For Pistons fans, Jonas Jerebko was the surprise of the season-- the lone bright spot in a year filled with injury, losses and a general lack of identity on the court. Like Ben Wallace before him, Jonas represented a hard-working, blue collar mentality and an incessant fight for every possession on both ends of the court. Jonas surprised pretty much everyone, but the question remains: what is his ceiling? Have we seen the best out of Mr. Jerebko, and if not-- just how good can he get?
As the Pistons final pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, fan and media expectations for Jonas Jerebko were slim at best. With two small forwards picked before him and an 82-game-a-year vet manning the start, most suggested Jonas would wind up in the D-League or even Europe. Yet when Tayshaun Prince went down and opportunity knocked, Jonas leapfrogged DaJuan Summers and Austin Daye for starting minutes at the 3. While he closed out the season playing PF, sliding to the left when Prince returned, he recorded a promising body of work in his first 73 games as an NBA starter.
On the positive end, Jonas brought non stop energy to the court. He exhibited a knack for getting the offensive rebound, for scoring on well-timed cuts to the basket, for locking down his man in isolation and for providing solid help defense. He and Ben Wallace made this bad season fun to watch, as they extended possessions on the offensive glass and got in their opponents heads on D. Honestly, how could you try to score on Jonas without letting your eyes linger just a bit too long? Derek Zoolander had Blue Steel, but Jonas Jerebko has The Swedish Fish.
What didn't Jonas do so well? His perimeter shot was a bit shakey, and while some may suggest it improved as the year progressed, it seemed to get worse the more he used it. His game didn't show a lot of range, as 65% of his attempts occurred right under the basket. It seemed as if Jonas' game relied almost exclusively on cleanup and cuts to the basket, as his isolation plays and post game didn't show much maturity. Defensively, when played at the 4, he had trouble adjusting to NBA-level talent on post plays and pick-and-rolls.
That's not to say these things won't change in time. It takes time to adjust to the NBA, and he's already established a base of competency and the work ethic needed to develop. If Jonas does not change, if he does not get any better than he is right now, he'll still play an important role for the Pistons either off the bench or in the starting lineup. But what if he does improve?
Jonas' struggles defending post-ups and pick-and-rolls aren't so much his fault, and these will naturally improve with experience. He's better suited to playing the wing, where he can use his speed, strength and tenacity to give opposing small forwards a lot of trouble. Jerebko's defense is best suited to the small forward position, and if he can be played there his game will improve naturally. Unfortunately, with a glut of small forwards on the Pistons roster, he'll likely remain at the 4 until a trade or injury arrives.
Offensively, Jerebko needs to establish an improved perimeter game. He needs to improve his 3-point shot, a benefit to either of his expected positions, as 31% isn't reliable enough to increase his usage. If Jonas can hit 38% or better, not out of the range of expectations for a second year player, he can make himself an even more necessary tool in John Kuester's playbook. Beyond that, the only thing left to keep Jonas away from being a serious offensive option is his inability to make plays for himself, to score in isolation. He did it in FIBA play this summer, and if he can work to improve his handle and add some isolation moves, he could develop into a nasty offensive threat. The question, however, is if he has that competency built-in or not. Thus far in his career, it doesn't appear to be so.
Beyond all the Pistons players we've previewed thus far, Jonas is the most likely to earn real minutes in 2010-11. His impressive rookie season and the 73 starts therein make him the man to beat for a starters role at the 4. If he can improve his 3-point shot and continue to play hard-nosed defense, that starting job will be very hard to lose. While the man needs to eventually get his burn at small forward, this writer isn't going to argue if Jonas Jerebko starts just about anywhere for this organization. Yes, even for Automotion, you damned sexy Swede.