Sometimes, more times than most may realize, the true value of a person is not known until they are unavailable at a time when they are needed the most.
For the Memphis Grizzlies, that perfectly defines the unexpected and unfortunate early end to Tyus Jones’s 2019-2020 season.
After the Grizzlies bench had emerged as one of the best units in the league before the suspension of the regular season in March, it was viewed as being one of their best advantages against talented teams in the bubble. However, mere days before their first game, it was revealed that Jones would be out with a knee injury. Jones’s absence was immediately and frequently felt. With Tyus Jones before the suspension of the season, the Grizzlies were 6th in points per games, first in assists per game and first in FG% among NBA Bench units. Without Jones in the bubble, the Grizzlies were 16th in points per game, 9th in FG%, and 20th in assists per game. The drop-off in effectiveness was clear, and the Grizzlies ability to close gaps with their bench units in the game was negated. This was a significant reason why the Grizzlies finished 2-7.
The big reason the Grizzlies missed Jones so much is due to his historical playmaking efficiency. He once again showed that ability last year; however, Jones also showed improved ability as a scorer and shooter. As a result, though Memphis would certainly be perfectly fine with Jones offering similar value going forward that he did last year, there is legitimate hope he becomes a more well-rounded and valuable player.
2019-2020 Season Review
As the Grizzlies were attempting to gel together as a roster over the first six weeks of last season, Jones also took a bit a time to find his groove. However, from the start of December and beyond Jones really stepped up as the leader of the Grizzlies bench. As mentioned above, Jones continued to validate his historic efficiency as a ball handler. That allowed the Grizzlies to remain highly consistent and productive with other players like Brandon Clarke, Kyle Anderson, and De’Anthony Melton as games transitioned to second units. These four names were the most frequent members of the Grizzlies three and four man lineups with the best offensive and net ratings last season.
Jones really emerged as an intriguing and reliable shooting option for the Grizzlies. Though Dillon Brooks and Jaren Jackson Jr. are more productive overall shooters, Jones was the Grizzlies’ most accurate three point shooter in catch and shoot and pull-up scenarios. In fact, among all NBA players that produced 175 or more points in pull-up situations after December 1st, Jones had the eighth best pull-up FG%. For a team that was last in the league in pull-up FG% from beyond the arc last season, Jones’s ability as a shooter was a significant development.
Overall, Jones certainly took a step forward as a offensive player, both individually and creating for his teammates. A legitimate case can be made that Jones and Ja Morant were one of the best point guard combinations in the league, and Jones easily emerged as the best back-up point guard in Grizzlies franchise history.
Jones is one of the easier players to project on the Grizzlies roster. He will likely play twenty minutes per night and remain the floor general for the Grizzlies bench. If Morant is off the court, then Jones is likely in the lineup as the main ball-handler. With his efficiency as a passer and decision-maker, that obviously is ideal for the Grizzlies, who want to remain among the most productive passing teams in the league.
SEASON BEST CASE SCENERIO
The best case scenario for Jones likely centers on his teammates complimenting his scoring ability while he continues to effectively compliment theirs. Obviously, that begins with Jones being able to remain healthy, which should not be too big of a concern when looking at his career overall. In terms of the potential lineups that Jones could be leading, names such as Grayson Allen and Desmond Bane add consistent outside shooting options that could compliment the abilities of Jones, Melton, and Clarke.
Furthermore, the playmaking abilities of Allen, Bane, and Melton could also allow Jones to find more looks for himself when he is on the court. He has never averaged more than two 3PA per game. However, after his production last year, if Jones can average above three or more 3PA per game, it could allow for Memphis to feature their most accurate three point shooter in higher percentage situations. The added ability from Jones and the rest of the Grizzlies’ reserve shooters could truly make Memphis the premier bench unit in the league, which is clearly a best case scenario for Memphis’s pursuit of the playoffs.
SEASON WORST CASE SCENERIO
Obviously, this begins with the health of Jones. Though there is no concern from his knee issues in the bubble, a long stretch without Jones would be a significant negative development for Memphis due to the reasons mentioned above. However, if he were to stay on the court, another worst case scenario would be if there was a regression in his shooting abilities. Though unlikely, if Jones is not able to build on his offensive progress from last year, limiting him to 15-18 minutes a night is a ceiling for his role in Memphis.
Though his role is clearly safe besides the Grizzlies crowded backcourt, the Grizzlies need as many reliable shooting options as possible. This is especially true when it comes to the accuracy from distance that Jones showed last year. It seems a big reason that Memphis targeted Jones last year to backup Morant is due to the Grizzlies thinking there was plenty of untapped potential in Jones as a shooter. If Jones were to take a step back in that area of his game, it could begin to limit his long term outlook in Memphis and his career.
Overall, if Jones can simply replicate the production he showed last year from December through March, that is a highly valuable development for the Grizzlies roster. It should not only allow for the Grizzlies to remain among the most effective benches in the league, the added shooting depth could allow for them to be even better than they were last year.
Along with his passing, there should be a significant uptick in his shooting frequency. While Jones will likely never be a significant scorer, becoming a reliable shooter is certainly within reason. Through his playmaking and improved shooting, Jones could be a big reason why the Grizzlies could find much needed improvement in their production from beyond the arc. If that were to happen, it also could allow for Memphis to once again exceed expectations and become a true playoff contender this season.