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The ongoing growth of Tyus Jones

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Tyus Jones showed why he’s one of the steadiest back-up guards in basketball, and there can be more to his game too.

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NBA: Playoffs-Utah Jazz at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Usually I would find the more analytical perspective to best review a player. However, today I’m more inspired to “Shoot from the hip” in review of Tyus Jones. At times, he’s the most underrated player on the team. Many times, Tyus has clearly been the backbone of the Memphis Grizzlies’ bench at it’s peak.

The Duke alum has always been a steady ball handler — if nothing else with his assist to turnover ratio at 5.39/1 keeping him amongst the best ever in said category. He is also one of the best free throw shooters you’ll ever see. That said I can’t help but wonder why he doesn’t look to utilize such a skill more often? Why isn’t he working more tirelessly to get to the charity stripe and this play to his near historic strengths?

“Well does that help his individual production or does it help the team?”

Well both actually. These are the points that get you in rhythm to take the longer shots from the perimeter. Not to mention the increase in traditional three-point plays he would naturally see by being more aggressive against opposing defenses. By doing so, you command respect from opposing defenses, which opens up more passing opportunities to feed the off-ball guys such as Brandon Clarke or even Desmond Bane outside.

Tyus averaged just 6.3 points per game. He shot 43% from the field, despite shooting only 32% from three-point territory. The former says he’s at least solid as a finisher when decisive. His true shooting percentage of .511 is consistent with this theory as well.

If he’s this decent as a scorer in terms of efficiency, then why isn’t he more productive offensively? Well, some may chalk it up as a lack of confidence.

“The boy needs some mojo in his flow!”

Maybe so, but it can also be the signs of an ultimate team player who loves to make the right plays versus padding his statistics. Jones has always been a team leader — and leadership requires sacrifice — but even sacrifice can be to a fault. Sure he averages 3.7 assists per game, and even can be labeled reliably healthy since he played 70/72 games the season. However, this season Tyus wasn’t the sparkplug that jump-started one of the very best second units in the NBA last season.

“Well that’s why Minnesota allowed him to walk for nothing just four years after drafting the hometown hero in the first round!”

Well Tyus had his moments this season, like having the first 20-point game of his six-year career. Ironically, he also became so dispensable around the same time this season. In fact, Jones struggled so badly the latter half of the season, that the team decided to experiment with swapping out Tyus Jones for Justise Winslow as the backup point guard. The craziest thing about that is they did so in the middle of a playoff seed race, and lost position as a result. Now Tyus proved to be a much better option despite his struggles, but the mere fact he left the door open to such chance speaks volumes to where he is today as opposed to where he was at the end of his first season in Memphis — when people felt he would eventually be leaving soon to be a starting point guard somewhere. A feat still very possible for the young Minnesota native.

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

Tyus may not be the most productive player on the team, but he certainly isn’t lazy by any stretch. His 15.0 PER shows he gets after it in terms of mainly points, rebounds, and assist activity in his limited time. He looks to make the easy passes, and he hustles which leads to many of his points and rebounds. His win shares, offensive win shares, and defensive Win Shares are all 1.3 or higher. In fact, his Offensive Win shares is 1.5 — which is higher than that of future Hall Of Famer Russell Westbrook who sat at 0.5 this season. In terms of Win shares per 48, Tyus is 1.10 while Russ sits at 0.75. Not to mention Tyus has a plus VORP rating at 0.8, which means there are many instances where Tyus contributes more positively towards winning than even Ja Morant. This is possible despite having a very modest usage rate of 16.6.

However, Tyus must prove next season that he is truly consistent and reliable across the board, especially in terms of scoring. He has to be more aggressive even when his shot isn’t falling. Not only is that the best chance of improvement and getting hot, but it also keeps the defense honest and makes for easier passes, and thus even easier scoring for his teammates. Tyus often used the floater in his first season to attack the rim, but when he struggled shooting, he went away from nearly all scoring moves together for stretches. Tyus is just too skilled to be invisible so long. Plus Memphis youth can’t afford for their veteran point guard and leader of the second unit to go cold for such stretches and expect to get very far. Another way he can improve is his corner three ball, of which he shoots only 31% this season.

This summer, Jones has to prioritize shooting from distance, as well as utilizing his ball skill to get to the line to create more easy scoring and heat checks for himself but also again opening things up for others. His most similar performance arc through five seasons in terms of win shares is more along the lines of CJ Watson and Jeremy Lamb. One would hope for performances similar to the latter. In terms of plus minus per 100 possessions, the numbers show that he is really strong and impactful in terms of the little things, along with his passing and defensive prowess — though he struggled there at times as well with a team statistically lead defensive rating of 112, although his offensive rating is higher (115) despite his shooting deficits.

For Tyus, it boils down to a few things: shooting, consistent defense, and confidence. Confident Tyus is so good you’re scared you’ll lose him eventually for a starting job elsewhere. It’s also the ultimate insurance plan when Ja needs rest or isn’t available (knock on wood). Time will tell how much he prioritizes his shooting and scoring prowess. If he doesn’t improve, I’m certain he will be moved for a more cheaper or reliable option to handle backup floor general duties, especially being Ja plays the Lion’s share of those minutes. So, there maybe better use of nine million in annual salary than using it on a backup point guard who can’t shoot and allows his confidence to waver as a result of his lack of shooting preparation. Who knows the chance of either one are 50/50 at this point.

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