I had lofty hopes when Jalen Cone reclassified into the Class of 2019 and signed early with Virginia Tech basketball.
247Sports’ Composite rating placed him just outside the top-100 and ranked him the ninth-best point guard in the class. Cone held offers from numerous Power 5 programs, including Tennessee, Baylor, Miami and Stanford. He was a bonafide prospect.
Cone has flashed his potential before — his 17 points vs. Delaware State and 20 points vs. Miami last season are just a couple examples. But Virginia Tech needs him to maintain this level of play as the Hokies enter the meat of their ACC schedule.
The diminutive guard has shown big on the scoreboard in Virginia Tech’s last two contests, scoring 18 points in each game. He’s been lethal from behind the arc, hitting 11 three-pointers on 26 attempts. But Cone’s shooting has been just about all he’s offered thus far.
And here’s where Virginia Tech needs him to grow. At 5-foot-10, Cone lacks the size to be an elite defender. But he’s more than capable of being an all-around offensive player, we just haven’t seen it yet.
Cone has essentially become an off-ball guard, spacing the defense with his ability to shoot the three-ball. But other than being a floor spacer, Cone hasn’t offered much. And it’s a shame, because behind the three-point shooting exterior is an athletic guard who should be able to attack and distribute.
One of the reasons Cartier Diarra was brought to Blacksburg was to attack off the bounce and create opportunities for others. Diarra recently opted-out of the season, however, leaving a void off the bench for Virginia Tech.
The Hokies need Cone to fill that void. And given his high school film, there’s no reason to believe Cone can’t bring some of that talent to this year’s version of Virginia Tech basketball.
It’s important that he does, because last year’s version of Virginia Tech basketball lacked that sort of creativity and explosiveness off the bounce. Tyrece Radford provided just about all of it by himself, but it wasn’t enough.
So when Tech’s offensive sets started to slow or get repetitive, the Hokies’ offense came to a grinding halt. That lack of shot-creation on the perimeter played a key role in Virginia Tech’s poor finish to last season.
Cone has the talent and skill to supplement Virginia Tech’s perimeter playmaking. Radford is once again doing his part, though he’s been far less efficient thus far. Nahiem Alleyne has led the way from the perimeter, leading all guards/wings with 11.6 points per game. He’s also increased his field goal percentage and three-point percentage from last season.
Virginia Tech has other options. Joe Bamisile is carving out a spot in the rotation to go along with Radford and Alleyne. Hunter Cattoor and Wabissa Bede are mainstays, but neither offers the kind of explosiveness of the bounce that Cone theoretically has.
One of Mike Young‘s tasks for the rest of the season is unlocking Cone’s bounce. Cone should be more than just a spot-up shooter — 39 of his 45 field goal attempts this season have been threes.
Adding that into his repertoire not only makes Virginia Tech better, but it gives Cone a chance at making it at the next level. There is no demand for a 5-foot-10 shooter in the NBA, but there is demand for a 5-foot-10 guard who can space the floor and attack the basket.
If Cone’s role moving forward is “the shooter”, then I’m confident he’ll succeed in it. But Cone has more to offer. Virginia Tech needs to see it.