The Phoenix Suns are in desperate need of a starting point guard for next year. One of their targets is Minnesota Timberwolves’ Tyus Jones.
Phoenix didn’t land a point guard in free agency or via trade this offseason, despite trading away Brandon Knight. They still haven’t found a replacement for Eric Bledsoe. The organization reportedly upset the face of their franchise in Devin Booker when they cut his close friend Tyler Ulis,who started 43 games for the team.
Zach Lowe, however, alluded to a potential solution for the Suns in his most recent column (via ESPN):
“If Minnesota moves [Jimmy] Butler or Tyus Jones — and Phoenix has asked about Jones, sources say — that would at least place [Andrew] Wiggins into some lineups with only one other primary ball-handler.”
Jones, 22, is a former first-round pick whose Duke team won a collegiate national title in 2015. He was named the Most Outstanding Player during the NCAA Tournament.
He would likely project behind Jeff Teague and potentially Derrick Rose on the team’s depth chart, especially given that head coach Tom Thibodeau often favors familiar veterans for playing time. He has played less than 16 minutes per game during his three years with the Timberwolves.
His limited role has been frustrating, especially considering he is a hometown product. Here is how Sean Deveney described the situation back in June (via Sporting News):
“Sources told Sporting News that Jones met with team management after the playoffs, and Thibodeau reasserted his support of Jones and his development. Even if the Wolves re-sign Rose, Jones was assured, his minutes and opportunities would increase … Jones had considered requesting a trade, but the meeting with the team defused that notion before it arose. And for now, at least, the Wolves have no intention of dealing him.”
If they’ve changed their mind, perhaps a trade with Phoenix makes sense for both parties considering Jones has been too often buried in the rotations with Minnesota.
Last season, Jones averaged 0.89 points per possession as the ballhandler in a pick-and-roll offense. This ranked in the 74th percentile on this play type, per Synergy Sports. It was also a mark more efficient than all players on the Suns last season, including Booker.
He was particularly impressive on short mid-range attempts, shooting 26-for-52 (50.0 percent) on shots between 8-and-16 feet of the basket. This ranked No. 11 overall among those with as many opportunities. For what it’s worth, Phoenix ranked last in this zone (37.0 percent) among all teams in the Western Conference.
The Timberwolves had a lot of success when he was on the court with their starting lineup. This is mostly because Jones is a low-usage point guard who does not require the ball in his hands as often as many others at his position.
That’s a perfect fit next to Booker, who is ball dominant and had the ninth-highest usage rate in the NBA among those who played at least 100 minutes. Booker likely projects to play a role similar to James Harden, often as the main distributor on offense while still playing alongside another guard in their backcourt.
Here is how Dylan Murphy recently described Jones’ contributions to his team on offense (via Cleaning the Glass):
“He keeps the ball moving to the right players, which is evident in his career 24.4% assist rate, which is strong relative to his low 13.7% usage rate. Last season, he did a good job of knocking down spot-up three-pointers, hitting 39% of his attempts. And the Timberwolves are better in transition when he’s on the court, in part because he’s willing to make the quick hit-ahead pass instead of pounding the rock.”
Otherwise, Murphy argues, his willingness to yield to a teammate like Booker is perhaps his best asset on offense. Karl-Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins all averaged more points per 36 minutes when Jones was on the court compared to when he was not on the floor.
Minnesota outscored opponents by 13.8 points per 100 possessions when he was on the court with Butler. They also outscored opponents by 10.1 per 100 possessions in the time he shared the floor with Towns.
But perhaps most important, he offers extraordinary value on defense. He ranks No. 2 overall among all point guards on the defensive end, per ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus. Phoenix had the worst overall defensive rating in the NBA last season. Along with rookie defensive specialist De’Anthony Melton, who they acquired during the offseason, this could improve next year.
Jones is a pesky defender known for hustle stats, too, averaging 3.9 deflections per 36 minutes. This ranked No. 7 overall (minimum: 1000 minutes) among all players. The Suns had the second-lowest total of deflections per game last season, yet another category where Jones could help.
Phoenix is reportedly interested in Patrick Beverley, another defensive-minded guard who could help mask some of Booker’s defensive liabilities. But the 30-year-old does not offer the same longevity and ability to grow with the team that Jones would provide. If the Suns made a move for a point guard, Jones is arguably the best overall fit.