing T.J. Warren didn’t gain traction.

“I’m happy,” Jones Jr. said following Thursday’s practice at the Advocate Center. “Once me and Coach (Billy Donovan) had a conversation on the phone, it was a no-brainer. I was coming back. I felt like we left a lot on the table last year and I wanted to come back and see if we could have another run at it.”

Donovan consistently has praised Jones Jr.’s athleticism and activity level, often sounding like one of his biggest advocates.

“Yeah, for sure. That’s something he talked to me about over the phone call we had,” Jones Jr. said about Donovan’s appreciation for him. “He told me just to be me, be physical in the paint, get downhill as much as I can, take the shots that I get and just be aggressive.”

Jones Jr. played a solid role in his first season after arriving from Portland in the three-team trade centered on Cleveland’s sign-and-trade acquisition of Lauri Markkanen. He averaged 5.6 points, 3.3 rebounds and 0.6 blocks in just 17.6 minutes over 51 games, including eight starts.

His emergence as a 6-foot-5-inch center and power forward in small-ball lineups as Nikola Vucevic battled COVID-19 on the Bulls’ first West Coast swing in November showcased his 7-foot wingspan and ability to disrupt offenses.

Later in the season, Jones Jr. was starting his sixth straight game in January when he suffered a bone bruise in his right knee. While working out to recover from that, he fractured his right finger.

To Jones Jr.’s credit, he returned just over two weeks later despite a projected six- to eight-week absence. The Bulls did clarify that Jones could potentially return earlier than that timeline with a splint, which is what happened.

And it affected Jones Jr.’s 3-point shooting down the stretch with a 5-for-24 finish to the season. That makes Jones Jr.’s career-high 3-point percentage of 32.8 even more impressive, albeit on low volume.

“If your finger is hurting and you catch the ball every time and it hurts a little bit, there’s a mental aspect you got,” Jones Jr. said. “That finger is long gone out of my mind.”

For now, Jones Jr. appears out of Donovan’s 10-man rotation. But as Donovan noted again on Tuesday, rotations are fluid and issues arise every season to impact depth.

Jones Jr., who spent the offseason in his typical base of Miami to work on his game, is ready for anything. He said those offseason workouts focused on every aspect of his game but most prominently featured trying to improve shooting, ballhandling and finishing in the paint.

“My defense is always going to be what my defense is. I just tried to work on my timing a little bit with weakside help,” Jones Jr. said. “Always playing defense and being a pest defensively. Getting steals and getting blocks. Keeping my man in front of me and make it a tough night for the other offense. Just being me. Being aggressive and playing my game.”

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