'By: Jake Paynting
Tyus Jones. The Timberwolves' ever-polarizing backup point guard. A man universally loved by his hometown Minnesota fans and despised by Derrick Rose apologists (there are a whole lot of them). A man who, despite playing well at every chance, has never really fit into what head coach Tom Thibodeau has implemented since arriving in the Twin Cities.
He averaged 5.1 points, 2.8 assists and 1.2 steals in sporadic minutes last season, which included his first 11 NBA starts. At times, he was the ideal fit next to the ball-dominant Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins and - to a degree - Karl-Anthony Towns. The ball never sticks to the 22-year-old's mitts, and his pesky defense has been one of the biggest surprises coming out of his title winning year at Duke.
Evidence of Jones' high caliber floor general-ing comes in one of the more frequently cited Timberwolves statistics this year; The lineup of Jones, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Taj Gibson and Karl-Anthony Towns not only had thebest net rating (+23.5) out of any Wolves five, it ranked as the best line-up in the league that featured in over 200 total minutes.
Even Butler, who has been reported to rub teammates the wrong way, has taken a shine to his reserve point guard.
"Tyus plays basketball the right way and he takes and makes big shots all the time; the most outstanding player in the tournament, don’t forget that, Tyus Jones." he said in a early-season post-game interview. "I mean, he gets on our nerves. He's like calling out plays and just [because] we don't want to hear his voice, we do what he tells us to do. At the end of the day, I guess he calls out the right ones", Butler joked after another game.
The advanced statistics love him, and clearly, his fellow squad members do too. So why couldn't Tyus Jones average over 18 minutes per game? Why did he feature in 10 minutes or less in a whopping 11 different games? The fact is he doesn't fit the model that 2011 Coach of the Year has hammered in place since his Windy City beginnings.
Derrick Rose, CJ Watson, Kirk Hinrich, Nate Robinson, Dj Augustin, Aaron Brooks, Ricky Rubio and Jeff Teague. That's the list of one-guards that have played over 20 minutes per game under Thibs. Apart from Rubio - who was promptly traded after a single season - all of those guys are score-first, create-second players. They are all shifty bucket-getters who can take over stretches with a scoring outburst. Jones is the square peg when it comes to this round hole.
At a meager 6-foot, with a solid burst of speed and a toughness that is surprising for his size, Jones fits the physical bill of a Thibs favorite. However, the former Duke star isn't mentally built like the aforementioned group of guards. He will often look to pass before even thinking about jacking up a shot, even if he has been nudged into a scoring role by his coach.
Even good friend Jimmy Butler was overheard multiple times last season telling his point guard to fire more shots off. So it isn't just the coaching staff urging Jones to become the dynamic scorer he has shown flashes of being.
Of course, coach Thibodeau could try to change his ways and successfully integrate a player of Jones' quality into his offensive scheme. Especially since he shines on Thibs' favored defensive end. However, we have seen enough to know that the 60-year-old doesn't adjust as quickly as some other head coaches. Instead, we can only hope that Tyus Jones receives the transmission loud and clear: Shoot more and you play more.
The Timberwolves bench finished 16th in points per 100 possessions last season, so maybe the mad scientist Minnesota calls its coach has a valid point. With former MVP Derrick Rose back in the fold, Tyus Jones will need to transform his pass-first mentality this off-season if he wants to earn ample minutes and a nice payday next summer.