After taking Karl-Anthony Towns first overall, the Minnesota Timberwolves completed their 2015 draft night by trading two second-round picks (31 and 36) for the rights to Apple Valley’s own Tyus Jones, who was selected 24th by the Cleveland Cavaliers. The move to acquire Jones, who’d led Duke to a National Championship in his lone collegiate campaign, was met with much fanfare, some measured, some incredibly stupid. Incredibly, incredibly stupid. Incredibly, incredibly, incredibly, incredibly, incredibly, incredibly, incredibly stupid.
In reality, the Wolves had acquired a solid pick-and-roll point guard with winning pedigree, but lackluster athleticism, in hopes of turning him into a solid backup ballhandler down the road. He was (and is) a project, someone who ought to be monitored casually as the important pieces of the foundation are put into place, in hopes that someday he joins them. But because he is from here, and is #OneOfUs, he’ll always have more fans than most backup guards enjoy.
Anyway, Tyus was the fourth-youngest player in the NBA this season, and often looked it. He was undersized and overwhelmed, especially at the defensive end of the floor. To the Wolves’ credit they brought him along slowly; Jones appeared in just 10 of Minnesota’s 54 games before the All-Star break. Tyus also got some D-League experience during that stretch, averaging 25 points and 5 assists on 59% True Shooting during a six game December stint with the Idaho Stampede,
He appeared in 27 of the Wolves’ 28 post-All Star Break games, averaging 4.7 points and 3.3 assists on 37% field goal shooting and 29% three point shooting in 17 minutes per outing. There was one rough shooting stretch where he went 12-for-46 from the floor, including 0-of-17 from outside the arc, over the course of 11 games in late March. Despite that, his Net Rating remained pretty good during his run of playing time at the end of the season. For most Wolves players, the key to posting a solid Net Rating is getting to play with Ricky Rubio a lot; Jones was afforded no such luxury, as the two shared the floor for a whopping 2 possessions, per NBAwowy. The dropoff between Ricky and Tyus was only 5.4 points per-100 possessions, somewhat impressive considering Tyus led a second-unit compromised of way too much Adreian Payne, Greg Smith and Tayshaun Prince.
Although he had his shooting woes, it’s clear what Flip Saunders saw in Tyus Jones when he decided to make the effort to acquire him. Tyus takes care of the basketball; he committed just 2.1 turnovers per-100 possessions this season, which is an insanely low figure for a point guard. He “gets it,” which is a difficult thing to describe, but if you watched him on offense this season, you know what I mean. He’s interested in running the offense efficiently and helping everyone execute. The offense wasn’t always pretty when Tyus was in charge, but it was usually due to a lack of scoring talent in the lineup; juxtapose that with so much of what we’ve seen of Zach LaVine at the point, which is all-too-often features lots of confused looks by teammates and broken plays for LaVine to try and rescue. It’s not like that with Tyus. Things look right,somehow, even if the results aren’t there yet.
The trick for Jones, especially under the Wolves’ new regime, is figuring out how to be a competent defender. Tom Thibodeau has done some pretty terrific work with undersized backup point guards in the past (Aaron Brooks and Nate Robinson immediately come to mind) and managed to build top-flight defenses anyway. If Tyus can figure out a way to hold his own on the defensive end, he should be able to stick around long enough to see what kind of offensive maestro he can become.