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A Star Is Born?

Minnesota Timberwolves point guards Ricky Rubio, Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones all were first-round draft picks. Rubio, the long-time starter, is a very good player who has been stuck on awful teams. He is a great passer and an excellent defender; his main problem in an injury-plagued career has been staying on the court. Kris Dunn, this year’s top pick, is a defensive specialist who has shown offensive flashes. A four-year college player, Dunn is a 22-year-old rookie who has excited Wolves fans hoping for a better jump shot than Rubio’s.

Jones as Final Four hero

Jones as Final Four hero

Tyus Jones, a native of Apple Valley who played one year at Duke, during which he was the MVP of the Final Four, has mostly been a forgotten man this year. But with the Wolves struggling to a disappointing 4-10 record to open the season, Jones got a chance at extended minutes last night against the Phoenix Suns. He made the most of the opportunity. For once, the Wolves had a second-half comeback instead of a second-half swoon. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports:

[W]hen the Suns went small — as they often do with point guards Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight — Thibodeau sent Jones into the game midway through the third quarter and kept him there.

He kept him there for the game’s final 18 minutes and for a team’s metamorphosis that quickly turned a 13-point deficit into a 31-10 fourth quarter and a going-away, 13-point victory.
***
And they did so with Jones providing the spark.

“Changed the whole mood, changed everybody,” teammate Andrew Wiggins said about the second-year point guard afterward.

The Strib actually understates the quality of Jones’s performance. In his 19 minutes on the court, Jones was a remarkable +22, the highest margin of any Wolf. The other point guards, Ricky Rubio and Kris Dunn, were both -4. That difference starkly underlines the impact that Tyus had off the bench.

timberwolves_suns_basketball_42564145

The knock on Jones is that he is too short to be an effective defender. And in truth, size will be an issue for Jones, as it has been for many, many players who are “short” by professional basketball standards. But the thing about Tyus is, he knows how to run a basketball team. At 20–two years younger than Dunn–he is mature, as a player, beyond his years. I have been following Jones since he was in high school, and wherever he has gone, he has made his team better, and his team has won.

Maybe last night’s performance was a flash in the pan. Maybe Jones will again be relegated to the end of the bench. Maybe with a Wolves roster full of point guards (I haven’t mentioned John Lucas), his opportunity ultimately will come somewhere else. But one way or another, I predict that before long, Jones will be running a winning NBA team from the point.

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