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The Two-Faced Tale of Tyus Jones

It’s come time for the Memphis Grizzlies to make a choice with #21.
By Brandon Nwokeji - May 22, 2023, 7:37 am - 0 comments

In the hit song “Rich Flex” by Drake and 21 Savage, there is a popular line from Drake that reads: “21, can you do somethin’ for me?” Now, I’m not sure if the multi-platinum Canadian hip-hop artist had his well-documented Memphis roots in mind when he recited that lyric, but that single line immaculately states a question the Memphis Grizzlies have frequently asked of their number two point guard out of Duke University – #21, Tyus Jones.

Stones. Tyus Stones. Stones Jones. Whatever you may call him, there’s no question that Tyus Jones has been an invaluable and unwavering rock of this Grizzlies squad for the past four seasons. He’s just about everything you want in a pure point guard – a no-nonsense, high-IQ player with tight handles and elite court vision who gracefully facilitates the team offense and tactically navigates defenses to hit his teammates for great looks, all while steadfastly securing the rock and generating his own buckets when needed.

For five straight years – yes you read that correctly, that’s five straight years, Tyus Jones has led the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio. The Memphis Grizzlies have one of the most efficient passers in the league, and arguably of all-time, coming off the bench. Let’s get one thing straight – Tyus Jones plays and impacts winning basketball at the highest level in multiple ways. It can’t be understated just how fortunate the Memphis Grizzlies are to have a player of Jones’s caliber as a mainstay in the rotation. It gives them an unspeakable amount of flexibility with their franchise point guard in Ja Morant.

The Indescribably Great – “All-Star” Tyus Jones as a Starter

Tyus Jones on multiple occasions has adamantly stated that he views himself as a starting point guard in the NBA. This was crystal clear whenever he was asked to take over the reins for Memphis. Starting in 22 games in place of Ja Morant this season, Jones helped lead the Grizzlies to a 13-9 record and averaged 16.4 points, 8.1 assists, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.8 steals in 33.2 minutes per game. He only recorded 34 turnovers in these games, which was the lowest amount of turnovers he has ever recorded when starting in games for the Grizzlies the past four seasons.

These are not just pretty good starting numbers, these are all-star numbers. Whenever Stones Jones was asked to step up and lead the offense on a given night, he looked like an entirely different player. There was a distinct confidence and swagger that oozed all throughout Tyus Jones’ game when he occupied the floor at the starting 1 spot. He danced with the ball up the court to his spots on the floor and did not hesitate to unleash the trigger on pull-up jumpers and quick, nimble drives to the rim, most often finishing with floaters. Jones put up shooting splits of 50.0/41.5/77.8% as a starter this season; his field goal and three-point percentages, respectively, were the highest they have ever been when starting for the Memphis Grizzlies.

Tyus’s leap in play as a starter was reflected in the enhanced flow of the offense as well – With him being more of a pass-first traditional point guard and not a very aggressive scorer in isolation, Jones’s focus was on stupendously orchestrating the offense and exceptionally setting up his teammates to score. As a result, the ball movement was much more fluid and free-flowing in contrast to when Ja Morant led the offense and scored more in isolation with a high on-ball usage rate (Which is more than understandable, given that Morant is a top player and talent in the game of basketball).

It’s not complicated – Tyus Jones played at a sustained, mistake-free level of excellence whenever he took over at point guard, affirming that he is more than capable of performing at a high level as a starting point guard for just about any other team in the association. In this regard, Memphis is spoiled rotten with the best backup point guard in the league.

The OK – Tyus Jones as a Reserve

Of course, with a transcendent top-five point guard in the game leading the way, Tyus Jones could not always expect to be the top point guard in the rotation and had to primarily help the team win games coming off the bench as the backup point guard. This was understood when he put pen to paper on a two-year, 30-million-dollar extension with the Grizzlies this past summer. However, that blazing hot fire of productivity that razed everything in its path whenever Jones came into the starting lineup did not burn as bright whenever Jones played rotation minutes as a reserve.

In 58 games off the bench this season, Tyus averaged 8.0 points, 4.1 assists, and 1.9 rebounds in 20.8 minutes per game. There were some positives; Jones netted highs in both points and minutes off the bench for Memphis, and very nearly hit his highest-ever assist mark as well. He showed he can still be an impactful player no matter his role.

But, as a reserve this season, Jones was unusually more careless with the rock – he recorded 74 total turnovers after never recording 55 as a Grizzly. Additionally, Tyus’s shooting numbers took a nosedive as a reserve; he had shooting splits of 39.7/35.0/81.8% while shooting the highest number of shots per game coming off the bench in his Memphis career (7.4 FGA, 3.8 3PA). Although Tyus was taking many more shots than accustomed to in the offense, he was not hitting any more of them, and there were stark differences of 10.3% in shooting from the field and 6.5% from three between the games he started and came off the bench for this season. In each of the three previous seasons, the swing in his shooting never exceeded 2.4% in either direction.

It’s a mystery I don’t even think the great Sherlock Holmes could unravel. Tyus Jones’s offensive efficiency regressed heavily in comparison to his past three seasons as a reserve and, in many games, he appeared altogether disengaged and was content chucking up bad shots that mucked up the offense and helped opposing teams string together runs to get back into tight games.

The Downright “Not sure what this is but it’s absolutely hideous” – Postseason Tyus Jones

Maybe Tyus Jones has been considering a foray into the art of magic and embarking on an audacious career change. That’s about the only way I can describe his disappearing act in the first round of the playoffs that would make even the late great Harry Houdini’s mouth drop to the floor. In six games in the first round against the LA Lakers, Tyus Jones averaged 4.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 3.7 assists in 20 minutes per game He also had a turnover percentage of 14.8% per Cleaning the Glass, which was the highest TOV% he has ever recorded in the playoffs in his entire career. It nearly doubled his percentage from the previous year’s playoffs (7.7%).

In a series where Memphis struggled to hit the bottom of the net and sorely needed consistent bench scoring, the often dependable Stones Jones vanished into thin air and became a liability on both ends of the floor. His smaller stature eliminated his patented floater in the face of taller Lakers defenders and when forced to the outside, he forgot how to shoot the basketball and slumped hard – he shot a pitiful 15.8% from three and 30.6% from the field.

So… What’s Next For Tyus Jones and the Memphis Grizzlies?

This is a pivotal summer for Tyus Jones and the Grizzlies. Jones has one final year remaining on his current contract for $14 million going into next season. That expiring contract is a desirable asset for many teams in the NBA, especially those in the market for a starting point guard. Despite his disappointing performance at times as a reserve as well as all throughout the postseason, Tyus Jones has shown he is more than capable of premier point guard play in starter’s minutes, and this could help the Grizzlies this offseason as they seek to compile assets and facilitate moves to obtain an upgrade at the small forward spot.

But now, to say the least, the Memphis Grizzlies are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to deciding on Stones’ future with the team. Yet again, Ja Morant was shown flashing a firearm on an Instagram Live video, an act that gave him an eight-game suspension when it occurred for the first time back in March. Morant will most certainly receive a rather lengthy suspension to start the 2023-24 season, and the Memphis Grizzlies will be without a true point guard in the lineup if they decide to move on from Tyus Jones. Do they go full steam ahead and move on from Tyus via trade regardless of Ja’s suspension, perhaps by going point guard by committee between Desmond Bane, Luke Kennard, and another offseason acquisition? Do they keep Tyus on the roster in the wake of this development with Morant and re-consider options at next year’s trade deadline? Do they shock everyone and extend Tyus Jones?

To get to that outcome, whether it’s through addition or subtraction, the Memphis Grizzlies will find themselves shuffling back to a question they’ve posed to the point guard from Burnsville, Minnesota.

“21, can do you something for me?”


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