PHOENIX – Ask Timberwolves interim coach Sam Mitchell a question about backup point guard Tyus Jones’ 45.2 three-point percentage this season or his 5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio the nine games entering Monday, and you will likely get an answer about defensive improvement both from Jones and the second unit that he leads.
There is a reason, of course: Jones is a rookie and like the Wolves other young players, Mitchell says he has “a long ways to go.”
A player who played six D-League games before Christmas is finding his way in the NBA here as the season reaches its final weeks. Granted it’s a limited sample size, but Jones has made 14 of 31 three-pointers after missing his only attempt in Monday’s 107-104 loss to Phoenix. In his previous four games, he was 5-for-11 from long range.
At the beginning of the season, he said it would take time to adjust to the longer three-point line and to learn how to get his shot off in a bigger, faster league. Time has passed.
“It is an adjustment, like everything else,” Jones said. “At the same time, it’s reps. In this game, at this level, you’ve got to get adjusted. You’ve got to rep it and practice and practice and practice.”
If Jones somehow could continue his assist-to-turnover ratio beyond that nine-game stretch, well, Memphis’ Mike Conley leads the league in that category at 4.07 assists per turnover and Ricky Rubio is second at 3.69.
“I’m confident in myself, confident in my game and it’s something I’ve always prided myself on,” Jones said when asked if his recent efficiency has surprised him at all. “That’s something you have to focus on, especially running the second unit. You want to come in and be sure we’re efficient. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Still foul prone
Rookie Nemanja Bjelica on Monday played his second game back after missing nearly a month because of a strained foot. He said “I felt good” and “I’m happy I’m finally back” after he made his return in Friday’s last-second victory at Oklahoma City. He also said he was pleased with his conditioning in that game.
Mitchell said he couldn’t make a fair evaluation because Bjelica had four fouls and played fewer than seven minutes.
“I don’t know, you tell me,” Mitchell said when asked about Bjelica, who played six minutes against the Suns. “I didn’t get the chance to see him much. I don’t know if he got tired or not with the fouls he was committing. He just has got to learn to play without fouling. He just has got to.”
Spreading their wings
Former Kentucky teammates Devin Booker and Karl-Anthony Towns faced each other Monday. Booker has scored 30 or more points four times this season. Towns has done it three times. Each is showing skills he never did in college.
What’s Kentucky coach John Calipari hiding down there? “He can’t be hiding them too well,” Suns interim coach Earl Watson said. “They’re leaving, quickly.”