Five years ago, he was playing high school basketball as an eighth-grader for Apple Valley High School in Apple Valley, MN.
Today, after winning a championship in his freshman season at Duke, Tyus Jones has declared his name for the NBA draft.
It’s a move that I find pretty surprising. Jones had a very good freshman season with the Blue Devils, but it’s not like his year was overwhelming, by any means. He capped off the season with a tremendous performance in the national title game against the Wisconsin Badgers, though, and I’m guessing he thinks that performance will matter more than his entire body of work.
Jones averaged 11.8 points per game, 3.5 assists and 5.6 assists while shooting just 41.7 percent from the field in his only season at Duke. He averaged just 1.9 turnovers per game, so he knows how to take care of the ball, and he showed his love for the big moment on the big stage. He scored 10 of the Blue Devils’ final 14 points in the last eight minutes of the title game to seal the deal.
But is this a smart move for Jones?
Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis declared for the draft after his freshman season last year. Ennis ended up being the 18th pick in the 2014 draft, and has seen the floor for a total of 384 minutes. Heck, he has already been traded this season.
Ennis’ numbers were very similar to Jones’: 12.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 41.1 percent shooting.
The way point guards play these days, a lot of traditional point guards like Ennis and Jones have to stand out to fit in, otherwise they don’t usually work out. Length, quickness, athleticism, and even height are what scouts look for in today’s prospects.
Jones is listed at six-feet-one-inch and 190 pounds, and that’s probably being generous on both fronts. While he has great handles and is pretty quick, he isn’t NBA-level athletic or explosive, and that could prove to be a big problem in the future.
Trey Burke was great in college, but has struggled in his first two seasons in the NBA. Burke converted on just 40.3 percent (132-327) of his shots inside the paint as a rookie. This year, Burke has attempted 49 more three-pointers (with one game left) than he did his rookie season. He has played just seven minutes more this season than last. Also, he’s played in five (soon to be six) more games this season.
I don’t know if the lack of success Burke had in the paint his rookie season led him to shoot more three-pointers this season, but I think it could be an accurate assumption.
So what does this have to do with Jones?
Well, 10-15 years ago, Jones would have been the perfect, prototypical point guard for a team. But in today’s game, with athletes like Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, John Wall, and even Zach Lavine, it’s hard for smaller point guards to compete, especially if they don’t do one thing very well.
These point guards don’t fall into the “insanely athletic” category the before mentioned point guards are in, but all these point guards excel at one or multiple things.
Stephen Curry is a crazy-good shooter. Tony Parker used to be extremely quick, but he is a savvy veteran and has always been able to finish in the paint. Chris Paul is a bulldog with a good mid-range game and great passing skills. Kyrie Irving is ultra-smooth and pure scorer. Damian Lillard can flat-out score, but is very inconsistent at times.
Today, a lot of teams look to point guards to give more than just leadership and ability to get a team in order. Coaches look for point guards who can score the ball in more ways than one in the game today. Russell Westbrook averages 28 points per game and might become the NBA scoring champion. Westbrook can score in every way imaginable. From simply making a layup to getting a defensive rebound and taking it the distance for a dunk or pulling up for two or three, depending on how he feels. Multi-dimensional scoring point guards are revered in today’s NBA.
Also being able to defend the opposing team’s point guard is an added plus. That’s why Mike Conley has become a household name. His ability to defend point guards, and even some shooting guards, as well as developing a three-point shot, made him worthy of the No. 4 pick in the 2007 draft.
Jones isn’t a great defender and I don’t see him being able to lock down anyone any time soon. He is a good player, but he played on a national championship-caliber team. Justise Winslow and Jahlil Okafor were just as much a part of that championship as Jones.
Okafor was a monster the entire season and Winslow had a great tournament. Jones sealed the deal, though, and that might count more to some general managers than others.
I don’t think Jones is worthy of a top 10 pick. He might end up being the best point guard in the draft, but a lot of names have yet to declare. I think his profile will push him up draft boards more than his skill will.
Another year in college would have allowed him to physically mature, which is what he needs to make up for what he lacks: length and athleticism.
Over time, though, the good players always figure out what adjustments to make and work on things to help them improve. I think Jones is smart enough to figure it out.
Until then, he will get drafted higher than what he deserves.
In my early prediction, I’ll say he is worthy of a top 20 pick, but not top 10.