Tyus Jones impressive in NBA Summer League for Timberwolves

MINNEAPOLIS -- Tyus Jones provided a not-so-gentle reminder that he's still a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves' up-and-coming roster with his play during the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.The Apple Valley High School graduate was pushed to t...

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Tyus Jones, right, is tripped up by Chicago Bulls forward Dez Wells during the NBA Summer League final on Monday at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. (Photo by Stephen R. Sylvanie / USA TODAY Sports)

MINNEAPOLIS - Tyus Jones provided a not-so-gentle reminder that he’s still a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves’ up-and-coming roster with his play during the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.
The Apple Valley High School graduate was pushed to third on the Wolves’ point guard depth chart when Minnesota drafted Kris Dunn with the No. 5 pick in May’s NBA draft, but he was the best player on the floor in Las Vegas after Dunn went down with a concussion after two games.
Over the Wolves’ final six summer league games, Jones averaged 22.2 points, 7.7 assists and 1.5 steals while leading Minnesota to the league final - the current peak of post-2004 Wolves playoff basketball - Monday night, which the Chicago Bulls won 84-82 in overtime.
The summer league isn’t elite competition, but there’s almost always a first-round draft pick or two on the floor, and Jones was head and shoulders above most of them on his way to Summer League MVP honors.
This all after Jones, the 24th overall pick in the 2015 draft, looked average amid a pool of pedestrians in last summer’s competition, when he averaged 7.8 points and just two assists per game.
Jones’ 2016 summer league performance doesn’t mean he’s a great player - nothing like that can be proven in Vegas - but it does provide further evidence to what the eye test suggested toward the end of last season - that he’s progressing.
Jones’ rookie campaign featured a short stint in the NBA Development League, numerous “inactive” games and too many “DNPs” to count. But in late February, he was given the chance to play, and while his performance was rough at times, like that of the rest of the team, he seemed to slowly adapt and develop.
Two of Jones’ best performances came in the final five games of the season. Jones had seven points, five assists and no turnovers in Minnesota’s upset win over Golden State, and the Wolves outscored the Warriors - the greatest regular-season team of all time - by 19 when Jones was on the court. In the regular-season finale against New Orleans, Jones finished with nine points and a season-best 12 assists.
He just might be figuring things out.
Detractors mention Jones’ size, defense and athletic ability as weaknesses. Although the prototypical point guard size is growing, many competent floor generals are small. Jones is listed at 6-foot-1 - the same height as Phoenix’s Eric Bledsoe. Sacramento’s Darren Collison and Dallas’ J.J. Barea are 6-0, and Boston’s Isaiah Thomas is 5-9.
Jones’ non-elite athleticism will probably keep him from ever being a lockdown defender, but he has demonstrated the basketball IQ necessary to at least be in the right place at the right time. And even if Jones, who is two years younger than Dunn, never improves his defensive game, he will exist among the roughly 75 percent of NBA point guards who also struggle on that end of the floor.
Still, Jones’ 2016-17 outlook isn’t pretty. He’ll begin the season behind Ricky Rubio and Dunn on the Wolves’ depth chart. There won’t be many minutes to spare for Jones.
Rostering a third point guard isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just ask those 2003-04 Wolves, who lost Sam Cassell and Troy Hudson to injuries and were forced to start Darrick Martin against the vaunted Lakers in the Western Conference finals.
But it makes sense for Jones to be considered Minnesota’s backup point guard of the future, however unsexy that sounds. Currently, the Wolves have two starter-quality point guards in Rubio and Dunn, and it’s unlikely they will co-exist for more than a couple of seasons, assuming Dunn ascends at the rate expected from a top-five pick who played four years in college.
The backup point guard role is one Jones seems more than qualified for, particularly based on his recent development and ability to run an offense.
So don’t write off Tyus Jones just yet. He might be a pivotal cog in the Wolves’ machine for years to come.

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