2015 NBA Draft, 2015 Offseason

The Tyus Jones Experiment



When the Timberwolves traded the 31st and 36th overall picks for the rights to Minnesota native Tyus Jones, people saw the decision in different ways.

For some (including myself), the pick/trade brought in a player with relatively decent amounts of potential to contribute right away for the Timberwolves. Others saw Jones less as a good prospect, and more as a prospect from Minnesota.

Understandably, this might be enough to get the most casual of the Minnesota sports fanbase excited. In other words, he’s a nice marketing tool in the short-term, even if he doesn’t work out in the long-term.

That’s what some critics of the pick have made mention of. While Jones was unquestionably a reasonable pick at 24, and a need-filler for the Timberwolves, there were other players at that spot (RJ Hunter comes to mind) that could have also made sense. On a similar note, it’s also unclear how available Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant (who went 19th – 5 picks ahead of Jones) was to the Timberwolves. Are the 31st and 36th picks more valuable to Atlanta than Tim Hardaway Jr.? I’ll let you answer that question yourself.

Lastly, the big question that has been all over the internet since the trade: If Tyus Jones wasn’t from Minnesota, does Minnesota trade up to get him?

My answer: Maybe…….. Okay, probably not, but he’s a pretty good pick for the Wolves either way.

Yes, Jones is a hometown guy, but he was also a pretty damn good college basketball player. He was key contributor on an excellent Duke roster, and at times played like the best point guard in the country. Putting his clutch championship game aside, Jones had 6 20+ point games despite his pass-first instincts. His regular season was good enough for an AP All-American Honorable Mention, despite Okafor frequently gobbling up lots of the shotclock, stats, and praise, near the hoop.

Jones’ 41 percent shooting from the field is no doubt alarming (as is his on-ball defense), but his high IQ combined with a new role player status should put him in better position to get open shots.

Was some his success a result of Jahlil Okafor’s dominance? Of course, but the Blue Devils didn’t dominate all season and end with the championship by exclusively riding Okafor’s coattails. While the offense was in Okafor’s hands, it was Jones’ job to get the ball thereTeams never win titles that way. Whether it was 70% Okafor or not, Jones showed excellent basketball IQ in the pick and roll, and had good recognition on when to take his shots. While too few of them went in on certain nights, his form didn’t seem to be the problem, and his jumper should work itself over time if he puts in the work.

Worst case scenario, he’s a short-term qualified backup point guard with good point guard skills, pretty good scoring instincts, and good speed. Unless he really flops, he should fit the bill. But he could also be better than that.

The trick here is, again, the Minnesota effect, and how the fans respond to Jones. In the scenario where Ricky Rubio struggles early, and Jones succeeds in limited minutes, there is certainly a chance that the casual fanbase could make an annoying narrative about Jones’ deserved increased minutes.

Even with the possibility of that reaction looming, the likelihood of Saunders responding to appease that crowd seems almost nonexistent. While part-owner Saunders will probably enjoy seeing ticket sales go up as part of the Jones trade, he did just sign Rubio to a multi-year extension of over $10 million per year. He’s not about to put that on the bench for the sake of a late first round pick.

Jones is from Minnesota, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a good get late in the first round. He was going to go in that range regardless, and this trade would have been far less of a big deal had any other team made the trade.

Still it could end up getting annoying if too much of the wrong crowd overvalues Jones because of where he grew up.

So, for the sake of sanity in what could be an unbelievably fun Timberwolves future, let’s enjoy Tyus Jones as part of the roster this season, but keep our expectations in perspective.

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7 thoughts on “The Tyus Jones Experiment

  1. Nice write up.

    With all Tyus’ success at the high school and college level, it is easy to get a head full of dreams about what he can do, even if they are utilitarian dreams like hoping he’s a good back up point guard. The fact is though, the correlation between high school and college success and NBA success isn’t always strong. Sometimes guys who were only serviceable college players blossom in the NBA. More often, guys who have decorated careers as amateurs don’t translate to the NBA. Tyus has had ‘winner’ written all over him since he started playing basketball, but that’s not enough in the NBA. Before and even immediately after Duke’s championship Jones was ranked fairly low on boards, and only started to heat up closer to draft time. This coincided with Cameron Payne flying up the boards, so perhaps teams with a PG need were realizing that there were a limited number of reasonable options for that position in this draft.

    It’s hard to predict what Tyus will look like in the NBA. He has a host of red flags–mediocre speed, not good size and strength, below average athleticism, and a history of not very good defense. He has confidence, smarts, a great feel for the game and true point skills. However, he’s had the luxury of being on very good teams in high school and college. What will his weaknesses look like on a team that doesn’t have the ability to dominate right away? I’m not sure if it’s the general feeling in the air, or that Jones is from Minnesota, but even among sober basketball nerds there seems to be a tendency to have high expectations for this pick. I like Tyus, although I never liked him as a pro prospect. But taking specific player evaluation out of the mix, the truth is the success rate of 24th picks isn’t great. The floor is pretty low, and the ceiling can be high, but it is hard to reach from 24. This may be the best chance Tyus could hope for as far as situation, but here’s a few recent 24s: 2014–Shabazz Napier 2013—Tim Hardaway Jr. 2012–Jared Cunningham 2011—Reggie Jackson 2010—Damion James. There are a few home runs at this spot in our era too, like Sam Cassell and Serge Ibaka, AK47, Derek Fisher and Latrell Sprewell and Sabonis. A quick eye test suggests about 1 in 3 players taken with this pick end up having long productive NBA careers. A handful of these guys are major steals at 24. In this respect, Tyus has an uphill battle, but not an insurmountable one to have a good NBA career. I am choosing to expect little right now and cheer him on hard. I’m not sure it is helpful or wise to have expectations for him out of the gate.

  2. I remember earlier this year I was listening to a Vikings podcast where P.A. was interviewing Peter King. P.A. asked him what he thought about the Duke game he witnessed the night before. P.A. (and everyone else) was expecting King to rave about Okafor’s game and such and he basically said, Okafor is nice and has some offensive weaponry but he wasn’t super impressed with him. King goes on to say, I had no idea who this kid was before this game but the best player on the court was Tyus Jones. I know Peter King is a MMQB guy but he is also a basketball fan and he’s been around the block in sports. It was at that point I was thinking Jones could be more than just a marketing tool if the Timberwolves drafted him. I’m personally intrigued that the Wolves grabbed him and am hoping the fact that he is from Apple Valley just means Flip had that much more time spent watching/evaluating him over other possible prospects. I ultimately don’t care where Jones came from…as long as he can play and by all accounts, he can play.

    1. When I hear that Peter King anecdote, I think, “Well, PK is a legendary suck-up who lets the NFL commissioner use him as a PR firm; of course he’s going to bring up Tyus on a Minneapolis radio show.” Reporters who focus more on interviews and access don’t watch the games with the same attention to detail a scout or coach would. I’d guess 50-75% of reporters interviewed on TV or the radio can’t really be trusted to effectively evaluate players.

      1. That could very well be the case. I guess I didn’t really mean to make him sound like a guru or anything. It was more his analysis helping my thought process on Jones fork a little bit from where it began. Prior to that interview I strictly thought Jones would be an early second rounder going to the Wolves just to sell tickets. After paying a little more attention I noticed he has some game. I’m just hoping it translates into a good backup role in the NBA…and I do mean backup. There’s no way he’s “better” than Rubio on almost any level.

  3. Perfect analysis, Tim. The two crowds that think “Yay! This guy is so good that now we can trade Rubio” and the “This guy stinks and we only drafted him because he’s from MN” need to cool it a bit.

    Most late picks in the mid-20’s represent either proven college players with clear deficiencies like Shabazz Napier, JaJuan Johnson, and Jordan Adams or guys with all the tools but with little track record like Ibaka, Reggie Jackson, and Rudy Gobert. Jones clearly falls in the former category as the leader and MVP of a championship Duke team but with clear issues with his size and athleticism to make the jump to the next level.

    I think Tim and I could start a third camp called “Getting Jones was absolutely the right move, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.” The Wolves had a definite need at backup PG and once Jerian Grant went off the board at 19, Tyus was arguably the best PG prospect left on the board. There are a couple more factors in play that haven’t really gotten much mention that make this a good move, one being that the Wolves are capped-out and couldn’t realistically have gone out and gotten a solid back-up PG in free agency (so getting a back-up PG on a cheap rookie contract that you can go over the cap to sign is smart). The other is that the Wolves don’t have the roster space for two more players and don’t own their own D-League team, so using both of their 2nd round picks on developmental players would have been a faux-pas, meaning a 2-for-1 pick swap was absolutely the right move to make. Jones being from MN was just icing on the cake to seal an otherwise solid move from a basketball personnel perspective.

    However, let’s be real here. Rubio is still waaaay better than Tyus right now and there is a high probability that Tyus never even becomes as good as Rubio was in his rookie season. There were clear reasons he fell to #24 and there is a very mixed track record of PGs with mediocre athleticism and size falling into the 20’s, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves and anoint him our franchise PG before he even steps on the floor.

  4. I wanted Delon Wright real bad in this draft, but he went too early which was too bad. I thought his age would push him back far enough. That being said I am fine with Tyus Jones, he is a good backup PG option. It will be nice to have a backup come in and run the designed offense, instead of a PG that looks for his own shot.

  5. I know most of the people I talk to think it was a good pickup but are in the “let’s see what he can do at this level” camp. In fact I have only seen a couple bobos call for a Rubio trade on the Strib, and I recognise the names as the same ones who would complain if the sky was blue the sun was shining and the breeze was just right because the day could have been better if it fell on a Saturday.

    I am going to enjoy this team for what it is now, young and diverse. By diverse I mean it’s not a bunch of players who all play the same two positions with a very little talent at the other three spots. I am excited about the potential, of not only what we have now but that we could have 2-3 years from now. There are probably quite a few teams that would trade their entire roster for ours.
    If 2-3 years from now Tyus bombs and a star emerges from the 25th-60th pick the I told you sos will come out of the woodwork. At least guy like William and other have called their shot. But I don’t think the kids going to bomb, I look for him to become a solid rotation player. at 24th (or 30 and 36) that’s what you’re hoping for. Considering our past drafts BF (Before Flip) we couldn’t even manage that even with all of those lottery picks.

    On that subject; Interesting note from last Thursday. One of the commentators mentioned that the Spurs only have only player on their roster that they selected in the lottery. He’s a hall of famer lol but think about that and where we’ve drafted.

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