The Minnesota Timberwolves had the opportunity to match a three-year, $28 million offer sheet that Tyus Jones signed with the Memphis Grizzlies and declined to do so. The Wolves weren’t comfortable going that high price-wise, and they’ll live with the results.
Jones played his first four seasons in the NBA for his hometown team after being selected with the 24th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers and subsequently sent to Minnesota in a draft night trade. Minnesota was almost all he knew in the basketball word – he did spend that lone season at Duke in school – and now the sides are moving on.
When the Wolves made the decision to not match Memphis’ offer, they essentially decided that they didn’t see Jones as the point guard of the future. He’s spent much of his career being a topic of debate – whether or not he was an NBA starting point guard. The Wolves just showed how they felt.
In his four seasons, Jones has done some things really well. He’s been an above average passer and has taken care of the basketball like few others. In the 2018-19 season he set the NBA record for assist-to-turnover ratio at 6.8-to-1. Jones is a solid defender, and was by far the best defensive option for the Wolves at the point last season.
He’s a serviceable point guard in the NBA, there’s no question of that. There are, however, questions of what he’s worth to the Wolves due to his limitations.
Offensively he struggles to shoot the ball from the outside and isn’t a great finisher at the rim. Jones isn’t the type of guard that can create his own shot, either. The Wolves are going to eventually want someone in that spot that can get to the rim and finish or create his own shot, and Jones doesn’t do either at a very high rate. This past season he shot 55% at the rim, which was below league average. From 3-point range he finished as a 31.7% shooter, which isn’t nearly good enough.
For as good as Jones was at taking care of the ball, he wasn’t viewed as that much of a positive on the offense end by some metrics. According to ESPN’s Offensive Real Plus-Minus, Jones ranked 40th among point guards with a 0.13 mark. That was behind the likes of players like Marcus Smart, Ricky Rubio, and the newly acquired Shabazz Napier.
Smart was given a four-year, $51 million contract, mostly for his defensive abilities. His contract also could have conveniently made a trade between Boston and another team for a super star a bit easier, but Boston hasn’t been able to make that happen (despite so, so, so many alleged close calls).
Rubio was viewed as a higher priority than Jones this offseason and agreed to a deal with the Phoenix Suns on the first day of free agency for three years and $51 million. It wouldn’t be surprising if that’s a very regrettable contract for the Suns down the road. They overpaid his worth. Rubio is better than Jones, but probably deserved to be paid in the neighborhood of Jones’ offer sheet.
The Wolves didn’t want to move on from Jones if they didn’t have to, but at that number it’s understandable to see why they did. Is Jones really worth that much? To the Grizzlies he might be, but they’re a team that’s likely years away from contention and have the cap space to play with. As things stand right now, the Grizzlies are projected to enter next summer with roughly $34 million in cap space, including Jones’ contract.
The Wolves have pressure to find a way to become competitive while Karl-Anthony Towns is under contract and enter next summer with a projected cap space number of just under $9 million. Signing Jones at that number would’ve sapped that all away. The Wolves are being forced to operate under a tight budget thanks to some of the sins of Tom Thibodeau. They’re paying for sins of the past, and losing Jones is part of that.
In a perfect world, the Wolves would have liked to keep Jones at a lower number, that wasn’t going to happen once Memphis came in with the offer that Jones agreed to. If Jones was a sure-fire starting point guard in the NBA, it would have been a no-brainer to match the offer sheet. Because Jones isn’t that, the decision shouldn’t have been a very difficult one for the Wolves, despite Jones’ history with the organization.
The Wolves are going to take another swing at a big name at some point, whether it’s via free agency or in the trade market. Letting Jones walk makes that easier to accomplish financially, and that might be the price to pay in order to create a window of competitiveness.