In case you haven’t heard yet, the Memphis Grizzlies signed restricted free agent Tyus Jones to a 3-year, $28 million offer sheet. As is the case with all offer sheets, the Timberwolves will have three days to match the contract and bring back the 23-year-old back to his native Minnesota.
At a touch over $9 million a year, a deal that would push the Wolves right up against the luxury tax line, there is certainly an argument against bringing back a reserve point guard whose size and shooting stroke have caused worries for his entire career.
However, there is plenty to like about Jones. And it all starts with his ability to get others involved and keep an offensive engine running smoothly. There has been plenty of noise made about his NBA record assist-to-turnover ratio, for good reason.
Jones is a master of choosing the right play to make and avoiding dangerous decisions. He isn’t going to make flashy or risky passes, or overextend himself trying to take on a defender who has his measure. Instead, he makes cerebral and calculated rulings on a consistent basis.
That kind of risk-free play is the reason that the lineups Jones featured in were usually such a positive. For the entire 2018-19 season, there were 19 five-man lineups that played over 50 minutes together, 11 of which had positive net ratings. Of those 11, Jones appeared in five. Of the remaining eight with negative net ratings, Jones featured in just two.
The play below is the perfect example of what makes Jones such a smart decision maker. He could have easily turned the ball over, jacked up a rushed shot, or completely turned his back on the play that was unfolding after he fumbled the fast break pass. But in true Jones fashion, he recovers the ball, reads the situation in a split second, and fires a pinpoint pass to a streaking Karl-Anthony Towns.
In pick-and-roll, the most popular and important play in basketball, Jones excels as a passer while maintaining efficiency as a scorer, too. Whether it’s slipping pocket passes through tiny gaps, or lobbing passes over caught-out defenders, coaches and fans are rarely worried when the former Duke man is surveying the pick-and-roll.
With the Timberwolves offense built around Towns, having a player like Jones who incessantly looks like for his rolling bigs is extremely important. Despite the stigma that Jones struggles to score the ball, he is actually a passable pick-and-roll bucket-getter. He scored 0.90 points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball handler last season, which ranks him in the 69th percentile. Not great by any means, but he is crafty enough to get by.
Obviously, it would be ideal if he shot more than 31 percent from behind the 3-point arc, or had more size and strength to finish through the trees at the rim. Even without those desirable traits, Jones remains an effective offensive player who undoubtedly helps run an efficient offense.
What Gersson Rosas and the rest of the New Wolves Order should really be taking a long look at is how Jones operates in team and individual defense. Like his offense, his size and athletic ability holds him back from being a truly damaging defender, but he uses every ounce of tenacity and basketball IQ he possesses to be a pesky defender.
He finished last season ranked 17th among point guards in defensive real plus/minus, which was actually a steep drop-off from 2017-18, where he finished second. While he is rarely caught out of position and tends to be a step ahead of offensive sets, his real value comes in his quick hands. That allows him to poke balls away and jump passing lanes to cut off loose passes.
It’s rare you find such a smart defender at Jones’ size, let alone one with less than five years of NBA experience. As his career blossoms, it wouldn’t be a stretch to picture Jones becoming even more dangerous on the defensive side of the ball. If he does, he could easily live up to his $28 million price tag.
When you look past the basic statistics and really examine the impact of Tyus Jones, keeping him around makes a ton of sense. When you factor in that Jeff Teague has often been injured during his Minnesota tenure and is on the final year of his contract, it seems like a no-brainer.
A sum of $9.3 million per year might seem a little bit steep for a backup point guard who admittedly has his flaws, but if the Wolves front office believes he can continue to grow into a low-end starter or a high-end sixth man, they shouldn’t stress about the deal.
Biting the bullet and rolling with Jones for the next three years would be a smart move, and if he does flop, it shouldn’t be a deal that is untradeable. Minnesota has been star-chasing this summer, despite being on a severely limited budget, so don’t be surprised if the let Jones walk.
If they do re-sign him, though, it would be a solid deal and will help a team that needs all the help they can get.