DALLAS — The term “X-factor” is often thrown around far too loosely in sports. Of course, Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving are superstars for the Dallas Mavericks. Emerging as an X-factor for a sports team, though, often refers to a player who was overlooked and ended up playing a pivotal role.

Daniel Gafford and PJ Washington have received a lot of attention since they were acquired ahead of the trade deadline. Both could qualify as X-factors, and there is no doubt that they will help the Mavs against the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

The player that we are discussing today is known for his defensive effort. He's consistently been willing to step up and guard stars on opposing teams. This player is also a capable offensive performer, possessing the ability to score at a respectable rate. Oh, and he's one of the best dunkers in the entire NBA.

Derrick Jones Jr. will be the Mavericks X-factor in the 2024 NBA Playoffs against the Clippers.

Derrick Jones Jr: Mavericks X-factor against Clippers

Dallas Mavericks forward Derrick Jones Jr. (55) dunks the ball past Atlanta Hawks forward De'Andre Hunter (12) and guard Bogdan Bogdanovic (13) during the second half at the American Airlines Center.
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Jones is a terrific defender. He just missed being eligible for NBA awards in 2023-24 due to the league's new threshold rules, but Jones probably could have been an All-NBA defense candidate this past season. He told reporters after practice on Friday that “next year I'm going to get it.”

Nevertheless, Jones has been willing to guard the best players on opposing teams all season long. There's no question that he will be called upon to defend the Clippers stars in this upcoming playoff series. However, it goes beyond defense for Jones.

In 2023-24, he averaged 8.6 points per game on 48.3 percent field goal and 34.3 percent three-point shooting. He is not going to lead Dallas in scoring by any means, but he is capable of making an impact on the offensive end of the floor.

Mavs head coach Jason Kidd addressed Jones' all-around game while speaking to reporters Friday.

“I think when you look at D-Jones, his calmness, he does his job at a high level,” Kidd said. “Being consistent… We talk about his defense, but he's a capable offensive player too in transition and then also shooting the three. And also playmaking. So we're going to need him to do that on both ends.”

Another element of Jones' game is his explosiveness. He's a terrific dunker, capable of creating a momentum-boosting highlight at any given moment. In the playoffs, finding momentum in any way possible is of the utmost importantance.

In the end, though, Jones' defense will be what makes the most impactful difference against the Clippers.

Jones ready for challenge

LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) controls the ball as Dallas Mavericks forward Derrick Jones Jr. (55) defends during the second half at American Airlines Center.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Derrick Jones Jr. understands that Los Angeles features no shortage of talent. Kawhi Leonard's status is currently in question due to an injury, but even if he does miss time the Clippers feature scorers like Paul George and James Harden on the roster.

“Treat them like they are any other man,” Jones said Friday of defending the Clippers best players. “I just go out there and guard. I watch film, I look at people's tendencies, I watch what they like to do, I watch what they don't like to do. Try to make them do what they don't like to do a lot. That's just what I try to do.”

When asked what Kawhi Leonard specifically does not like to do, Jones said, “go left.”

Defense also requires a confident mindset. Jones is ready for the challenge with Game 1 of the Mavericks-Clippers series right around the corner.

“That's just what I like to do period,” Jones said of defending the best players in the NBA. “I mean, every game excites me no matter who is out there… I want to guard the best player. That's who I am and that's who I'm always going to be.”

Jones has clearly earned the trust of Jason Kidd and the Mavericks to defend opposing superstars. Earning that trust is not easy, especially heading into a postseason series. Jones said it “means everything” to have that trust.

“It means everything. I mean, every player wants the coach's trust. Just from where I came from when I first got here to now having the trust of my coaches and my teammates, I mean, it's a big deal for me.”

Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving will understandably receive the majority of the attention, but Derrick Jones Jr. is the X-factor.