Duke Basketball: NBA’s 2019 resolutions not to include ignoring Tre Jones

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

Anytime a Duke basketball underclassman starts climbing mock drafts, it’s a boost to the program’s reputation in the eyes of talented teenagers with NBA dreams but a blow to the next season’s roster.

The most important recruit left on the Duke basketball coaches’ radar for next season is undoubtedly a guy named Sophomore Jones.

Unfortunately, if a crystal ball existed for the decision the current freshman point guard will face at the end of the season, Blue Devil fans would either want to smash it into a million pieces or paint it with two coats of black — whatever it takes to not have to see a future that includes the absence of Tre Jones on the 2019-20 roster.

Before the start of the season, most assumed it was a long shot for the 6-foot-2, 185-pound native of Apple Valley, Minn., to be anywhere but Durham at this time next year.

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He was projected to be a second-rounder at best.

But then the outside world that was mostly tuning in just to watch surefire one-and-doners R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, and Cam Reddish — the nation’s top three incoming recruits, respectively, on the ESPN100 — started to notice a trend: on seemingly every highlight play, Jones (No. 10 on the ESPN100) played an integral role.

Fullcourt bounce passes splitting two defenders. Alley-oop passes while diving out of bounds. Steals and constant headaches for opposing point guards. Soft floaters in the lane. Impeccable decision-making. A competitive spirit and an uplifting teammate.

Jones’ play — his 5.15 assist-to-turnover ranks fifth in the country and is on pace to nearly double the program’s previous high for a season — has shined too bright for outsiders to miss across No. 1 Duke’s 11-1 start.

However, the lumen levels of his play seemed to reach a new high during the last game, a 69-58 come-from-behind win over Texas Tech in Madison Square Garden on Dec. 20, during which Jones — now the reigning ACC Player of the Week as a result of his performance — had six steals (the most by any Duke freshman in history not named Shane Battier, who once had seven).

ALSO READ: Tre Jones’ season of giving spurs title dreams

Notice that four of the Blue Devils’ five top plays — as decided on by the program’s official Twitter account — from the statement victory over the Red Raiders included the basketball world’s most amazing 18-year-old magician:

Also, notice that Jones is now appearing in the first round of nearly every mock draft:

  • Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman has Jones going 17th to the Atlanta Hawks.
  • Sports Illustrated’s Jason Woo has him going 21st to the Los Angeles Lakers.
  • NBADraft.net has him going 29th to the Milwaukee Bucks.
  • DraftSite.com has him going 15th to the Orlando Magic.

He may even be a lottery pick in some mock drafts — seemingly every sports site has one — but this Duke basketball fan quit searching after growing too ill from dying dreams of Jones staying a second year.

About the only hope at this point rests with his older brother, Tyus, who guided the Blue Devils to the 2015 National Championship as a freshman before going 24th in that year’s draft.

Maybe Tyus will convince Tre that the daily grind of professional life, despite millions of green-colored benefits, is no match for life as a college kid.

Or maybe NBA scouts will get hung up on Tre’s one possible flaw — outside shooting (currently 32 percent from beyond the arc) — and his stock will drop to the point that he decides to stick around in Durham in order to improve both his game and Duke’s chances of winning a title next season.

Problem with that sliver of hope, though, is that his stock has thus far been steadily on the rise due to Jones’ strengths far outweighing his weaknesses. And while that fact bodes well for the Blue Devils’ chances to cut down nets on April 8, it also bodes well for the NBA’s chances to see him shake Adam Silver’s hand on June 20.

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Duke’s next game, the start of its conference schedule, is at home on Jan. 5 against Clemson.