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The constant evolution of Tyus Jones

He has turned his biggest weaknesses into bonafide strengths.

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NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Before discussing any specific area of his game, you have to start with the most fundamental truth about Tyus Jones as a player and person: He’s a bonafide winner. If you doubt that, here’s a running list of his accomplishments:

  • 2011 FIBA Under-16 Gold Medalist
  • 2012 Minnesota AP Player of the Year
  • 2012 Minnesota Gatorade Player of the Year
  • 2012 FIBA Under-17 Gold Medalist
  • 2013 Minnesota AP Player of the Year
  • 2013 Minnesota Gatorade Player of the Year
  • 2013 Minnesota Class 4A State Champion
  • 2014 McDonalds All-American
  • 2014 Minnesota Mr. Basketball
  • 2015 NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player
  • 2015 NCAA Champion
NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Jones has, of course, built on all of this incredible success when he was younger and has become almost inarguably the NBA’s best backup point guard. Even the moniker of backup doesn’t really do him justice anymore, as he has proven his capability to be a high-level starter. He’s averaging 21.1 PTS and 7.6 AST in 7 games as a starter, which only serves as the delectable cherry on top of a season in which he is averaging career highs in almost every single category of production (16.3 PTS and 7.6 AST per 36 minutes) and efficiency (54 eFG%). He may still technically be a backup, but there may not be 20 better point guards in the NBA today than him.

Yet for all of the success that he has accomplished, I would still consider it surprising that Jones has become this impactful as an NBA player. The reason that he fell to the 25th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft in spite of his winning credentials and pedigree wasn’t just because he was small (generously listed at 6’0”), but also because the perceived deficiencies in his skill-set prevented him from compensating for his lack of size. He was a decent shooter but not a great one. And while he demonstrated exceptional touch on his patented floater, many believed that his lack of burst and overall athleticism would render him a relatively poor finisher against bigger, more athletic NBA players.

For the most part, this evaluation proved to be accurate over Jones’ first four years in the NBA. He struggled to carve out a consistent role under Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota (which may have had more to do with Thibodeau than Tyus, but I digress), and he hardly provided any value outside of being a quality game manager who didn’t turn the ball over. He was a mediocre three-point shooter (33%) who rarely attempted them (1.5 attempts), and he almost solely relied on his floater to score.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

But after arriving in Memphis, Jones slowly began to evolve and diversify his offensive skillset. Much has been said about his growth as a shooter, as he has removed any doubt that his eye-opening improvement from last season (39% on 2.8 attempts) was a contract-year anomaly. He is currently the Grizzlies’ second-best shooter behind only Desmond Bane, shooting 39% again except this time with a career-high volume of 4.1 attempts per game.

His shooting has transformed him from a game-manager into a legitimate three-level scorer that can thrive both on-the-ball and off-the-ball. He shoots 58% on corner threes— which leads the entire NBA(!!)—and 38% on catch-and-shoot threes, which is first on the Grizzlies. His impact is also undeniable as a shot-creator, as he ranks 15th in FG% (43.6) for off-the-dribble jumpers. On a Memphis Grizzlies team that often struggles with shooting and shot-creation, Jones’ continued progression in these areas since last season has truly been vital.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

However, for as impactful as his shooting has been, it has been Jones’ evolution as a finisher at the rim —long the most obvious hole in his game — this season that has fully empowered him to become the high-level starter that he has always believed himself to be. He is currently shooting a career-high 71% at the rim, which ranks in the 88th percentile. For context, Ja Morant —already one of the best paint scorers and finishers at his position in NBA history — is shooting just 61% at the rim.

His touch around the basket has developed to the point where he can manipulate almost any angle to finish at the rim, like he does against Nickeil Alexander-Walker here:

Of course, like with anything, context is important. Teams aren’t doing everything in their power to run Jones off the three-point line like they are with Bane, and they aren’t stacking the paint in a desperate attempt to keep him away from the rim like they do with Morant. So you shouldn’t consider his eye-opening success in both of these areas as conspiratorial evidence that he’s secretly an all-star who merely needs to be fully unleashed.

But still, Tyus Jones is now more than just a game manager. He doesn’t just not turn the ball over, but he puts the ball in the basket from every spot on the court with a frequency and efficiency that now forces teams to game-plan for him. He doesn’t just serve as the understudy to Ja Morant, but he can effectively play alongside him and even fill in for him with little-to-no drop-off in the team’s overall performance. He is, again, a winner.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

To be sure, there will soon come a day when Tyus Jones finally receives the starting job he has always craved. And whether that comes in 2024 or sooner, he will prove once-and-for-all how far his evolution has come. In the meantime, the Memphis Grizzlies will be happy to continue enjoying the fruits of it.

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