MINNEAPOLIS - Tyus Jones turned in his best performance of the season and first double-double of his career in the Timberwolves’ victory Monday, Dec. 17, over Sacramento, tallying 10 points - on 5-for-7 shooting - and 10 assists in 24 minutes.
“Just trying to be aggressive, trying to take what the defense gave me, gave the team,” Jones said. “Trying to be aggressive, trying to look for my shot more to then open up the pocket passes, skip passes, things like that. Trying to keep the defense honest and just made the right play.”
It doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that such a performance came on the rare occurrence when Jones was the only point guard on the floor.
Derrick Rose and Jones have shared the backcourt in the second unit for much of the season, and while they’ve played well together and consistently praised one another, both look more comfortable being the sole primary ball handler.
Jones admitted as much after Monday’s game, in which Rose played with the starters and Jones ran the second unit.
“Big change for me,” Jones said after Monday’s game. “I get in a rhythm quicker, just felt more like myself out there, being able to make plays, not just for myself, but for others coming off more ball screens … doing things like that. Just felt more like my natural position, rather than off the ball.”
Thibodeau, however, would argue that there is much that has changed.
“Tyus is (normally) on the ball,” Thibodeau challenged when a reporter asked him about the situation. “Tyus runs the offense. Derrick runs the two when they play together.”
That’s true in the sense that Jones often guards the other team’s point guard and is the one who dribbles the ball up the floor. He might even initiate many of the sets. But most sets the second unit runs go through Rose.
“With Derrick, we more focus on the pick and roll and his game to find shots for him, to put him as the guy who will make decisions on the court … and try to find open man,” Dario Saci said of the second unit’s offensive attack. “(Against Sacramento) was like all guys were involved, try to run fast, try to get it to the first open guy to shoot the ball and play freely. We play the same with Derrick, but with Derrick, when it’s more static offense, we try to play pick and roll with him.”
Jones doesn’t disagree with that strategy.
“Derrick obviously is playing extremely well, he’s shooting the ball at a very high clip and he’s a dynamic, dynamic playmaker with the way he can get down hill, his burst and his speed,” Jones said. “So a lot of our sets are to try to put him in the right spots to make those plays, and it’s been working, so just trying to make sure he’s staying downhill and being aggressive, and that opens up a lot of stuff for guys around him.”
But when Rose plays with the starters, Jones gets the chance to run more pick and rolls with the second unit and make decisions. When Rose is off the court, the percentage of field goals Jones assists on more than doubles (from 17 percent to 37.5 percent), as does his assist-to-turnover ratio (4.3 to 8.5), while his usage also bumps up a percentage point.
Playing off the ball has been an adjustment for Jones, one that started to some degree last season, when he played alongside Jamal Crawford. He has said many times he’ll do whatever the team asks of him, but admitted he thinks his skills are better suited to have the ball in his hands.
“Just being a point guard, that’s what I’ve always done,” Jones said. “Had the ball in my hands a lot, played the pick and roll, stuff like that. So I feel more comfortable like that.”
Jones should get plenty of opportunities on the ball in the near future. Teague is slated to miss the next five or so games with left ankle inflammation, according to coach Tom Thibodeau, and Rose is day to day after suffering a left ankle injury.
Jones will be running the Timberwolves’ offense for the near future, likely from the starting lineup.
“Try to kind of make plays and try to create more offense for others,” Jones said, “and make sure we’re getting quality looks each and every time down the floor.”