Although Tyus Jones was drafted by his home team two years ago with the Minnesota Timberwolves, he has never had an easy path to finding playing time in the NBA.
In his first year, he bounced around between the D-League and the NBA and primarily got to finally see the court after the All-Star break when Zach LaVine moved to shooting guard permanently and Andre Miller’s body broke down. Andre Miller got extended run time that year behind Rubio, the Zach LaVine point guard experiment was still ongoing, and the team was generally a mess for much of the year.
In that environment, it was not clear what Tyus was going to be able to do, but he was a rookie point guard and thus faced a steep learning curve.
Going into his second year, the Wolves drafted Kris Dunn, who immediately took precedence over Tyus Jones in the depth chart. Jones’ per game minutes actually went down from Year 1 to Year 2, but he played in 60 games his sophomore season as compared to the 37 in his freshman year.
Once again, Jones struggled to find predictable playing time. Dunn often looked lost orchestrating an offense and Jones checking in often prompted a sigh of relief among Wolves fans, as while Jones certainly struggled in some areas, he at least could ensure that an offense was running relatively smoothly.
Towards the end of the year, we also saw a few sets where Dunn and Jones were sharing the court, a throwback to Summer League, but this also proved to have mixed results.
Jones improved pretty much across the board in several major statistical categories even as he received inconsistent playing time. His per 36 minutes shows stable scoring, but a slight uptick of assists, steals, and rebounds, with slight decrease in turnovers. His three-point shooting greatly improved, jumping from 30.2 percent to 35.6 percent, which helped his true shooting percentage jump from 45 percent to 52.3 percent.
His advanced statistics also improved over the last two years in the way that you would want to see out of young players, with his WS/48 going from .027 to .096 and BPM going from -3.7 to -1.8.
It became clear last year that while Tyus was never going to be a starting point guard, as his diminutive size and limited athleticism would prove problematic against the top tier players, he certainly could develop, if he was not already there, into a smart backup point guard who a coach can trust to run the floor with the second unit.
However, as is the familiar refrain in Tyus’ career so far, the Wolves have brought on another point guard that may eat into his playing time. This year, it is Aaron Brooks, a former Thibs’ Bulls point guard.
The rationale is understandable for bringing in a veteran point guard to shore up the unit’s depth. First of all, the Wolves are already light on wings and guards, as they have heavily invested into their front court. Secondly, while Tyus may certainly seem to have played well enough to earn the position of backup point guard, he has not played heavy minutes at this point in his career. If Jeff Teague went down with an injury for any length of time, the Wolves would not have a lot of options other than letting Tyus run the show. It might be good to have options with a team that should be making the playoffs.
But Tyus Jones is a winner. Coming off his NCAA Championship victory with Duke University, he has been thrust into uncertain situations where a player could easily have been lost in the fold and been turned over as end-of-the-bench fodder. All the while, Jones has been relatively successful in the few minutes that he has been provided.
Going into his third season with what figures to be the best team that he has played with, Tyus faces more uncertainty. Although the roster has improved, the bench unit seems to be, yet again, another island of misfit toys.
Theoretically, we could say that Jones, Jamal Crawford, Shabazz Muhammad, Nemanja Bjelica, and Gorgui Dieng would be a five-man unit that would fit together somewhat (at least on offense), but it is hard to know how Thibs will conduct rotations this year.
Jones might also have to fight off Jamal Crawford taking on facilitation duties, as well as watching out for a quick hook in favor of Aaron Brooks, who Timberwolves reporters have noted came here for playing time.
This is where it will likely be helpful for Tyus that he has had to fight his whole NBA career to prove himself. Whether he comes off the bench immediately with the second unit or has to earn his playing time yet again, Tyus has proved he has the mental capability, as well as real skills, do be able to do so.
It is hard to expect anything less than another step forward for Tyus this year. It may not happen right away, but he has shown he can be a quality backup point guard in the NBA. This year should hopefully solidify that idea.