Timberwolves backup point guard Tyus Jones appears on a hometown Minneapolis radio station twice a month, but he has yet to play his way into coach Tom Thibodeau’s rotation.
Called upon unexpectedly for the final 11 minutes Monday night, Jones made all three shots he attempted — including a timely three-pointer — and provided stability and presence his team needed to keep a double-digit lead this time around and earn a victory over Dallas.
He hasn’t been utilized often this season, but nonetheless he has delivered when Thibodeau calls his name. In November, Jones played the final 18 minutes at Phoenix when his coach needed him in a duel point-guard backcourt to counter the Suns’ Eric Bledsoe-Brandon Knight combo and a 13-point deficit soon became a 13-point victory.
On Monday, he entered the game after Zach LaVine limped to the locker room a minute into the fourth quarter because of a hip contusion. Jones played the rest of the way alongside Ricky Rubio because the Mavericks, too, were playing two point guards together.
Thibodeau praised Jones for producing “big plays” and “timely plays,” but calls Jones’ role “situational” in a firm rotation where point guards Rubio and rookie No. 5 overall draft pick Kris Dunn are ahead of him in the depth chart.
“There are things he does well and there are things he has to improve upon,” Thibodeau said after practice Tuesday. “You’re looking at your rotation. If he stays ready and the opportunity comes, he’ll get in there.”
Thibodeau was asked after Monday’s 101-92 victory what makes him nervous about playing Jones.
“Nothing really, to be honest with you,” Thibodeau said. “He’s great in practice. He’s great in preparation. I think he’s going to get better and better as time goes along. Every time he plays, good things do happen. I like his readiness. The hard thing when you settle on a rotation, there are players who are deserving. You can’t play everybody. If you do that, you’ll take away from other people.
“So you make a decision, and you go from there. But it doesn’t mean it always stays that.”
But it does mean patience is required, and Jones has kept his from November to January.
“I understand,” said Jones, a second-year player whom the Wolves acquired in a trade with Cleveland on draft night 2015. “Obviously, it’s frustrating because everyone wants to play. It’s a little frustrating because you want to be out there helping contribute to the team. At the same time, Coach is calling the shots. He doesn’t have me in the rotation. That’s fine.
“You have to be the best teammate then, cheering on everyone and making sure you’re still into the game and still helping out the team as much as possible.”
Jones played a total of nine minutes in the five games before he finished the November game in Phoenix. He played in seven of the 20 previous games and only four seconds in his most recent appearance against Portland last week before he played Monday’s final 11 minutes.
His readiness has impressed teammates. The Mavericks collapsed around Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns and he found Jones for that timely three-point shot with 2:45 left Monday.
“He’s an amazing player,” Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns said. “He comes every day ready to work. You might not always see him when he comes in, but you always know he’s ready to go. … For him not to play a lot of time and then shoot those kind of shots, that’s big time. That’s what makes him a true professional, and that’s what is going to keep him in this league a long time.”
For now, Jones waits for his next chance.
“The only thing Tyus can do is really practice well, which he does every day,” Thibodeau said. “He’s so consistent, and he practices great. That gives me confidence that when he does go in, I know he’s going to perform well. He takes no shortcuts. He’s a great teammate. Even though I know what he adds to our team even when he’s not playing, he’s a very important part of our team.”
Whatever it takes
Wolves backup forward Nemanja Bjelica took just two shots in 29 minutes Monday and might have played his best game of the season — particularly defensively against multiple positions — and had five rebounds.
“The important thing is that we won,” Bjelica said, “and I played all four quarters, so I know Coach valued me.”
Crunching more numbers
The Wolves have expanded their statistical-analytics staff by hiring Dwight Lutz and Nick Restifo as Basketball Operations Analysts. Lutz played at Trinity University in San Antonio and has worked the past four years for the NBA as a senior manager for game analytics and strategy. Restifo has a Master’s degree in data mining from Central Connecticut State, was an advance scout in the D League and was analytics coordinator for the New Haven State men’s team.