Minnesota product Tyus Jones gives team a lift when needed
MINNEAPOLIS—When Zach LaVine exited Monday night's game against Dallas with a bruised left hip with 11 minutes to play, Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau turned to the bench and appeared to call for Brandon Rush.
Rush whipped off his warmups and made his way toward the court, only to be recalled to sit back down. Thibodeau looked back at the bench and called for Tyus Jones.
Yeah, that Tyus Jones, the Apple Valley native who hadn't appeared in a game in a week and hadn't played more than 10 minutes in a contest since November. The second-year guard who has the Timberwolves' best offensive rating, effective field-goal percentage and plus-minus, with Minnesota outscoring its opponents by 41 points when he is on the floor this season.
Thibodeau called for him.
"Thibs called my name, and that's what they say, you've got to stay ready, stay into the game mentally, stay ready physically just in case something like this might happen," Jones said.
And ready Jones was. In 11 minutes, he scored seven points — on 3-for-3 shooting — with a rebound and a steal while helping the Timberwolves hold onto a fourth-quarter lead — a rare feat this season — to snap a four-game losing streak with a 101-92 victory over the Mavericks.
The performance wasn't an aberration for Jones, more so the status quo. He has given the Wolves a lift seemingly every time his number has been called.
"Every time he plays," Thibodeau said, "good things do happen."
So what makes Thibodeau so nervous to put Jones on the floor?
"Nothing, really, to be honest," Thibodeau said. "He's great in practice, he's great in preparation. I think he's going to get better and better as time goes along."
Which prompts the question: Why doesn't Jones play more?
"One of the hard things is when you have to settle on a rotation, sometimes there are players that are deserving (but) you can't play everybody," Thibodeau said, "because if you do that, then you're going to take away from other people, too, so you make a decision (and) you go from there."
The decision, as it stands, is that Jones, like Rush, is a situational player. The situation was right on Monday; with LaVine down and Dallas playing two small guards at once, pairing Jones with another point guard like Ricky Rubio or Kris Dunn made sense.
That gave Jones an opportunity. He knows how precious those are for a player normally posted up on the pine.
Every time Jones hits the floor, he makes a case for more playing time. Monday's performance included convincing evidence. Perhaps the strongest piece was the three-pointer he buried off an assist from Karl-Anthony Towns, who passed to the perimeter after he was double-teamed in the post, to put the Wolves up 13 with 2 minutes, 45 seconds to play.
Jones' closing argument was the 10-foot floater he made to give Minnesota a 12-point advantage with 48 seconds left.
"He's an amazing player," Towns said of Jones. "He comes every day ready to work. Every single day he's improving. You may not see him play all the time in games, but when he comes in you always know he's ready to go. That's being a true professional.
"I'm so proud of him, because for him not to play a lot of times, then come in and hit those kinds of shots, the floater and three, that's big-time. That's what makes him a true professional. That's why he's going to be in this league for a long time."
The dwindling Target Center faithful, which clamors for the Minnesota native to play when he's stuck on the bench and roars every time he scores, seems convinced that Jones could use at least a few more minutes.
Still, the decision of whether to play Jones won't be made by a jury of Wolves fans but rather Thibodeau. And his judgment doesn't appear to have changed. The current rotation, which doesn't include Jones, remains the same.
"But it doesn't mean it always stays that way," Thibodeau said. "The only thing that Tyus can do is practice well, which he does every day. He's so consistent and he practices great, and it gives me confidence so that when he does go in, I know he's going to perform well. He takes no shortcuts, he's a great teammate, he adds a lot to our team. I know what he adds to our team, even when he's not playing. So he's a very important member of the team."
For now, Jones must simply accept the verdict.
"I understand (it)," Jones said. "Obviously it's frustrating. Everyone wants to play. You want to be out there trying to help contribute to the team, but at the same time, Coach is calling the shots, and he doesn't have me in the rotation. That's fine. You've got to be the best teammate then, cheering on everyone, making sure you're still into the game, still trying to help out the team in any way possible."