If you had told me going into the Orlando bubble that Tyus Jones was the third most important player on the Grizzlies, I would have thought that you have something against Lithuanians. After all, Jones was just seventh on the team in PER (15.7) and fifth in win shares (3.0). Sure, he had a case to be one of the, if not the, best backup point guard(s) in franchise history—which isn’t exactly a very high bar to clear—but I definitely didn’t believe that he was one of the three most important players on the team. That’s not a status that a backup point guard typically has on any basketball team.
But then Tyus Jones missed the entire Orlando bubble due to knee injury, and the Grizzlies bench unit, which was 7th in points per game pre-bubble (41.1) and 12th in point differential (-0.1), collapse into one of the worst in both categories among teams in the bubble. And the struggles of the Grizzlies bench weren’t because they just coincidentally happened to play poorly at an inopportune time; the offense often became a total mess when Ja Morant was off the court and Jones wasn’t there to relieve him.
Maybe that shouldn’t have been unexpected. Jones has his issues (he is the basketball equivalent of a traffic cone in isolation defense as he ranked in the 4th percentile in that category), but he is legitimately one of the very best pure floor generals in the NBA, evidenced by the fact that he’s led the league in assist-to-turnover ratio the last two seasons. And as solid as they both were over the course of the season, De’Anthony Melton and Kyle Anderson just aren’t natural fits as point guards.
Regardless, the old problem of the absence of stable backup point guard play that plagued the Grizzlies off-and-on during the Grit ‘n’ Grind era came back to rear its ugly head during the Orlando bubble. And it should lead the Grizzlies front office to the realization that they need to acquire a third true point guard during this abbreviated offseason. To be sure, that player will in all likelihood not be as impactful as Tyus Jones, who was absolutely one of the best backup point guards in the league this back year. But another steady hand to guide the offense is a must when the Grizzlies’ offense is apparently one minor injury away from discombobulation.
There are multiple options for the Grizzlies to consider in filling that need in a few weeks with the 40th pick in the NBA Draft. Cassius Winston from Michigan State is a proven winner and leader who also happens to be one of the best overall shooters in his draft class (check my deep-dive on him here). Payton Pritchard from Oregon checks all of those same boxes as well. Nico Mannion from Arizona, Tre Jones from Duke (how neat would him playing with big bro be!), and Devin Dotson from Kansas are also a few other names that could also potentially be available for the Grizzlies.
While the draft does provide some intriguing options, free agency could be the Grizzlies’ best bet in filling this need since there are some veteran contributors that can likely be had for the veteran’s minimum. Brandon Knight, who has been revived since his untimely death in 2013, has struggled to find his footing in the league after a relatively strong start to his career, but he is definitely still talented enough to be the Grizzlies’ third point guard. J.J. Barea may be 36 and coming off a torn achilles, but he may just have enough left in the tank to play some occasional spot minutes. Yogi Ferrell was the third point guard for the Sacramento Kings this past year, and he could just as easily fill that role for Memphis.
Whether rookie or veteran, the Grizzlies do in fact need someone to fill that role. Tyus Jones is a superior floor general that excels in making his teammates better, but Orlando made it obvious that the Grizzlies were too dependent on their backup point guard. And the only way to reduce that dependency is to attain another steady hand at the wheel that can keep the Grizzlies afloat when Ja Morant and Tyus Jones are not on the court/available.