R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, and Cameron Reddish get all the headlines for Duke. But Tre Jones and Jack White have been building their cases for the 2019 NBA Draft, too.
The 2019 NBA Draft runs through Durham, North Carolina. We’ve known that ever since R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, and Cameron Reddish finalized their commitments to team up for Mike Krzyzewski, the first time the top three recruits in a single class had joined forces. Pretty much every mock draft and big board you will see right now has those three in the top five of the 2019 NBA Draft class, and the most ambitious of those will even place all three back-to-back-to-back at the top.
It’s easy to get zoned in on these three when you watch the Blue Devils. Williamson is in the top tier of draft prospects that we’ve seen in the last few years. Barrett’s shot creation lets him lead the team in scoring despite Zion’s presence. And Reddish is the designated outlet for the team, taking 7.5 3s per game on pretty much every drive-and-kick possession Barrett and Williamson create. If you ignored the rest of Duke’s roster while watching the team, that would be justified — there’s already more than enough to watch on every possession.
Doing so would be foolish though because Duke’s NBA talent pool isn’t just three deep. While the focus has been on Duke’s Big Three, two more Blue Devils have been making their case to end up on NBA rosters in June as well. One was expected — Tre Jones, the brother of current Minnesota Timberwolves guard Tyus, was a top-20 recruit in his own right, and was a big player on the high school All-Star circuit. The other was unexpected — a 6-foot-7 junior from Australia named Jack White, who has become a major contributor despite barely playing in his first two seasons. These two have helped take the team from glorified All-Star team to the juggernaut that Duke has been so far this year, and are establishing NBA value by doing so.
Neither player is going to take on much scoring load, obviously. Jones has averaged 8.3 points per game on 7.0 field goal attempts per game, while White is at 7.1 on just 5.1 shots. The highest output either has posted was a 17-point showing against Gonzaga for Jones, and White has the third-lowest usage rate on the team. On another team, Jones might be a number one or number two option, operating in more of a traditional scoring point guard role, and White might touch the ball more than on catch-and-shoots and offensive rebounds. But both are fairly comfortable playing off of the Big Three, and getting the bulk of their points in the flow of the offense. It doesn’t help them get noticed, but it does present a very good idea of what their skill sets could be at the NBA level.
Jones’s biggest contribution to Duke’s offense comes by leading their transition game. His court vision is his single best NBA skill, and he is the starting point for many of the brilliant lobs that litter Duke’s highlight reels this year.
Jones has great touch on these alley-oops, and he’s very comfortable attacking in advantage situations. He is confident in his handle, shifty enough to shake defenders, and shows good poise when going at the rim at full speed.
In the halfcourt, Jones is much more of a game manager. He doesn’t really have the quickness to beat guys off the dribble, nor does he need it, more often initiating a possession with a pass to get Barrett or Williamson free. When he does get scoring opportunities, they are mostly off the catch from 3 or on curls off secondary actions. And while he does struggle a bit finishing at the rim, he has great control of his body, able to square himself in midair and drop a floater or mid-range jumper over the trees.
White, meanwhile, is almost purely a bit player on offense, scoring off spot-up 3s and offensive rebounds. At 6-foot-7, 215 pounds, he’s a little small to be a stretch four at the NBA level, but he has the skills for it. His 3-point form is good, with a quick gather and high release point. He’s good at relocating off the ball as well, as seen from this possession against San Diego State:
While he’s hitting just 35.7 percent from 3 so far on 42 attempts, White has the beginnings of an NBA shooting skill set. He’s a strong screen-setter as well, and could become very efficient on pick-and-pops. He combines this with a good presence as a rebounder, with good energy and instincts to clean up and keep possessions alive. It’s nothing sexy, but it keeps the offense flowing, and he has shown some good passing in connection with Jones on Duke’s fast breaks.
Both players fill out the offense, but it’s on defense where they really bring value to this Duke team. Williamson has been a monster on defense at times, and Reddish is shockingly good on that end, but Duke struggles with the inconsistency that any team playing four freshmen major minutes. The Blue Devils get back cut to death at times (Like the start of the Princeton game), and struggle with foul trouble. But these two stabilize the defense, helping them rank fifth in the country in defensive efficiency per Sports-Reference. And while Jones is proving viability at the NBA level, White is showing that this can be his calling card. White has a 6.8 Defensive Box Plus-Minus so far this year, which is fourth on the team behind the big men, and his versatility is a huge help to the overall performance of the Duke defense.
Duke switches a ton to help Barrett and Reddish conserve energy, and use White and Jones’s strengths optimally. Both are functional on switches, with Jones able to maintain leverage in the post, and White having good enough agility to stay with guards on the perimeter. White is very difficult to dislodge on drives, and he contests pull-ups well, too.
He also has an advanced understanding of rotations, making the little plays that the team needs him to make to survive defensively. He was routinely all over the place in the Maui Invitational covering for his teammates, and even shows some potential as a shot-blocker despite subpar vertical athleticism.
Jones, meanwhile, is also very sound positionally, but he’s less stout against drivers. He makes up for that though with using his lateral quickness to slide over and help, and he shares the lethal thievery that his brother rode to a first-round selection in 2015.
The two combine forces on traps, and do a good job of shutting down escape lanes for opponents.
Jones and White are both real NBA Draft prospects. Jones doesn’t get the fanfare of Coby White and Darius Garland at the point guard position, but he is a lottery prospect as well, thanks to his potential as a two-way secondary creator that can keep everyone involved, and the small upside that his pull-up shooting gives him. Jones doesn’t get to use it often, but he has a very strong mechanical base and gets great elevation on his shot. Couple that with his defensive performance and court vision, and Jones definitely needs to be in the conversation with White and Garland for the top point guard spot on the board.
White, meanwhile, probably isn’t coming out in 2019. He hasn’t shown any on-ball creation ability, and he could use another year of physical development to make the idea of him playing as a four more palatable. But when he does come out, there is a role for him in the league. He’s a fundamentally sound defender, an effective rebounder, and has the foundation of a very good 3-point shot. Those are all skills necessary for the modern three-four hybrid bench type that White projects as. He’s a good second-round choice this year, with the small shot at late-first round upside next year if he develops into a secondary creator as a senior.
Barrett, Williamson, and Reddish have hogged the headlines for Duke, and they will right up until the 2019 NBA Draft. But it’s important to acknowledge the contributions of Tre Jones and Jack White for how this team works, and give them their own showcase for how strong they are. Duke would probably still be 10-1 without them — the Big Three are just that good. But it’s Jones and White who will be supplying the key plays that should help Duke roll through the ACC gauntlet, and put them over the top. They raise the ceiling of the Blue Devils, just like they could potentially do in similar roles in the NBA.