James Jones has decided to opt out of his 2011-12 contract and will be a free agent once the lockout ends.
Coming into the season, everybody knew that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh were going to need players to stretch the floor for them in order to keep defenses honest. However, very few people could have predicted just how effective James Jones would be in the Heat's rotation. With Mike Miller ineffective for the vast majority of the year due to injuries, the Heat counted on Jones all season long, and he delivered for them. Jones was a vital cog in the Heat's rotation until Game 2 of the conference finals, when Mike Miller's return to reasonable effectiveness and some wear and tear on Jones' body forced him out of the rotation entirely -- Jones played a total of two minutes in the Heat's last 10 games of the season.
Playing alongside shot-creators like James and Wade means that you have three basic jobs -- make open shots, don't take bad shots, and don't turn the ball over. Jones did all three of those things just about as well as anybody in the NBA. Jones was deadly accurate on three-point shots, particularly ones from the corners, and led all small forwards in true shooting percentage while turning the ball over less frequently than any other small forward in the league. The real surprise of Jones' season may have been his defense -- nobody is getting Jones mixed up with Tony Allen on that end of the floor any time soon, but Jones is a good positional defender who knows Erik Spoelstra's system, doesn't take risks or commit bad fouls, and is always willing to give up his body and take a charge.
What didn't work
Earlier in this series, I called Eddie House one-dimensional offensively, but Jones is almost spectacularly one-dimensional. Jones stands around the three-point line, generally in one of the corners, catches the ball when it comes to him, and shoots it if he's open. That is almost literally all he does. A staggering 83 percent of Jones' shots were from beyond the arc, and Jones has made a grand total of four shots inside of 15 feet over the last three regular seasons. Two of those shots were layups, and two of those shots were from the 10-to-15 foot range. If it's not a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer and it involves offense, Jones can't do it. And it almost goes without saying that Jones isn't exactly the most athletic swingman in the NBA, which does limit what he can do on both ends of the floor, particularly in the playoffs.
Possible lockout viewing material
I mean, I kind of give up. Given Jones' age, skills, and abilities, he plays pretty much exactly how you'd want him to play, and it's unlikely that he'll add many new wrinkles to his game at this point in his career. He's going to keep standing in the corner, making his threes, and staying away from the paint on offense while playing solid defense. One could argue that he should try to incorporate a few more pump fakes and drives to the rim, just to keep the defense honest, but he's made two layups in three seasons. There aren't many players in this league who have mastered a few parts of the game and chosen to completely abandon others, but Jones is one of those players. All Jones can do is try and keep himself healthy throughout the season and keep his confidence up so that if Erik Spoelstra needs 20 good minutes or a big three or two in a key playoff game, Jones is ready to provide it. If Mike Miller regains his 09-10 form, there might not be many minutes for Jones next season, but Jones is a player the Heat will want to hold onto. Injuries, slumps, and weird matchups will happen, and when they do, the Heat are going to want Jones, who does everything the Heat ask of him and absolutely nothing that they don't want him doing.