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The quiet growth of Tyus Jones

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Memphis Grizzlies v Utah Jazz Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

When the Memphis Grizzlies signed Tyus Jones this summer, the reasoning behind it was clear. They wanted a veteran presence who could facilitate the second unit with extreme precision and efficiency, and who could play alongside — or next to — Ja Morant over the next few years.

Jones has been regarded as one of the more efficient playmakers among not just reserve point guards, but all guards — he’s been one of the league leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio for some time. Despite his efficiency, he never quite got the opportunity for role progression in Minnesota behind its carousel of veteran point guards.

Now, in Memphis, he has a secure role as the full-time backup point guard. As there is with any role change, there’s an adjustment period. For Tyus, it’s been a good transition-

Memphis was really transparent in free agency when I was signing here. I knew what I expected coming in, knew what my role would be, knew what they wanted from me. Obviously, it’s new, you got to get adjusted. And there’s an adjustment period, but it’s been really good. I have a great relationship with Ja.

You know, trying to help him out as much as possible since the day I got here, first and foremost. And trying to be the best version of myself and the best point guard I can be for this team to try to help us continue to get better each and every day and win as many games as possible. So, it’s been really good for me to stay consistent.

Though there have been some struggles in his game — primarily shooting — Tyus’ playmaking has been a huge asset for this team.

Of anyone that’s averaging at least 15 minutes a game, and has played in 15 or more games, he’s second in assist-to-turnover ratio (4.56) and first in assist ratio (39.5). He’s also 7th in the entire league in assists per 100 team possessions (11.6) — ranking ahead of prolific playmakers such as Ben Simmons, Trae Young, and Nikola Jokic.

Over these past several games, his playmaking has been even more excellent, notching 41 assists against 2 turnovers for a whopping 20.5:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. I don’t care what the sample size is; that’s absolutely bonkers.

In an age where scoring point guards are more enticing, Jones finds satisfaction in finding open looks for his teammates. “I’ve played this way for my whole life,” Tyus said. “There’s been times in my life where I’ve had to score 25-30 points a game in high school. Times in college where I’ve had to have big scoring nights as well. But just being a complete point guard, doing whatever it takes for the team to win, I find more satisfaction in getting an assist than scoring a bucket. It is a little different in today’s game, but I’m just sticking true to what I know, sticking true to myself and just playing the basketball the way I know to play.”

Miami Heat v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Operating with a pass-first point guard has been huge for the second unit, as the Grizzlies rank 10th in bench scoring (39.0 per game) and 1st in assists (12.0). Tyus Jones, along with the system he is becoming more comfortable in, is at the forefront of it, as he knows how to find his teammates in the exact spot they need the ball. That mentality and skill have boosted the confidence of his teammates. They know that with Tyus, he’ll not only get them the ball where they need it, but the encouragement to let it fly.

“It’s dope,” Grizzlies wing Solomon Hill said about playing with Jones. “We’re really getting comfortable playing with each other. I always know that when I’m out there with him, and something opens up, and I’m open, he always finds me. So I’ll always just be ready to shoot. Whether I’m making or missing them, he tells me ‘next shot, big shot.’ He gives me that confidence about it, and I always know that I’ll be open and be ready to shoot the ball. It’s great having him. He’s young, but he’s experienced. So it’s definitely dope.”

“It’s really fun,” Brandon Clarke said. “He makes playing much, much easier. He’s a really, really great passer. He’s a great reader of the defense, and he just makes playing basketball easy.”

When asked about playing with a pass-first guard, fellow Duke Blue Devil Grayson Allen pointed to the mindset of staying ready.

It keeps you alert, because if you’re playing with a guy who you’re not expecting to pass the ball, you’re not expecting to get your shot, you might not be ready for it mentally or physically. So, with a guy like Tyus, I always have to keep my head up, always have to keep my hands ready, and I always got to be ready to shoot, because he’ll find me. And there are times where he’ll kick the ball up, even right after the team scores, just kick it up, and we’ll get something in transition. Or, when he’s driving and he skips it across the floor, throws a bounce pass baseline.
He’s really good at finding guys, and I’m always kind of loaded up and ready and trying to find a passing lane where he could get to me if he sees the pass.

Earning the trust of your teammates is important for anyone on the court, but primarily the point guard. When the four other guys on the floor have that confidence in you to facilitate the offense, it does wonders for the system as a whole.

It’s something we’ve seen with Tyus Jones, and he recognizes the importance of earning that trust.

It’s super important to me, it means a lot to me as well that they have that trust in me. That’s something you have to earn. As a point guard, it’s super crucial to earn that trust early, so it makes your job easier, and you guys to continue to build on that trust. I think everyone in this locker room has that trust in me that they know I can get them the ball in the best position. I’m looking to help them score, and I’m super unselfish in all those things, so I think it’s going extremely well.

Memphis Grizzlies v Utah Jazz Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Tyus Jones isn’t flashy, and he’s not shooting the ball particularly well, but his playmaking and his floor general skills have been nice to watch — both as a basketball purist and as a Grizzlies fan longing for a good backup point guard.

Whenever Jones takes the floor, though he’s not the fastest guard out there, he plays with great pace — knowing when to push the ball up the floor, and when to pull it back and get into a half-court set. He makes great reads out of the pick-and-roll to find open shooters, and he can kick the ball out to open shooters in traffic. As someone who appreciates great playmakers, it’s certainly appealing to watch.

In addition, the quality of ball movement is also hardly sacrificed when the Grizzlies go from Morant to Jones, which is a luxury in today’s NBA. After watching years of seeing the Grizzlies go from Mike Conley to a below-average floor general, it’s refreshing to see a ball-mover like Tyus Jones running the offense.

Box scores or Grizz Twitter won’t tell you this, but he’s also been the best playmaker of any backup point guard the Grizzlies have had this decade. I also don’t know how much it’s saying, but the wide margin here is at least kind of nice.

  • Tyus Jones - 11.6 assists per 100 possessions
  • Nick Calathes (2013-14): 9.4
  • Greivis Vasquez: 9.2
  • Calathes (2014-15): 9.1
  • Mario Chalmers (2015-16): 8.7
  • Beno Udrih - 7.7
  • Shelvin Mack - 7.5
  • Mario Chalmers (2017-18) - 7.0
  • Jeremy Pargo - 6.9
  • Andrew Harrison (2016-17) - 4.8
  • Jerryd Bayless - 3.3

For the backup point guard spot, Jones offers a short-term solution that has the potential to be in the long-term plan down the line — something the Grizzlies haven’t had in quite sometime.

Are there concerns with his shooting and, at times, his defense? Sure, but his playmaking and his desire to get his teammates in a position to succeed is valuable for the unselfish system Taylor Jenkins is trying to develop.

Tyus Jones is still developing, too. And as he gets closer to full comfort in Memphis, the second unit of the Grizzlies will only continue to improve.

Stats found on basketball-reference and NBA.com/stats.

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