Roughly a week ago, Wolves fans were raving about No. 5 overall pick Kris Dunn and the impact he was having in the NBA Summer League. But while Dunn was starring in the first two games, the Wolves were losing. And then Dunn sustained a concussion, forcing him out of action.
The Wolves, at 0-3, entered Summer League tournament play as the lowest of the 24 seeded teams. Dunn was hurt. It seemed likely the Wolves would bow out of the tournament quietly and the summer would proceed in low-key fashion.
But then the Summer Wolves beat the Summer Spurs. And then the Wolves kept on winning — four games in a row so far, with a different point guard playing a starring role.
Tyus Jones, a Wolves first-round pick in 2015, has been so good in the Summer League, in fact, that he was named the tournament MVP. And he still has one game left, Monday evening against Chicago in the championship — which you can watch at 8 p.m. on ESPN2.
Suddenly this question needs to be asked: is Jones in the process of developing into the kind of player who, in his second year in the NBA, will force the Timberwolves into a point guard dilemma?
Let’s try to sort this out.
*First, a basic question: what does it mean to win the Las Vegas Summer League MVP? (Which leads to an even more basic question if we need to back up some more: What exactly is the Summer League, anyway?)
Summer League rosters are filled with legit prospects who have been drafted recently … as well as players looking to open some eyes … and quite frankly, also some roster fillers. It can devolve into some ugly one-on-one style basketball as players try to make their mark. It is nowhere near as organized looking as an NBA game.
That said, everyone in the Summer League is looking to leave an impression. So to a degree, everyone is giving a legitimate effort. Since it’s also filled with a lot of young players, there is a high level of athleticism.
So for Jones to be named Summer League MVP means that he is taking it very seriously. That part isn’t surprising, since everything we’ve seen of Jones since his days starring at Apple Valley indicates he’s a top-flight competitor who also knows he has a lot at stake (more on that in a minute). Of playing for the title Monday, Jones said, “We want it bad.”
It also means that he has the physical skills to compete with NBA-caliber players. That part isn’t necessarily surprising, though if there is a question about what role Jones will play on an NBA roster or even ultimately how long his career might last, it is one of physical skills. At times last year — when he averaged 15.5 minutes and 4.2 points per game while shooting just 35.9 percent — he looked either too small or not quick enough. In seven Summer League games, he’s averaged averaged 19.4 points, 6.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.3 steals.
Those numbers don’t directly translate to the NBA. But they show he has a certain physical skill set. And at the end of the day, it’s far better to be the Summer League MVP than to not be the MVP. Historically, the summer MVPs have been a mixed bag — but they have included legit NBA stars such as Blake Griffin, John Wall and Damian Lillard.
*The bigger question is this: Will Jones’ Summer League performance create enough momentum that it impacts how he is viewed by the Wolves’ new regime?
Maybe that’s not a fair question since we don’t really know how the regime views Jones. Still, we know this: New head coach/POBO Tom Thibodeau said after the Wolves drafted Dunn that he envisions Dunn and Ricky Rubio playing in the back court at the same time — with Dunn at shooting guard, a look the Wolves tried out in Summer League with Jones at the point before Dunn got hurt.
If you look at the Wolves roster and see Dunn, Rubio and Zach LaVine, it looks like you have a three-guard rotation that is going to command almost all of the 96 combined available minutes at the two guard spots. That has raised the question of where Jones fits into the Wolves’ plans.
Sometimes these things have a way of sorting themselves out organically: someone gets hurt … someone isn’t playing as well as he should … and suddenly it’s good to have depth and to have a guy ready when called upon.
There’s also the looming notion of a Rubio trade — chatter that has died down since the draft a few weeks ago, but still something that shouldn’t be forgotten, particularly as teams who struck out in free agency or found price tags too high start shopping for a point guard.
It’s hard to imagine a nice run of games by Jones in the Summer League would hold much influence over Thibodeau and GM Scott Layden when considering point guard depth as it pertains to a potential Rubio deal, but you never know. Jones’ play in Vegas, at the very least, leaves a strong early impression on the men who will have a direct impact on his future.