Tyus Jones knows he has a lot to prove. All he needs, he said, is the opportunity.
Jones, the former Apple Valley High School star and NCAA Final Four MVP for Duke, was the second player the Wolves got out of the 2015 draft. He was taken 24th by Cleveland, then traded to the Wolves for two second-round draft choices in a deal orchestrated by then-president of basketball operations Flip Saunders.
Playing last year for coach Sam Mitchell, Jones appeared in 37 games, including the final 26, averaging 4.2 points and 2.9 assists.
He knew he had a lot to get done over the summer.
So he got to work. He went to Las Vegas with the Wolves’ summer league entry and averaged 20.4 points and 40.6 percent shooting from three-point range, leading the team to a runner-up finish after an overtime loss in the title game. He was named league MVP.
Then he hit the gym, trying to get stronger, knowing he’d have to be more physical to defend at the NBA level. As a result, he was confident when training camp started last week.
“This is really a chance for me to go out and show I have improved, based on the summer league and last season,” Jones said. “I’m trying to keep that confidence and success rolling.”
At least for now, Jones appears to be third on the pecking order at point guard, behind Ricky Rubio and Kris Dunn, the team’s rookie first-round draft pick. Dunn and Jones have both taken reps with the second team, and the two have played together at times. Veteran John Lucas III is also vying for a roster spot.
“Every day he comes in and gives you everything he has,” coach Tom Thibodeau said of Jones. “He’s smart. He helps move the group along. So he’s making good, steady progress.”
One player who has almost flown under the radar so far is Gorgui Dieng, who continues to take reps with the first team at power forward.
Thibodeau said he likes what Dieng does at the defensive end, working with Karl-Anthony Towns.
“He’s invaluable to our team because he does a lot of the little things that help you win,” Thibodeau said. “Sometimes that goes unnoticed in the boxscore. His screening, his rebounding, his ability to hit an open shot. The team functions well with him on the floor. The thing that’s probably overlooked is his passing ability. He’s very effective in the high-post area, looking high-low, making a quick decision, getting into the second pick-and-roll. He’s been really solid.”
Thibodeau said he also likes the flexibility he and Towns have on the floor together, with both able to play inside or move out to midrange.
That said, he’d like to see Dieng and Towns take a step together on the defensive end.
“They haven’t been as good defensively as they can be,” Thibodeau said. “And I think that they’re working on improving on that. And they should.”
Ed Pinckney was officially added to Thibodeau’s coaching staff on Sunday. Pinckney will be in his second stint with the Wolves, having served as an assistant coach in Minnesota from 2007-09. He spent last season as an assistant with Denver, and before that spent five seasons with Thibodeau in Chicago. Pinckney was the 10th overall pick in the 1985 draft and spent 12 seasons in the NBA as a player.