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Tre Jones' key performance behind the scenes leads Duke basketball

<p>Jones controlled the offense, while racking up nine assists Tuesday.</p>

Jones controlled the offense, while racking up nine assists Tuesday.

A year ago, Duke had a highly-touted freshman point guard in Trevon Duval, who was supposed to be a transcendent athlete with great vision.

And yet, despite the hype, the top-ranked point guard in the Class of 2017 proved to be a bust for the Blue Devils. Duval led the team in turnovers by a wide margin, and was last in both effective field goal percentage and box plus/minus for the 2017-18 Duke squad among players with 200 or more minutes.

Frequently, Duval failed to understand when to take a back seat, and let stronger scorers such as Grayson Allen and Marvin Bagley III take over. 

This year’s Blue Devils are again blessed with talented scorers, with the top three players in the ESPN Top 100—R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish—all deciding to come to Duke. The trio of forwards proved their scoring prowess immediately, combining for 65 of the team’s 106 points on an impressive 64.1 percent shooting from the floor.

Despite the obvious contributions and freakish athleticism from Barrett, Williamson and Reddish, perhaps the most encouraging performance came from the No. 17 recruit, point guard Tre Jones.

"I think the biggest thing for Tre is to learn how to communicate, how to lead verbally. He understands the game as well as anybody that we’ve brought in, and certainly on this team," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "He has to then understand me, how I feel about things going on in real-time, and then verbalize them."

Although the box score does not say much about Jones’ performance, the Apple Valley, Minn., native looked like a true floor general against Virginia Union. Unlike his predecessor, Jones seemed to be selfless, and happily deferred to his more offensively gifted teammates.

“My job is to get us organized, and make sure everybody is in the right position to make the right plays,” Jones said.

The freshman, who is the younger brother of former Duke starting point guard Tyus Jones, did not score a basket until halfway through the second half, but he did not need to, and his nine assists indicate the key role he played in setting the table for the offense. 

Tre Jones led a Blue Devil offense that clearly has great chemistry, and 82.7 percent of its field goals came off of assists, a great improvement on the 57.6 percent mark from a season ago.

“We’re all very unselfish on this team,” Jones said. We’re willing to make the extra pass, passing on a good shot for a great shot, knowing that the great shot is a higher-percentage look than the good shot.”

As the only true point guard in Duke’s rotation, Jones bears much of the distribution responsibilities for the Blue Devils. He picked apart Virginia Union’s zone defense all night, and frequently directed his teammates into sets, showing his strong basketball I.Q.

Both of Jones’ baskets came from behind the 3-point line, and he connected on half of his four attempts. Especially against a zone defense, the 6-foot-2 guard will need to knock down shots from the perimeter, fulfilling a role that Duval failed to fill, as he shot just 29.0 percent on 3-point attempts in 2017-18. 

“[Jones] needs to take that shot [at the top of the key] more, because he can hit it,” Krzyzewski said. “We haven’t had that disciplined ball pressure that [Jones] puts on in a while. 

Although he may not be the flashiest new member of the Duke roster, Jones will be the most vital for the team’s success. A ball-savvy guard with a smooth stroke and a knack for the ball on defense, Jones figures to play a key role in the Blue Devils’ overall performance this winter.

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