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The tenacious Tyus Jones

Though 2021 has been an up and down experience for Tyus Jones, his tenacity has lead to plenty of triumphs as the calendar approaches 2022.

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NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Miami Heat Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Though the Grizzlies are arguably playing their best stretch of basketball since Taylor Jenkins arrived in Memphis, they certainly can be viewed as an enigma. Despite the ascension of Ja Morant into a clear All-Star type talent, the Grizzlies looked like a clear lottery team just as much, if not more, than they did a playoff hopeful over the first month of the season. Then, when it seemed as if things may take a turn for the worse, the Grizzlies won3 five straight games due to the emergence of Desmond Bane and a consistently effective defense.

That is what has been most encouraging about the recent play of the Grizzlies. As inconsistent as they were through the first month of the season, consistency in the play of several Grizzlies players have finally allowed for them to find a stretch of sustained success. Bane’s ability to score, Jaren Jackson Jr’s impact and production on both ends of the court in the paint, and Dillon Brooks stabilizing the effectiveness of the defense are all wonderful developments. Patience and less bad luck also have certainly helped.

The games of Morant, Bane, and Jackson Jr. evolving to the next level and the return to health of Brooks has rightfully been the most important individual storylines this year. However, the return to form of a few veterans as sources of positive value have also been a worthwhile development. In recent days, Steven Adams finding his role as a scoring source to support his elite rebounding production has been a welcome sight. Furthermore, Tyus Jones’s early season production putting him on pace to have a career year offensively as a scorer (to go along with his consistent historical efficiency as a playmaker) has been a needed boost of support for Memphis.

Beyond the Grizzlies, it also certainly is a great development for Tyus’s career itself.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019-2020 was certainly a great opening season for Tyus Jones in Memphis. Not only did he arguably play the best basketball of his career between December of 2019 through March of 2020, but his absence during the bubble also clearly validated his value to the Grizzlies, especially when Ja was off the court. As a result, with a return to good health, the hope was that the Grizzlies would have one of the better 1-2 point guard combinations in the league for the 2020-2021 season.

Unfortunately, the 2020-2021 season had just as much, if not more, stretches of struggle than success for Jones. Overall, his durability and efficiency once again made him a valueable second-unit floor general. However, his scoring rates certainly took a dip. After posting a production line of 45.9 FG%/37.9 3P%/51.4 eFG% during the 19-20 season, Jones’s numbers dipped to 43.1%/32.1%/48.5%, respectively, during the 2020-2021 season. Beyond his ability to lead the offense and effectively move the ball, Jones simply did not offer a lot of value. As a result, there was a stretch late last season where the Grizzlies experimented with Justise Winslow as the backup point guard to utilize his defense. Though the experiment did not work out with Winslow, it was clear that that Grizzlies really wanted more that just someone to initiate the offense from the backup point guard position.

Narratives from this past offseason continued to validate the Grizzlies desire to have has many players in their rotation that could offer positive value in multiple ways on the court. The added emphasis between offseason workouts and the NBA summer league of players such as Desmond Bane, Xavier Tillman, and John Konchar becoming more effective playmakers illustrated that preference. With Jones on an expiring contract, and the Grizzlies trading away other veterans on expiring contracts in Jonas Valanciunas and Grayson Allen, it seemed that Memphis was open to the idea of moving Jones in the right deal. Rumors around the time of the NBA Draft suggested as much, with the Grizzlies looking comfortable having the backup point guard duties being filled by a committee approach with Ja Morant off the court.

Though the Grizzlies were likely seeing what opportunities could be available to move Jones in the right move, it also seems they did right by Jones in keeping in contact with him as the summer progressed. Jones somewhat alluded to this at the 2021 Grizzlies Media Day. Yet, despite still being only 25 years old, Jones was entering his seventh season in the NBA. His quiet yet confident demeanor, team-first attitude, and experience as a NBA player allowed for Jones to simply now there is a business side to the league. The unwavering tenacity of Jones in knowing how the NBA operates, knowing his game and his abilities, and knowing he can make the most of what he can control allowed for to him to remain focused on making the most of his opportunities this season.

And that is exactly what he has done.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

The historical efficiency is still there for Jones, as he keeps producing noteworthy stretches of his excellent playmaking. As of Thursday, Jones was the first NBA player in 40 years with 100 or more assists and 20 or less turnovers through his team’s first 25 games of the season. He was producing career norms in assists production despite a bit of a dip in overall usage.

However, the most encouraging and exciting development for Jones so far this year has certainly been the fact that his shooting rates are currently at career bests. Last year, as mentioned above, Jones produced a 43.1 FG%/32.1 3P%/ 48.5 FG% production line. This season, through 25 games, Jones’s production line was at 46.1 FG%/40.7 3P%/ 53.5 eFG% with a true shooting percentage of 57.1%. While Jones is not increasing his overall scoring volume, he has significantly improved his shot selection, scoring balance, and accuracy this season.

Jones also is producing career high rebounding numbers, and has performed very well as a starter in the absence of Ja Morant over the past two weeks. In terms of his defense, according to Cleaning the Glass, Grizzlies’ opponents score 7.8 points less per 100 possessions when Jones is on the court versus when he is off, which is the 88th percentile among NBA guards. That is the best mark of Jones’s career, and shows his defense is continuing to improve as he ages.

Beyond the potential to have a career year, the outside the box score impact of Jones remains as strong as ever. With the Grizzlies coming into this season as one of the youngest teams in the NBA, Jones’s steadiness and consistency would be more important than ever to help young players continue to develop. As has been the case since he joined the Grizzlies, Tyus Jones has always shown a commitment and desire to not only improve his play, but the play of his teammates as well.

The good play from Jones allows the Grizzlies to have options moving forward. As of now, the most likely scenario is that Memphis and Jones will continue to benefit from his good play during a playoff pursuit. However, the improved play from Jones and the fact that he is on an expiring contract could make him a valuable asset in a trade. While it would need to be the right deal at the right price for the right player, the Grizzlies have traded veterans on expiring contracts before during the season if they felt a deal made sense to help the team in the present and the future.

Regardless of what the future may hold, it is quite clear that both Jones and the Grizzlies are benefitting from his play right now. And his tenacity— in knowing his role, knowing his game, and having trust in knowing he will make the most of any situation that comes his way—is once again resulting in triumphs for both he and the Grizzles. Whether his future may continue in Memphis or elsewhere, Jones’s improved play could certainly benefit both the Grizzlies and himself for the rest of this season and beyond.

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