Mandatory Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports
Tyus Jones is in NBA-prospect purgatory.
To say this about a Duke Blue Devil is not unique. Mike Krzyzewski is the Mike Krzyzewski of sending disciplined, smart, skillful players into the NBA draft whose pro ceiling is solidifying themselves as a role player. Only recently has Coach K began to debunk this perception with Kyrie Irving, Jabari Parker, and potentially Jahlil Okafor. But for every Kyrie, there’s five Kyle Singlers.
This is where Tyus Jones is currently finding himself on the NBA Draft spectrum. Scouts and GMs are quick to acknowledge how great of a season Jones is having for Duke, but are still not sold on him being a first-rounder. In terms of draft boards, he’s ranked 24th by Chad Ford, 26th by Draft Express, and 25th by CBSSports.com’s Sam Vecenie.
While most praise Jones’ intelligence, game management, and ability to show up in big moments, it’s clear his size and athleticism are limited. He isn’t quick enough to consistently drive in the paint or to keep a defender in front of him. At the professional level, an offense won’t succeed without at least a moderate athlete at the point guard position, and that’s the rub against Jones. It isn’t clear, right now, that he can be anything more than a moderate athlete when going up against NBA players.
But the analytics don’t necessarily back this up.
According the ESPN’s Kevin Pelton, as of mid-February, Jones ranks 2nd on his Statistical Big Board, behind D’Angelo Russell. This is based on Pelton’s calculations of wins above replacement player (WARP) on an average NBA team during their first five seasons. To go along with this generous projection are his solid stats from the season. Jones is currently shooting 42.2 percent from the field, 38.8 percent from three-point range, dishing out 5.7 assists per game, and has a 2.7 assist-to-turnover ratio.
It must be mentioned that this is, of course, a mere projection that Pelton admits is still being tinkered with, and it there will be multiple updates as the season heads into the tournaments. But Jones’ current ranking shouldn’t be ignored. Players who have finished second in WARP over the past few years include Andre Drummond, Kenneth Faried, Paul George, and Blake Griffin. Take the projection models for what it’s worth, but there is something to say for how well Jones is performing against top flight NCAA talent despite his lack of size and athleticism.
One college player comparison that jumped out to me when watching Jones is D.J. Augustin during his time at Texas. Both shared the court with superstars (Augustin played with Durant in 2006-07) and were able to control the flow of each possession accordingly. Whenever Durant was triple teamed late in games, Augustin was known to take matters into his own hands by hitting big shots — something Jones also has experience with whenever Okafor is getting hounded.
For Jones, I believe his NBA-potential floor is D.J. Augustin. At the very least, Jones will be picked up by teams who have ailing point guards or holes to fill and will fill them just fine — just like the former Longhorn has over the past few seasons. But with every game Augustin blew up, you got a sense that he was reaching his full potential and having a stroke of genius, whereas Jones seems right at home in the spotlight.
While Augustin is Jones’ NBA floor, I sought out Layne Vashro’s NCAA Prospect Comparison Tool to see if I could get a glimpse into what his ceiling could be. Sure enough, when placing equal weight on every stat, Augustin came up as Jones’ best comparison — but the player that came second in comparing stats was interesting.
|2||Chris Paul||2005||Wake Forest||0.43||0.32|
So far this season, according to Vashro’s model, Jones is a slightly better version of Chris Paul. Now, while Paul is literally every aspiring point guard’s potential ceiling, it isn’t a fluke why Jones and the Clipper are statistically similar. Both players’ main goal is for each possession to end in a bucket, whether they take it or they feed it to the open man. Both also have no problem going isolation late in games in order seal the deal. Both Paul and Jones see the court beautifully, and see the open man seconds before they get free. In fact, Jones is listed as one inch taller and five pounds heavier than Paul.
Jones will need to immensely improve his speed and strength to get anywhere near Chris Paul, but in this increasingly analytics-dependent times the sport is heading, numbers like what the Duke point guard are going to to be hard to ignore. Jones’ projection of a late first round, early second draft pick is warranted, but whatever team picks him up may see some quicker returns than expected.