The Memphis Grizzlies roster is largely composed of previously unwanted misfits who are now thriving overachievers. Josh Jackson, Jonas Valanciunas, and Kyle Anderson are prime examples of players who resurrected their careers with the franchise. But there is one name I purposely left out who undeniably fits the bill as well — Tyus Jones.
Jones spent the first four seasons of his pro tenure as a backup floor general with the Minnesota Timberwolves. The youngster’s stint was marred by inefficient shooting. He averaged 5.1 points per game on just 41.9 percent accuracy from the field and 33.3 percent from deep as a T-Wolf. Following his disappointing stretch in Minnesota, Jones agreed to a three-year, $28 million offer sheet from Memphis this past summer, which the Timberwolves declined to match. In hindsight, this deal turned out to be quite team-friendly for the Grizzlies.
Jones is enjoying far-and-away the best year of his career with Memphis this season. He has achieved career-highs in both points and assists per 36 minutes, all while shoring up his perimeter woes. Due to the 24-year-old’s multifaceted skillset, he’s a prime fit alongside the squad’s do-it-all offensive phenom: Ja Morant.
Jones’ outside scoring complements Morant’s facilitating prowess
Morant is a generational playmaker. Despite not even being old enough to legally consume alcohol, he ranks in the 83rd percentile among point guards in assist percentage per Cleaning the Glass. To boot, his 6.9 dimes average this season leads all newbies.
Now consider this. What sort of players do front offices tend to surround the league’s greatest passers with? Perimeter marksmen is the answer. There is a reason why three-point specialists have followed LeBron James’ every move over the past decade. A select few talents can see plays before they happen. Morant is one of them. He has already proven to possess otherworldly vision and the capability to complete passes that are of a high level of difficulty. Playing with elite facilitators like Morant that draw the attention of the defense opens up catch-and-shoot opportunities.
Jones excels at knocking down treys off the catch. On 1.1 catch-and-shoot triples per game, he managed to knock down 42.7 percent of them. According to Cleaning the Glass, Jones spent 100% of his time on the court this season as a point guard. As such, he did not get a legitimate opportunity to play off the ball. But his success in shooting non-pull-ups hints to the notion that he could effectively serve as a spot up shooter at times.
Morant’s dribble penetration is an invaluable weapon in his arsenal that manufactures scoring chances for his teammates. Although, because Jones has only shared the court with Ja for a total of 42 recorded possessions — he has yet to benefit from it. That is a shame, because a Morant-Jones backcourt is bound to give the opposition fits as a scoring tandem.
Jones’ presence adds another playmaking threat in the backcourt
The more the merrier, right? While both Dillon Brooks and De’Anthony Melton have had their fair share of encouraging moments at the two-guard spot for the Grizzlies— neither can make the players around them better like Jones can. His assist to usage ratio of 1.53 (which ranks in the 93rd percentile for his position) is the best mark of anyone on the team. Additionally, Jones is second behind Morant in assists (4.4) despite playing only 19 minutes per contest.
Memphis would have their two deadliest pick-and-roll creators on the floor at once in Jones and Morant. Tyus and the gravity he draws will address a glaring need, as the first string’s lack of playmakers aside from Ja became apparent as the year wore on. Morant has an immense amount of pressure upon him to lead the offense whenever he takes the floor — and rightfully so. Jones will lighten the rookie’s tremendous workload. Ja should, of course, remain the primary ball handler, but turning to the fifth-year guard to initiate the pick-and-roll on occasion will add an extra dimension to the starting unit’s offense.
Jones’ 0.92 points per play average as the pick and roll ball handler this year should have Memphis faithful encouraged. For comparison, this ranks superior to Dennis Schroeder, Malcolm Brogdon, and D’Angelo Russell — all of whom are revered as scoring-facilitating dynamos. Also, only 7.4 percent of Jones’ pick and roll actions resulted in a turnover, further cementing his case as a dependable maestro.
All in all, expect ball and player movement to increase should Memphis decide to consistently pair Jones as Morant’s running mate. As great as the Grizzlies offense has been in 2019-20, this backcourt would allow it to reach new heights.
Nightmare duo in transition
It is no secret that Memphis flourishes in the open court. At 17.9 fast break points per game, they sit fourth in the entire NBA, behind only the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, and Los Angeles Lakers. Not too shabby company. Fellow Grizzly Bear Blues writer Shawn Coleman released an in-depth piece earlier this week on why a fast-paced attack is one of the keys to how the team will fare in Orlando. I could not agree more with this sentiment; the Grizzlies youth can give them an advantage, believe it or not, and they have plenty of it. In fact, Memphis is the NBA’s youngest club. The blue and gold will frequently seek to capitalize on defenses that are slow to get back by utilizing their athleticism and speed.
Forced turnovers led to many of the Grizzlies’ fast break chances — and nobody on Memphis turned the opposition’s mistakes into open court scores with greater consistency than Jones and Morant. A staggering 70.8 percent of Morant’s pickpockets led to a transition play (89th percentile for his position). Furthermore, Tyus Jones added 2.5 points per 100 possessions on steal-fastbreak sequences alone, which has him in the 93rd percentile among all point guards, according to Cleaning the Glass. Although both are league-average defenders at best, they can be relied upon to, at the very least, harass floor generals and make their life difficult. Couple that with the likelihood that Memphis’ already elite transition game would take another step forward if the duo shared the floor, and it becomes clear that their capability to turn the opposition over will help to offset their defensive shortcomings.
Jones-Morant breakaways have the potential to become a staple of the group’s uptempo play-style. Let’s hope we can get a glimpse of what these two can do together on the fast break in the near future.
Memphis would be wise to test the waters with a Tyus Jones-Ja Morant pairing in the backcourt. They are a seamless fit alongside one another, particularly on the offensive end. Their proficiency as perimeter shooters, facilitators, and break-starters will serve the Grizzlies well in Orlando. Considering that Memphis experimented with playing the tandem during the latter part of their scrimmage against the Philadelphia 76ers, perhaps we will continue to see them on the court together as the seeding games draw near.