LOS ANGELES — After every single game Jemerrio Jones has played for the Los Angeles Lakers since being called up by the team, he’s had the same postgame routine. The second the game ends, Jones will seek out head coach Luke Walton for a few simple words.
“Thank you for the opportunity.”
Walton doesn’t think it’s an act, either.
“You can tell when someone is being a teacher’s pet, or they mean it, and he means it,” Walton said, his voice rising an octave to emphasize those final four words. “That’s just the type of guy that he is. He speaks his mind in the locker room. He’s not quiet because he’s new or young, and he’s grateful for the opportunity.”
But really, it should be the Lakers thanking Jones. The 6’5 guard has breathed new life into the roster since his call-up with his hustle, defense and rebounding, even if he says he just has to do all those things because, as he explains bluntly, he’s still far from a reliable scorer.
“It’s the dog in me, that’s what I want to do, and I’m willing to do it,” Jones said of his rebounding. “I still ain’t score a lot of points, so I gotta do the other little things. Defend, catch me a couple blocks or something.”
Jones’ latest game saw him catch more than a few boards. He finished the Lakers’ win against the Utah Jazz with 16 rebounds, which according to Elias Sports Bureau is the first time a Lakers player has had 16 or more rebounds in their first start for the team since the 1971-72 season (when the league started tracking starts).
Not first Lakers guard. First Lakers player.
That’s the type of potential on the glass that led former Lakers assistant coach Casey Owens — a fellow New Mexico State alum — to notice Jones regularly putting up ridiculous numbers on the glass for the Aggies last year, and walk into the South Bay front office and insist that the G League team give the soon-to-be undrafted rookie a shot.
But while making Lakers franchise history five games into his time with the team would seem to clearly display that Jones was worth such a flier, setting a rebounding record — even for a franchise with as storied of a history as the Lakers — doesn’t phase Jones much, because this is what he’s done at every level.
”I’ve been rebounding like that though. It’s just on a bigger stage,” Jones said when I asked if that stat meant anything to him.
“If you’ve seen me, I’ve got rebounds. That’s what I do,” Jones continued, punctuating his candid answer with a confident “Mhmm.”
After a few games and practices with Jones, his teammates aren’t even surprised by the gaudy rebounding numbers he can put up despite his lack of size.
“He’s a savage,” said Lakers starting center JaVale McGee. “He’s a rebounding fool. He can go out there and get that any night. He works extremely hard, especially on defense. He reminds me of Tony Allen, except he rebounds better.”
That’s the second time in three days that McGee has compared Jones to Tony Allen, which is worth noting because while teammates usually say nice things about each other, most G League call-ups don’t draw comparisons to one of the best defensive players in the last two decades or so following their first career start. Still, that’s the type of energy, confidence and candor Jones has injected into the locker room with his arrival. He’s either new enough or honest enough to just not care about how real and open he is, both in the locker room and with the media.
For some, this would come off as cocky, but Jones is just shooting from the hip, and he inserts enough self-effacing straightforwardness into his statements that he’s made himself almost effortlessly endearing to fans and teammates alike by saying things like he “got the bubble guts a little bit” when he was told he would be starting against the Jazz. There was perhaps no better display of this than when Jones was asked when he would stop thanking Walton for every opportunity.
“When they give me more than 10 days,” Jones said with a smile, drawing yells and doubled-over laughter from every teammate in the locker room.
Now, this is where we have to note that the Lakers reportedly have given Jones more than 10 days, sort of. His contract reportedly does contain a team option for next year, although there is also reason to believe that Jones wouldn’t stop thanking Walton no matter how long he was on the roster, anyway. He seems to do this with everyone.
“Thank you guys. Appreciate it,” Jones said at the end of his media availability, and as Walton said, it’s hard not to believe him about that. Jones does seem to genuinely appreciate all of this, and he’s excited for one more chance to get to do it on Tuesday.
“Getting a dub, and messing up they little bracket, I guess,” Jones said of his goals for the final game of the season against the Portland Trail Blazers, trailing off with a self-assured “Uh huh.”
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.