Damon Jones has taken a circuitous route to the NBA. He graduated Houston in 1997 but was not drafted by any NBA team. Instead, he played in the CBA in 1998-1999 until he began his series of of seemingly neverending 10-day contracts. He had stints with the Magic, Nets, Celtics, Warriors, Mavericks, Grizzlies, Pistons, and Kings before finally ending up with the Bucks. Even in Milwaukee, he played back-up to rookie sensation TJ Ford until Ford ended his season early due to injury.
Now, Damon has started to take over ball games with his pinpoint-accurate passing and at times deadly shooting. He is second in the league in the highly coveted assists-to-turnover ratio, averaging an astonishing 4.49. For comparison, Jason Kidd, Stephon Marbury, Sam Cassell, Mike Bibby, and even TJ Ford are all below 3.0. Damon's numbers are not due to low volume either: he is 14th in the league with 5.7 assists per game and 13th in the league with 445 total assists this season. In other words, there are fewer better pure point guards than Damon.
In addition, he is a good shooter when he needs to be in order to keep defenses honest against him. In their latest win, 103-98 thumping of the Nets, in New Jersey and with both Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin returning from injuries, Damon scored a team-high 23 points on 8-for-10 shooting including an amazing 5-for-6 from beyond the arc. He also handed out a game-high 11 assists. In short, he led the Bucks to victory over the second seed in the Eastern Conference.
After the game, Damon took a few minutes to talk about what makes head coach Terry Porter so great, and how he has been able to harness the various talents of the Bucks to bring them into contention for home court advantage in the playoffs.
Philip Maymin: Terry Porter. Do you think
he's coach of the year, in your mind?
Damon Jones: Not being biased, yes. Because all the naysayers and everybody from newspapers and sportswriters predicted us 29th in the league, yet here we are fighting for the fourth place in the Eastern Conference. We got 40 wins. I think they predicted us to have 20. We owe it all to him because it's his hard work and his dedication and his philosophy. Go out, play hard as we can, and live with the results.
PM: What does he do as a coach that really
impresses you, that stands out?
DJ: He lets you be yourself. A lot of basketball teams, that's very rare, that a coach will go out and just say, hey, be who you are and whatever you bring to this basketball team, do it, and that's what's going to help us win games. We don't want you to go out and be anything that you're not and do anything that you can't do. So just go out there and play to your strengths, and we'll live with the results.
PM: So he has a good understanding of your
strengths and he adjusts his system?
DJ: Great understanding. He brought in a great system, offensively and defensively, to cover up for a lot of deficiencies we have on this team. We're not afraid to say it. We have guys that have deficiencies on both ends on the floor. But the one thing that makes him a great coach is, he hides those deficiencies so they're not exploited on a nightly basis. So you would never know. We just look like a well-oiled machine, because we're playing together, and we're playing off one another.
PM: Can you give an example?
DJ: Take me, for example. I use myself because he knows I'm not a "break you down" point guard. So what he does is, he puts a system around where guys are coming off screens. I'm hitting guys in the right spots for them to shoot the baskets. He puts me in pick-and-rolls all the time. That's where I can be effective. Michael Redd, he has him coming off down screens. That's where he's the best: catch and shoot. He's able to put the ball on the floor off pick-and-rolls. We do a lot of iso situations for Desmond because he's an aggressive, drive-to-the-basket guy. He gets to the free throw line well. So, all the way around, he has a great, great philosophy about how the game should be played. He played 17 years. My vote, if I was on the outside looking in, I would vote him coach of the year.
PM: You're kind of the coach on the court, so
you kind of have to know all the same strengths and weaknesses.
DJ: Oh man, yes. The only reason I'm able to be a coach on the floor is because he has confidence in me. We were together last year in Sacramento and we had plenty of time where we sat down and talked about just game plan, and what he would do if he were a head coach. He was just an assistant. So he was preparing his mind when he got an opportunity to become a head coach, and he's taking full advantage of it.
PM: How would you compare him to Rick Adelman?
DJ: Same way. Same way. The only thing different between coach Porter and Rick Adelman: coach Porter calls a little bit more timeouts. Rick Adelman just lets the game flow. With the weapons that we had last year, coach Adelman usually just let us play through things, but here, coach Porter understands that we don't have that type of team. So what he does is, when he feels the momentum shifting, or getting out of hand, he calls a timeout. When in Sacramento, Rick Adelman would sit back on the side and just let us play through it.
PM: Last question. Talk a bit about T.J.
Ford, how the team is missing him, how he's done this year.
DJ: He's done tremendous. I think his work ethic and his wanting to be good is going to carry him a long way in this league. Guys that were drafted as high as he was usually don't come in with a mentality that, I want to learn. They think they know everything. But he wants to learn. He wants to get better every day. He works hard, and he's going to be good for years to come, so I'm just glad to be not only his big brother, but a teammate.