Yesterday, former Denver Nugget guard Dahntay Jones officially signed with the Pacers for a deal that will reportedly pay him $11 million over the next four years. Jones joins Indiana as a player known as a defensive specialist, and Indiana management is hoping he can become the stopper for a team that has struggled mightily to guard the perimeter over the past few seasons.
Pacers GM Larry Bird expressed as much during Jones’ introductory press conference. (You can watch all the highlights from the press conference in the video below.)
“I played on a lot of teams and if you have a guy that’s focused on the defensive end, it brings your defense up. If he says ‘I’ll take Kobe Bryant; I want to guard him’ that takes the pressure off of the other players — not that they don’t want to guard him, it’s just that they know we have a guy who can go out there and be a defensive stopper. That’s what we got Dahntay for.”
Personally, I’m unclear on exactly how good Dahntay is on the defensive end. Other than the Pacers, I watched the Nuggets more than any team last season, so I’m well aware that he has some chops. But I’m not sure whether he has the potential to be an actual stopper in this League or if he’ll just be an above-average defender. I’m skeptical that he can ever become a Bruce-Bowen-in-his-prime type of lock-down specialist, but after watching him help finally bring some toughness to the Rockies last year, I think he has the potential to be as good as a guy like Raja Bell for the next few years if he improves some technical aspects of his craft. Even if he falls short of that, he’s still a legit 6’6″ with a fiery personality, so the Pacers should at worst have a capable complement on the wing for Danny Granger, who may be able to expand his offensive game even further this season if he’s not being tasked with guarding the LeBron Jameses and Paul Pierces of the world. And at this point, anything will help shore up the straw-wall defense shown by the Pacers perimeter players last season.
Another factor working in Dahntay’s favor is that he has spent a long time trying to reach the level he finally achieved last year in Denver and will presumably work just as hard to continue earning respect in the NBA.
See, Dahntay first entered the basketball world’s public conscious while playing for Duke, which was just coming off a National Championship victory when he arrived and featured standouts Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer and our own Mike Dunleavy, Jr. But Jones wasn’t a touted Duke recruit who entered Cameron Indoor right out of high school. He spent his first two collegiate years at the Big East also-ran Rutgers University before transferring to Durham, where he almost immediately earned a starting job and developed into a hard-nosed wing who could put some points on the board.
In a way, his NBA career has mirrored his time in college. Jones spent his first few professional years toiling away in NBA obscurity, playing four years in Memphis and one in Sacramento. Aside from NBA diehards, few people even knew he was getting some burn in the Association, let alone ever saw him on national television considering the teams for which he had been playing.
Then he signed as a free agent with the Nuggets last summer and found his niche en route to the Western Conference Finals.
Surrounded by potent scorers like Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, JR Smith and Nenê, Jones was able to focus almost entirely on defense and toughness. Dahntay embraced the role and made a name for himself as an emerging defensive force, particularly during Denver’s playoff run as he showed his versatility by slowing down the diminutive, all-world point guard Chris Paul in the First Round and frustrating the half-a-foot-taller, all-world Kobe Bryant for stretches of the Western Conference Finals.
Now Dahntay is ready to bring his calling card to Indiana.
“I take on any defensive challenge. I’m going to try to stronghold the defensive aspect of the floor, be a leader on that end of the floor and try to help out in anyway possible: guard many positions and just bring a defensive attitude toward this organization.”
As most Pacers fans have learned over the past few seasons, talking about defense and actually playing it are two different things. But for a team that displayed little defensive leadership on the court while giving up more than 100 points in nine out of its last ten games last year, just hearing the new guy say something like this in public is a refreshing sign.
Welcome aboard, Dahntay.
UPDATE: Indy Cornrows has a thorough rundown of sources covering the Dahntay press conference/acquisition.