*Note: Over the next couple of weeks we’ll be posting grades for many of the Wolves decisions made this offseason, one by one. Today we’re starting with the decision to let Tyus Jones walk via free agency to the Memphis Grizzlies*
The Minnesota Timberwolves acquired Tyus Jones from the Cleveland Cavaliers via trade on draft night of 2015. The Minnesota kid got to stay home and start his professional career with the Wolves. Now, the two sides have parted ways.
This is one of the more interesting parts of this offseason for the Wolves. Jones had been with this Wolves for the first four seasons of his career, and it was no secret that he and head coach Ryan Saunders had a close relationship. But at the end of the day, the NBA is all about business, and it’s fair to say the Wolves couldn’t afford Jones at the price Memphis signed him (three years, $28 million) if they only see him as a backup point guard.
While revisionist history is always easier than being critical in real time, but it’s difficult to assess this decision in the present. Jones, as he is right now, probably isn’t worth the money Memphis gave him. If he becomes an NBA starter in Memphis – or elsewhere – that contract could look terrific. With the Grizzlies he’s going to be tasked with playing alongside – and mentoring – second overall pick Ja Morant at times throughout his early years.
If Jones is a long-term point guard starter in the NBA, it may not be in Memphis. For that to happen Jones would have to both prove that he’s worth the contract he just signed, and Morant would have to underwhelm. Say Jones lives up to, or out plays his contract. At that point, his best value to the Grizzlies could be to use him as a trade asset. They’re in asset collection mode right now, and he could be one in the future.
This hurts the Wolves in the present on court product. Jones was going to be – at the very least – Jeff Teague’s backup for the 2019-20 season if they would have matched. Minnesota is a little short on point guards with only Teague and newcomer Shabazz Napier with NBA experience. Maybe second-round pick Jaylen Nowell gets some time at that spot, and maybe the Wolves run with Andrew Wiggins at point guard for spurts, too.
Jones at the very least is a quality NBA guard, it’s just slightly unknown to what extent. His record-breaking assist-to-turnover ratio last season shows he can play, but his lack of shooting ability and inconsistent scoring certainly raise concerns. He graded out as a positive defender according to ESPN’s defensive real plus minus, finishing 17th among point guards in the metric.
Jones will be missed on the court, but his presence in the locker room is something that will be missed, too. It would be hard to find a recent member of the Wolves that didn’t get along with Jones. Whether it was Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, Derrick Rose, or anyone else, everyone seemed to like Jones. There’s no way to monetize that value, and it certainly isn’t $9 million per year, but it’s worth something. Just how much the Wolves will miss him is yet to be seen.
Overall, the Wolves had to let this happen once he signed the offer sheet with Memphis for that price. Right now, it certainly looks like the correct move. That could change by the end of the contract, but the Wolves are taking the correct gamble that it won’t.