Jemerrio Jones’ signature headband — often sparkling white — is sometimes the only evidence of his existence on a basketball court.
His body is often consumed, swallowed whole, within an ocean of arms, legs, and a basketball, the latter an object that he scrapes the surface of the hardwood for like a world-class diver mining the depths of the Mediterranean.
The headband bobs back and forth in the scrum before he finally emerges, typically with at least a scrape or a bruise; battle scars that he can pair with all the others. When his body is upright again, and the waters calm and dissipate, it is then when his infectious smile shines through. It is rising through the chaos when he’s most at home.
At almost any given moment during a basketball game, there’s two places you can usually look to find Jones — on the glass, or on the floor.
Now, there is a third: On the Lakers.
On Monday, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported the team had signed Jones to a 10-day contract via their hardship exemption due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak within the locker room.
Jones, who most recently had been playing with the Milwaukee Buck’s G League affiliate, the Wisconsin Herd, is another familiar face on roster full of them, as he played for both the South Bay Lakers and in six games for the parent team during the 2018-19 season.
During his stint with Los Angeles, Jones’ knack for the doing the “dirty work” immediately endeared him to the fanbase, and grew him a cult following ahead of his eventual debut.
“I don’t just get buckets, and the flashy things. I do deflections, hustle, 50-50 ball, I am going to dive for the ball,” Jones said back in 2019. “All the little things you need in a player, I do it. Like Dennis Rodman, that’s who I compare myself to.”
Those words are a snapshot of not only Jones’ game, but his ethos, and exactly why the Lakers likely had interest in bringing him back into the fold during these difficult times.
Between countless injuries and the continuing worldwide pandemic that is currently infiltrating and impacting every roster around the NBA, there are enough contextual reasons to explain why the team has underperformed compared to their previously high expectations. However, even with that said and understood, there are still aspects of controlling what you can control that the club continues to squander. Chief among them is their overall effort level and work on the backboards.
Both areas — effort and rebounding — are elements of the game that Jones has made his calling card.
Despite being just 6’5 with shoes on, Jones’ rebounding prowess and overall motor has proven to be the stuff of legend. In his senior year with New Mexico State, Jones broke the WAC single-season record for rebounds (450) and became the first NCAA player since 1997 to register 20+ rebounds in three straight contests. He would have five such games by season’s end.
During the 2019-20 G League season, Jones earned All Third Team honors, finishing the year tied for second in rebounds per game and first in total rebounds (504). He also finished the season as the only player in the league with 500+ rebounds and 150+ assists.
Last season, Jones also became just the fourth player in G League history to record a 20-rebound triple-double, and was the first player in league history with 20+ rebounds and 13+ assists in the same game.
Jones’ nose for the ball and the sheer relentlessness with which he pursues the ball will be a welcome addition for a Lakers’ team that has largely been allergic to the glass, ranking 22nd in boxouts and last in opponent’s offensive rebounds per game.
The ability to play “big” at his position, either on the glass or via his tenacity on defense, also could make Jones an intriguing fit within the Lakers’ small lineups. Most notably when LeBron James slides to center, groups that have seen mixed results in how effective their perimeter players are in battling down low.
“You have to play like every game is your last because you never know who’s watching,” Jones said in an interview prior to his debut with the Lakers. “I come from nothing. I come from the struggle, so I know what it takes. It took me a lot to get here, so I run with it.”
In Jones’ most recent game, ironically enough against South Bay, he dropped 14 points, 8 rebounds and 4 steals. The leave-it-all-on-the-floor spirt Jones brings may feel like it borders on cliche, but the areas he’s best at are ones where these Lakers are deficient. On a roster with very few “blue collar” players, Jones’ tenacity and grit will likely stick out like it always has.
There are reasons why fans should temper their expectations however, factors in why Jones has remained stuck in the G League since his tenure with the Lakers. His offensive game, namely his 3-point stroke, are definitely still (at best) a work-in-progress and could potentially further hinder what is already a sometimes-clogged Lakers offense.
And beyond his offensive limitations, once players do return, Jones will likely struggle to get enough minutes to showcase the aspects of the game he’s good at, and may face an uphill battle to to surpass those on the depth-chart to make it on the team going forward.
But whatever the future may hold for Jones’ second stop with the team, there is a level of serendipity about his return. In a season that has been riddled with frustration, inconsistency and lethargy, Jones as a player — and person — is the anthesis. Whether through his fearlessness in outworking bigger and more talented players or simply diving on the floor to keep possessions (and his dream) alive, Jones’ play may ultimately prove to be a spark in an otherwise dim campaign.
It likely won’t take long for him to win over the fans who may have forgotten him, and also rekindle the flicker inside those who do. Because whether a timely rebound, steal or lifting the spirts of those around him through his hard-nosed play is what’s necessary, Jones will do it all with maximum effort and a smile on his face.