This Thursday the Louisville Cardinals will match-up with long time conference rival Cincinnati. Junior point guard Chris Jones has missed three games with an ankle injury and he has been replaced in the starting lineup by Terry Rozier. Chris Jones is great at scoring while Rozier is more of a facilitator. Both players are valuable assets while they do different things on the court. Many believed that Terry Rozier would find a way into the starting lineup at some point during the season. Rozier validated those opinions of him with his stellar play in the starting rotation once Jones was sidelined with injury. Questions about Jones re-supplanting Rozier in the starting lineup have begun to arise for Thursday’s game against the Bearcats. We may have inadvertently learned that Chris Jones is better suited to come off the bench.
Russ Smith came off the bench during his sophomore season when he earned the nickname “Russdiculous”. That year was the year that Russ provided a scoring spark for a team that could become offensively anemic at times. The Cardinals went to the Final Four during that 2011-2012 campaign and the energy Russ brought off the bench proved to be a precious piece to the puzzle of success. Russ was the second leading scorer on that Final Four team behind Kyle Kuric. Russ would seamlessly incorporate himself into what The Cards were trying to do without overwhelming the offense with his Russdiculousness. Chris Jones is not as erratic as sophomore Russ, but he may need to know a similar role.
The first time we got to see Chris Jones in action was during the Red/White scrimmage games. After the first game people began to understand how similar Chris Jones and Russ Smith are on the court. Both get up a lot of shots because both are excellent at creating space for themselves. When Smith and Jones are on the court together the shot distribution heavily favors the guard position. Having both Jones and Smith stuff the shot chart isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however it does turn the offense into the Chris-Russ scoring duel. There are not many shots leftover for other people after Jones and Smith are through getting buckets.
The play of other Cardinals has improved since Terry Rozier took over in Jones’ absence. Montrezl Harrell has grabbed 10 rebounds and scored at least 10 points in two of the last three games. Luke Hancock has seen more shots and has scored in double figures in each of the last three games. Wayne Blackshear has thrived in a new “6th man” role and is averaging 16 points in the past three games. Terry Rozier is more of a facilitator and it has shown in the box score during Jones’s absence. It may be mutually beneficial to have Chris Jones come off the bench for the Cardinals much like Wayne Blackshear does.
Chris Jones is a good college player, and he may prove to be great when given the opportunity. Jones will hit most three point shots if he has a good enough look and he can frustrate you with contested two point jumpers all day. Chris Jones has an independent offensive game much like Russ Smith did his sophomore year. Chris Jones is not a selfish player; he simply was the best player on his junior college team and was noticed by coach Pitino and others for his ability to score the ball. Jones used to put on personal scoring clinics at Nothwest Florida State College and the Raiders had a bad habit of giving Chris the ball and getting out of the way. This makes Chris Jones the ultimate offensive weapon off the bench. Chris Jones can be brought in to memorize defenders with his array of moves once everyone has gotten into the flow of the game and defenses have grown tired of chasing around Russ, Luke, Trezl, and Wayne. Chris Jones is tough to guard, I bet he would be even tougher to guard once you are fatigued.
Coach P is a Hall-of-Famer and knows what he is doing when it comes to massaging the rotation. His ability to feel his team out and determine its true identity has played a key role in the Cardinals success in the past two seasons. Louisville currently has a championship pedigree and figuring out the nuances of this team is an assignment that is due in March. Louisville picked up two of the best college PG prospects in the country this season and the questions about the stability of starting PG role have been quelled. Now we wonder which of these excellent players fits better in the starting lineup and who is better served coming off the bench. Chris Jones’ excellent offensive skill set makes him a perfect person to wear out the defense while Terry Rozier will ensure that everyone is involved. If Jones does begin to come off the bench then the Cardinals will have two 20 point scoring threats on the bench that can check in the game and burn you at any time. Jones was playing well before he was injured, incorporating his play into the rotation now will be a jolt that could catapult Louisville back into a deep tournament run.