NBA D-League coach Dean Cooper has guided and watched Steve Francis, Andre Miller, Jeremy Lin, Randy Foye and Patrick Beverley, among others, during a 17-year career in professional basketball, so he knows what an NBA point guard looks like.
He has seen Timberwolves rookie Tyus Jones play six games — averaging 24.7 points, 5.0 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game — for Utah’s Idaho D-League affiliate in an assignment expected to end, at least for now, this weekend, after Saturday’s game in Santa Cruz, Calif., when Jones scored 30 points on 11-for-22 shooting in a 117-107 Stampede victory.
A former Wolves assistant coach and scout, Cooper talked Thursday about Jones’ first real pro playing opportunity.
Q You needed a point guard. What has Tyus given you?
A What a good dude. He has played from solidly to very good. His approach is awesome. When I talked to him on the phone the first time, I hung up and was like, ‘Geezo-peez, it’s like talking to a 35-year-old guy.’ It wasn’t like I was talking to a 19-year-old. These situations aren’t easy for flexible-assignment players coming from a different organization and wondering how our players will receive you, but he’s really fit in.
Q He showed straight away he can score there, right?
A He can shoot, he’s going to do that. He has picked stuff up fast. He has a lot of savvy for a 19-year-old. He doesn’t get rattled. He keeps doing what he does. I just like his pace, how he plays. It’s hard to speed him up.
Q He barely played here the season’s first month. Did he show much rust?
A He really didn’t. It helped he had a couple practice days first. But I think that speaks to his game, he plays under control. The other night, he started slow, but he worked his way out of it. He didn’t panic. I’ve just been impressed with the guy overall. I told Minnesota, ‘You’ve got a gem.’ ”
Q You’ve worked with a lot of NBA point guards. Is he one?
A He is because he can shoot and he does a good job running a team. I like him as a player. I told him the other day his approach itself is going to take him a long way. He’s a pro. He knows how to practice. He knows how to go through a shootaround. He’s mature already and to be 19 and then to have guys on your team like KG [Kevin Garnett] and Andre Miller, what a blessing for a young player. I told Tyus to just sit around and talk to Andre as much as possible.
Q Did he take the D-League assignment as a demotion?
A Not an ounce, not even on the phone from the first time I talked to him. He literally comes in, does his work, asks questions. He wants to learn. He’s asking questions that apply. He wants to be coached. He wants to learn the pro game. That’s what I’m talking about with his approach. He’s like, “Hey, man, teach me what I need to know to be a good player.”
Q Has his small size been an issue at that level?
A He’s actually one of the few players who looks smaller on TV than he is in person. He has a good physique; not heightwise, but he’s more filled out and he’s got more to him than what I thought from the little bit I’ve seen of him on TV.
Q He gets thrown into an established team there. Can you tell in that situation what kind of leader he is?
A He’s not a real vocal guy out there, but he did a really good job fitting into the group. We have a pretty vocal leader here with Jeff Ayres, who played at Indiana, won a championship at San Antonio, has been around vets. Tyus just came in and did his job. I think he approached it as, “I’m going to do what these guys ask, hone my game, work on my craft and help them win some games.”
Q Is he a unique player?
A He’s different because he can shoot, the pace he plays at. Steve Francis’ speed was off the charts and he’s not as big as Randy Foye, but Randy really played off the ball until he got to the league. With Tyus, you can see what he has been all his life. From the guys I’ve worked with, he has been the guy who came in most like a point guard.
Wolves’ Week Ahead
Sunday: Noon at Brooklyn
Monday: 6:30 p.m. at Boston
Wednesday: 7 p.m. vs. San Ant.
Saturday: 7 p.m. vs. Indiana
Player to watch: Kawhi Leonard, Spurs
Move over, Timmy, Tony, Manu, there’s a new sheriff in town and his name is Kawhi Leonard. Leonard has grown into the league’s best defender and the Spurs’ best player at both ends of the court.
“Thank you, league.”
— Wolves star Kevin Garnett on an NBA scheduling quirk that sandwiched games at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday and Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Sunday around Friday’s home game against Sacramento.