One of Maccabi Tel Aviv’s most interesting moves this past summer was the signing of point guard Chris Jones. The Garland, Texas native played in Turkey last season with Bursaspor and was arguably the club’s most important player throughout the shortened 23 game season which finished in an 11-12 record.
With 15.3 points, 6.8 assists and 3.2 rebounds in 35 minutes per game in 2019/20, Jones opened the eyes of many including the Yellow & Blue brass as his continued upward trend was extreme encouraging.
This year has been one of growth for Jones which at times has looked frustrating especially during a lengthy stretch when the guard didn’t dress for a number of weeks for Israeli league and State Cup games. After a disappointing loss 79-70 to Hapoel Gilboa Galil on January 29th where Jones played an unimpressive 27 minutes, he found himself in the stands for wins over Hapoel Tel Aviv, Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Beer Sheva in league play plus a semifinal overtime win over Hapoel Holon in the State Cup.
The next time Jones laced up his kicks for a game was against Holon on February 14th and he made the most of the opportunity with 15 points and 9 assists taking the game’s MVP award. In the Euroleague loss to Milano, Jones was one of the few bright spots with 10 points, while in the next two league games versus Herzliya and Nahariya the Angelo State and North Texas product checked in with 14 points and 10 assists as well as 17 points and 7 helpers respectively.
Somehow those few weeks on the sidelines sparked Jones and got him right back on track as to the player that Maccabi thought they would see when they signed him. 58% from 2-point range, 91% from the charity stripe and an efficiency rating of 19.1 has helped move his season averages in league play to 12.5 points, 6.5 assists and 4.3 rebounds in 27 minutes per game.
Jones is beginning to look more and more like the player who starred in his senior season at Angelo State in 2014/15. Located in San Angelo, Texas, Chris Beard who is now one of the top college coaches in the United States with Texas tech, was the man in charge and he saw Jones as a key component in running his team. With the renewed confidence after coming over from North Texas, Jones did exactly that and took the bull by the horns explained Paul Harris of the San Angelo Standard-Times to The Sports Rabbi, “They had four D1 transfers that year and Jones was able to bring all the talent together on the floor. He was always friendly and very mature. Chris Beard called him one of the smartest players that he had ever coached. He seemed like he was always cool and in command of the game. Soft spoken but confident.”
Another impressive piece to Jones’s game has always been his shooting which has been over 50% since his season at Angelo State all the way through stops in Switzerland, Belgium, Turkey and now in Israel.
“He was a 59% shooter from the floor which is pretty amazing,” said Harris. “He led the team in assists, scoring and minutes and was an All-Conference First Team Player as well as an All-Conference First Team Defensive Player. He was a leader on both ends of the floor.”
However, this season over in continental play the story is a quite different. Jones has struggled with 6.8 points, 2.4 assists and 1.5 rebounds. In fact, the two games right before his Maccabi-imposed break he played only 7 minutes against Real Madrid and 5 minutes versus Fenerbahce.
“All these players need time and there are so many games,” explained coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos. “Chris had never played in the Euroleague and it’s not easy to be hungry when you play every game and to give maximum every time. When he was out he rested and he mentally relaxed his mind. This small break I think it helped him to become more fresh and he has good ideas, good decisions and good passes.”
Jones spoke about what he did during the break, “When I was out I worked individually with the coaches and studied the game, think and be more mentally being strong. Taking pride in the defense was key.”
It takes time for players to adjust to a different country and a different league. Those adjustments for some are quick while for others it just takes time. In Jones’s case perhaps it has just taken a bit more time than others and maybe, just maybe with the fans beginning to return to the arenas, that will help out Jones as well. “It was great to have the fans back with the extra energy coming from a different place other than the bench,” the guard said.
Coach Sfairopoulos complimented Jones one again following the Nahariya game, “He’s a great passer and great team player. He makes the team better and carries himself with his professionalism.”
The bench boss spoke glowingly about his passing which is something that Harris singled out as one of Jones’s biggest strengths even comparing him to a future Hall of Fame guard, “He is kind of in the mold of a Chris Paul type of point guard, that has a pass first mentality. He will pass up a good shot to give a teammate a great shot, he’s a point guard leader in that regard and he was also the second highest scorer on the team.”
The question that now remains is if Jones can translate his spectacular league play of late to the Euroleague. There is no question that the Euroleague is a totally different level and in order for Jones to succeed he will need to really step it up as Maccabi Tel Aviv make their final push for a playoff spot which looks to be very far off in the distant as they sit with a 10-13 record. Jones, however has always been able to continuously adjust and raise his level of play explained Harris, “He played at a very big high school in the Dallas area and was playing at the highest level as a high school student. As a freshman he was already starting for the University of North Texas.”
Of course high school and college aren’t the same as the pros, but Can Jones turn the corner? As he takes to the floor against Bayern Munich tonight, Thursday at 21:30 Israel time, perhaps, just perhaps we will see that same player who looked cool, calm and collected talk it to the next level and help the Yellow & Blue to a critical victory to keep their continental hopes and aspirations alive.