Quarantine work has Suns PG Ty Jerome ready to improve on rookie year
Not many players are going to look at the time in Orlando for the NBA’s restart as a fresh start, but Ty Jerome will.
The Phoenix Suns rookie point guard sprained his right ankle in between the end of the preseason and start of the regular season, forcing him to miss six weeks.
He debuted in Charlotte on Dec. 2 and was terrific, racking up four points, three rebounds, four assists and three steals in just 12 minutes.
From there, it was mostly negatives for the first-round pick, as Jerome looked overwhelmed by the pace of the NBA. But to be fair to him, Jerome was dealing with a heel injury too and was thrown into the fire right upon his return.
So in a way, the quarantine period slowed all that down for Jerome and he could keep it simple by focusing on getting better.
He did that by traveling back to Virginia, where he played in college, two weeks after the season was paused to hoop at a gym that was cleared.
Jerome worked out six days a week there with former college teammate and Atlanta Hawks top-5 pick De’Andre Hunter, locking in on specifics like hip, ankle and core work, along with shooting.
“Playing with guys like [Devin Booker] and being on the court with [Ricky Rubio] at times, playing off [Deandre Ayton] — I gotta be able to knock down shots at a super-high slip so I’m always trying to become an even better shooter,” Jerome said Wednesday.
Jerome’s self-awareness of an off-ball role speaks to his strengths as a player overall. The only reason the rookie won’t make it in the NBA is if he’s too slow because he’s skilled, smart and hard-working enough to make up for that.
It was easy to see that clash visualized through his sporadic play over 11.3 minutes a game in 23 outings. And it didn’t help that a good chunk of that was when the Suns were getting blown out and head coach Monty Williams wanted a fresh look.
Jerome is a gamer who makes crafty, heady plays frequently. From the aforementioned debut, this play below is about the work to get back on defense, seeing the opening for the steal, not hesitating to push the ball when he gets it and then finding the best option.
Checking off all four of those efforts in under five seconds is not something every young point guard does.
Again, here he’s humming this thing down the floor in transition with his eyes up. He acquires Cam Johnson’s location and never looks away, reading that Mikal Bridges’ path will open up Johnson from three.
On the ball, he’s in pick-and-roll nearly every time because he needs it to create separation, and uses his body to be patient until the play develops since he’s not going to get his man off his hip that much.
In another instance of him adapting to his own limitations, Jerome is great with touch shots since he doesn’t finish above the rim or through contact all that often.
But attempting floaters, eight-footers and such over shot-blockers like Dwight Howard are a whole different deal compared to the ACC.
Jerome shot 34.4% from the field on 106 attempts, including 27.7% from three-point range, and you could see it getting to his head.
He started occasionally hesitating before shooting open threes, let alone semi-contested ones, and that is when the battle is lost for someone who was a very good shooter in college.
Sometimes the rookie wall hits hard, and that’s what happened for Jerome. It’s not entirely indicative of a failed prospect but certainly will have one playing behind compared to guys who figured some things out immediately.
With the injuries and missed time, Williams thinks that’s ultimately a plus for a young player.
“I think it’s good for them to deal with that, all that they’ve dealt with in their first year, because it allows them more information to process when they go home in their offseasons,” he said.
Williams multiple times over the break has referred to that four-month break of processing as huge for players like Jerome, Johnson and Jevon Carter, noting he sees a chance in all three.
Ultimately, Williams believes in the mental makeup Jerome has as a point guard.
“He has a thirst for knowledge,” Williams said.
“Sometimes guys don’t know what questions to ask — Ty knew the questions that you needed to ask. He was on top of 2-for-1s. He was a guy on free-throw possessions … as soon as the guy was dribbling to shoot a free throw, Ty would look to me and want a play, and that’s something that most young guards can’t remember.”
Jerome spent the break watching even more basketball, emphasizing that he is watching full games of the Suns and even older ones for Steve Nash specifically.
“You just pick up little things watching basketball,” he said.
Some rookies have a crash course arriving to the league in regards to their attitude, but that’s definitely not an issue with Jerome, and he can use the eight games better than anyone else on the Suns to recalibrate heading into next season.