MINNEAPOLIS — On Thursday the Minnesota Timberwolves ruled three players out for the remainder of the season with injuries. Robert Covington hasn’t played since the calendar flipped to 2019 with a bone bruise in his right knee, but both Jeff Teague and Derrick Rose have been in and out of the lineup with their aliments before being shut down.
The injuries end the thought of “what could have been” for Covington, a forgetful, injury-riddled season for Teague, and leaves the memory of a career resurgence for Rose feeling distant.
The Covington injury has hindered the defense, but at least it’s been a constant for the past couple of months. It’s something the Wolves have learned to play without, even if the results have been bad.
The constant shuffle at the point guard position with both Teague and Rose being in and out of the lineup coming to an end does benefit the Wolves in one way. Their last 10 games will now be a real opportunity to watch how Tyus Jones operates as the starter as he approaches restricted free agency.
Jones hasn’t been given that opportunity, partly due to his own health issues, but also because Teague and Rose have been ahead of him in the pecking order. The 10 games remaining in the season – 11 if counting Thursday’s game in Charlotte – with Jones as the starter are a small sample size, sure, but it could also be a telling one.
This season Jones has started in 13 games and played over 30 minutes in only nine contests. Unless foul trouble is an issue, there shouldn’t be a single game the rest of the season that Jones doesn’t play 30 or more minutes. The offense should be handed over to him.
Interim coach Ryan Saunders often speaks to how he views the point guard as an extension of the coaching staff on the floor – that’s a view shared by many coaches across the NBA – and has said countless times how he has a trust in Jones. This final stretch of games is an opportunity to show that being the case.
“People know how I feel about Tyus in terms of, I know Tyus is a winner,” Saunders said in February. “I’ve known Tyus for a long time.”
Jones is one of the longest tenured members of the Wolves. Saunders has been here every step of the way for his professional career. If there’s a coach that could help to get the best out of Jones, it’s probably Saunders.
“We’ve known each other for a while. We have a great relationship, not only as coach-player, but person-to-person off the court as well,” Jones said in February. “He’s someone who means a lot to me, so that just helps make everything easier on my end on the court and on his end as a coach.”
That relationship Jones shares with Saunders should help lead to an improvement in his play on the court.
Jones’ numbers haven’t been great since Saunders took over, and there’s no question that his ankle injury that caused an absence of 13 games has had a bit of a lasting effect on his game. The thinking is that as he continues to find his way back down the stretch, he’ll get better.
His shooting has struggled, but he’s consistently taken care of the basketball and found teammates for open looks. Over Jones’ past 12 games he’s dished out 61 assists while only turning the ball over eight times in that stretch. That assist-to-turnover ratio of 7.63-to-1 is among the NBA’s best in that stretch.
Even if the health is a question mark, having the stability of the starting job and the confidence that his role won’t change the rest of the season could be something to help too. He may not be the starter for the long term, but it’s a good thing that he will be the unquestioned starter for the rest of the year.
The Wolves – and other teams in the market – will have a decision to make on Jones this upcoming summer, and this final stretch could help both sides figure out what the right fit is moving forward.