"Positionless basketball" has become something of a buzzword in the coverage of the modern game, but behind every cliche is a kernel of truth. To put that kind of Total Football strategy into play on hardwood, you need to have versatile players capable of handling the ball, scoring at multiple levels, and defending as many positions as possible. Enter Colby Jones.
Like CJ Wilcher, Colby lost the warmup stages of the season to covid-19 contact tracing. No practicing with the team, no familiarization with the guys, no working out the kinks in buy games against clubs with no realistic hope of an NCAA tournament berth. His first game was the Shootout, in which he introduced himself to Xavier fans with a 5/4/3 line with just 1 TO in 17 minutes of play. The last five games of 2020 were more of the same, with Jones showing good efficiency in low usage. He spackled in the cracks on the roster, three times dishing out 4+ assists and twice grabbing 4+ boards.
He took the next step in the first game of 2021, dropping 16/4/3 on 6-10 shooting and a usage rate of 24%. That usage illustrated his growing importance to the team. Only once in the first 5 games he played did he go over 14%; only once in the last 10 did he go under that number.
His output the game after his breakout against the Johnnies wasn't as memorable, but his final shot of the game was. With X down 2 and the clock winding down, he stuck a dagger in Providence to pull the Muskies' fat out of the fire and pay tribute to his grandpa.
They weren't all home runs, but Jones acquitted himself well down the stretch. He fed St. John's 20 and 6 on 6-9 shooting in the return leg and dropped 13/11/4 on 5-8 the next time out. Far from hitting the freshman wall, he finished strong. He sandwiched an admittedly forgettable output against Marquette with 11/7/4 at Georgetown and 10/9/4 in the Big East tournament loss to Butler. He averaged 34 minutes per game in Xavier's last six.
There's not too much you could ask from Colby Jones as a freshman aside from more of it. His usage rate of 16.8% was fairly low and his shots percentage of 13.3% was the lowest on the team. Of course, that couples with his 108.3 ORtg to illustrate his strength in picking his spots. He posted a game line of 7.7/4.8/2.9, which is an excellent and balanced output, especially when coupled with his 56.6% true shooting percentage.
Aside from some turnover issues, he was rock solid on offense across all levels of competition. The only question remaining is how well he will respond from having to take on a bigger portion of the load. Naji Marshall struggled with that transition after a similarly impressive freshman campaign; hopefully Xavier can surround Colby with more support than the did Naj.
Only one regular in the Xavier rotation had a better DRtg than Jones did. That player was Zach Freemantle, whose defensive prowess was not often lauded this year, so take that for what it's worth. On the other hand, evanmiya.com has Jones at an even 0.0 in Defensive Bayesian Performance Rating, good for 7th out of 9 Muskies with 250 possessions on the defensive end.
The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Jones doesn't have the length or raw athleticism to be as disruptive on defense as Naji, but he has a knack for being in the right place at the right time and stays active in the passing lanes. He showed enough versatility to be playable defending 1-4, but he was at his best harrying wings and big guards.
It's hard to fault too much of what Jones did, just that he didn't do enough of it. This was not a team deep enough in offensive threats to have a passenger for 30 minutes a game, and when Jones was one (and often not the only one), the team's output suffered. That's a lot to put on a freshman, but at some point your presence on the floor isn't mitigated by your class. The bottom line is that Jones had an excellent debut season for Xavier, and it's hard not to be excited for his potential going forward.
How would you grade Colby Jones's season?
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C- or lower