What Does Tyus Jones’ Summer League MVP Mean?
Let’s start with the easiest answer to the question above: not a damn thing. Here’s a sampling of previous Summer League MVPs: Josh Selby, Glen Rice Jr, Nate Robinson. And sure, John Wall and Blake Griffin have also been Summer League MVPs, but the whole thing is voted on by media members who have been in Las Vegas for nearly a week and half. Do you think their decision-making faculties are at their absolute best? This year, they left both Devin Booker and D’Angelo Russell off the All-NBA Summer League teams in spite of their excellent play. Some guys play two games, some guys play seven, and some guys — like Tyus Jones — lead their 24th seeded team to the championship game against the second-seeded Chicago Bulls. How, precisely, does the seeding work, you ask? Don’t ask. Nothing in Vegas makes sense, which is why it’s the perfect place for Summer League.
But let’s get into the thorns with that main question, though: Does Tyus Jones’ performance in Summer League mean anything in particular for his career in the NBA?
Well, Jones is always going to have to work much harder because of his physical limitations. He’s 6-foot-2 by the NBA’s generous measuring standards with a 6-foot-5 wingspan. Ricky Rubio — who’s not viewed as particularly big — is at least two inches taller and has at least three more inches on his wingspan. Rubio is also an elite passer and defender, while Jones is not. While we’re at it, Jones is also not an elite shooter.
And not only is he small and average skillwise, he’s slow! He breaks our fundamental, video-game expectations of the physical tradeoffs in basketball: the big guys are big but slow, the little guys are little but fast. But all these limitations are something we’ve known about Jones at least since he was drafted.
What’s been encouraging about his performance in Summer League has been the evidence that Jones is taking steps to harness the thing that will keep him in the NBA, if anything can: the stuff between his ears. What he’s shown off is consistency, adaptability, a willingness to take what’s given and make the most of it, an ability to command the floor. Does he look much, much better doing that against sub-NBA competition? Absolutely. But while Jones will have to cultivate his physical skills, will have to hone them to their utmost potential to even meet the baseline for the NBA, what Summer League showed is that if he can leverage his mental capacities, he can stay on the floor at the highest level.
But beyond what it augurs for Jones’ career specifically, his Summer League is once again an effective reminder that NBA basketball is just one kind of basketball. Because it’s a sport, its ends are fundamentally competitive rather than creative, but in many ways, it has genres like music. In terms of skill and vocabulary, Jones in the NBA is a blues guy at a jazz night. He can hang, but once he’s pushed out of his comfort zone, he’s going to be inconsistent — on the straight ahead stuff, he can sound good, but as the changes get faster, he fumbles it.
At Summer League, though, he’s the old hand running the Sunday night blues jam. Sure, there are relative prodigies who can tear it up (Booker, Russell) and then there are plodders who hold it together well enough to occasionally come up with something good. But Jones is that guy who does a little bit of everything — a little rhythm guitar, a little lead, backup vocals and then sings lead a couple times.
The good news for Jones is that that kind of versatility absolutely has its place and uses in the NBA. Weirdly, I don’t think it will be Jones’ physical limitations that keep him from sticking on an NBA team. So long as he knows and understands those limitations, it will be his ability to come in and confidently run a second unit that will make keep him in the league in the long run.