The Wolves completed their first win of the season when trailing entering the 4th quarter in Phoenix on Friday. Even more surprising than the second half comeback was the hero of the game, Minnesota’s own Tyus Jones. The Apple Valley native entered the game with 5:33 left in the 3rd quarter and would not leave, leading the Wolves on a 42-18 run to close the game.
Albeit in limited minutes, Jones has quietly been the best point guard option for the Wolves this year. He’s played in 168 minutes compared to Rubio’s 299 and Dunn’s 200 and has been easily the best offensive option, scoring 10.9 points per 36 minutes and adding 7.9 assists while Rubio and Dunn are scoring just over 7 points. Rubio’s assist rate is slightly higher but he also has been turning the ball over nearly twice as often as Jones.
The real division thus far has been the spacing. Tyus’ TS% is .559 while both Dunn and Rubio are well under .500. His improved shooting has been the key to his game in 2016, going 7-18 from deep on the year (38.9%), and giving Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins space to operate. Rubio hasn’t been able to do this year at all, with defenders often roaming around in the paint and completely ignoring him. In the last 5 minutes of the Suns game, there were multiple possessions where Tom Thibodeau went to Point Wiggins and had Tyus space out to the corner. The defense has to honor him there because he shoots over 50% from the corner and Andrew was able to Maple Step past Len for an easy bucket. Rubio, on the other hand, is essentially useless on offense unless he has the ball in his hands. Tyus has posted a staggering 125 offensive rating and has improved his defense tremendously, getting steals at the same rate as notorious ball-hound Kris Dunn, and posting a respectable 106 defensive rating.
In the match-up against the Suns, he was a team-high +22 in just under 19 minutes. A glimpse into the line-up data reveals how valuable Jones has been this year. The only 5-man line-up with a positive net rating (that has been on the floor for more than 15 minutes) has been with the regular starters, with Tyus in Ricky’s place. It’s easy to put that success on everyone but Tyus, but a look at the best 3-man line-up has been the combination of Tyus Jones, Andrew Wiggins, and Karl-Anthony Towns. They’re obviously the two foundations of the franchise moving forward, so it’s positive to see that Tyus gels with them. His improved shooting has been the key to his game in 2016.
Jones led the Summer League squad to the championship game, earning MVP honors. A second-year player should be able to dominate in Summer League, as most of the competition won’t end up playing in the NBA, bute went to Las Vegas looking to make a statement and has continued that into the regular season, despite the rumblings that he wouldn’t make the 15-man roster once Thibs brought in John Lucas III. Tyus had a rough rookie season, but he’s come into the 2016-17 season looking much stronger and in command. The metrics have shown that he’s been the best Timberwolves point guard so far, and his track record in high school and college have proven him to be a winner. Dunn may have the higher ceiling with his explosive athleticism and long wingspan, but Tyus deserves to be playing ahead of him right now and given more time with the starters.
Also, obligatory mention of Zach’s ridiculous dunk over Alex Len.
Thoughts About the Thoughts
Brian: Tyus definitely has the most upside of a Summer League MVP since Damian Lillard, and I’m always fascinated by the relationship between Summer League/rookie league/preseason play and actual season success. We’re in the midst of the Cleveland Browns being one loss tomorrow away from their own special 0-16 start (the inverse of the Serena/Nole Slams), all of this to say, the Wolves run to the championship game this summer adds a level of intrigue for if/when this squad will do the same in the main event.
Image: Ralph Freso, Associate Press. All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.