Long-shot DeQuan Jones living a dream

Rather miraculously, rookie DeQuan Jones finds himself in the Magic's lineup, starting at small forward over a respected veteran and a coveted draft pick culled from the Dwight Howard deal.

Truth is, nobody expected Jones' name to come up in a conversation involving Hedo Turkoglu and Maurice Harkless.

But here he is, hearing his name called during player introductions the past eight games after making the team as an undrafted, October training-camp invitee.
"Feels like a roller-coaster ride, the highs and lows, going from not playing to starting," Jones said, shaking his head. "It's a matter of staying on an even keel, staying consistent."

It's a major opportunity for Jones, even if he has a minor role in the production.

The Magic only ask DeQuan to be what he is at the moment: an electric, versatile athlete who's learning on the fly and doesn't necessarily need the ball.

"There's certain things a player learns that can't be taught by just watching film," he said. "There's things you can only learn through in-game experience. It's just a matter of me getting accustomed to the NBA game, the ins and outs."

Coach Jacque Vaughn has seen Jones take baby steps.

"He's been improving," Vaughn said. "You watch film and he has less breakdowns for us on the defensive end, which means he's understanding the concepts better. His shot selection has been pretty good. Just his aggressiveness, being able to attack the rim and maybe get a foul.

"He's just learning, and that's the best part. He's learning along the way and he keeps getting better."

The small-forward spot has been a revolving door since Turkoglu sustained a broken hand in the opener and still struggles to fully recover.

Harkless made 20 consecutive starts until Vaughn decided to go with Jones on New Year's Eve against the Miami Heat.

In a rebuilding season featuring player development, Vaughn said he wanted to again evaluate Jones, who had made three previous starts early in the season while battling a strained groin.

"Change-wise, it was just time for me to see (Jones) in the lineup," Vaughn said. "He had been working hard … that was the base for the change, not to say Mo had not been working hard."

If you were to draw blueprints to build a player, Jones would be an ideal model at a chiseled 6-feet-8, 220 pounds.

"Physically, right now, even though he's a rookie, he matches up well with most starting 3-men in the league," Vaughn said.

Jones' stats won't wow you. He's averaging just 3.1 points and 2.1 rebounds per game, and 11.9 minutes overall. But since the beginning of January, he has averaged 5.6 points, 3.4 rebounds in 19.4 minutes while shooting 54 percent.

Jones, 22, had similar numbers during his four years at Miami. Minor role or not, he has landed a shot at the big time, trying to handle this unique opportunity to audition.

He's starting, but doesn't get starter's minutes.

He's starting, but his biggest job is to do the little things.

He's starting, but it feels as if the promotion could stop at any time.

It's as if DeQuan is a temp, perhaps keeping the seat warm for now with Turk out and Harkless watching closely. And he knows it.

"I never get complacent. I never for one second thought I was a sure lock (last summer)," Jones said. "I still don't. That's not who I am. It's just every day, come in and be ready to work."

He remembers his first NBA start after Turk was injured, facing Phoenix on Nov. 4. "During intros, they called my name. It kind of hit me," he said. "I caught a flashback when I was a kid, watching Michael Jordan. I realized I was a part of it.

"That was the defining moment, when I realized the position I was in."

Jones is playing on a one-year, minimum contract. He's still fighting to gain a career foothold.

"Absolutely," he said. "Absolutely."

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