Before we crack into this week's prospect, we need to do a quick update on the Cleveland Cavaliers' draft position. The Cavs are currently sitting at 52-29 with one game to go against the Washington Wizards, and that puts them in the 24th draft slot, with the 51-30 Portland Trail Blazers right behind them. The Cavs have the No. 2 seed in the East locked up, and while the full squad played last night against the Detroit Pistons, we can't be sure how the team will handle rest for the Wizards game. Meanwhile, the Blazers have the No. 4 seed in the West locked in thanks to their division title but still have one game to play. We probably won't know the exact position of the Cavs' first round pick until late Wednesday night because of this, so keep that in mind.
Last week's profile focused on Georgia State guard R.J. Hunter, who is a shooter that projects to be able to handle the ball at times as a spot point guard. We had a lot of push for me to do a real backup point guard option next in the comments, so I figured I'd write up the guy who projects to be the best distributor in the draft: Duke's Tyus Jones.
Who is Tyus Jones?
Just your reigning NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player. Jones was a highly regarded prospect from Minnesota, who spent this past year as Duke's 1A option as point guard, sharing duty with Quinn Cook. He was Duke's leading scorer in the NCAA Championship Game against Wisconsin, scoring 23 points on 7-13 shooting, hitting five threes, and adding five rebounds. While he's been on the fence about coming out this year, it's looking like he's leaning towards coming out. If he does, he projects as a late-teens/early-20s first rounder: He's 21st on Draft Express's board, CBS Sports concurs with this ranking, and he's mocked to the Wizards at No. 19 in the current Tankathon mock draft. So, he might go too early for the Cavs to pick, but he's right in range for them to consider as an option.
This is a big area where Jones is going to be held back. He's 6'1", 190 lbs., and really isn't the type of athlete that other players of similar stature (Ty Lawson and Eric Bledsoe for example) are. He might struggle to handle consistent contact at the next level, and he's going to be at a major disadvantage on the defensive end, which we will get into later. Now, Jones is a pretty quick player, which helps, and his 6'5" wingspan will help save him a bit when it comes to containing penetration and finishing inside. However, he's going to have some problems at the next level. Fortunately he's also still just 18 years old, so there's still some room for his body to grow.
Jones was a decent offensive player at the college level, and he's going to make his biggest impact on this end in the NBA. Jones projects as a floor manager type of point guard, as he's a great and selfless point guard who can juggle the scoring/distributing roles quite well. Jones has great vision in the open floor; he was great at hitting skip passes and lobs across the floor to Duke's high flyers like Justise Winslow and Amile Jefferson, and he's a great passer in transition, with crisp, quick outlet and drop-off passes. Now, Jones can get a little too fancy at times with his passing, which led to a pretty high 15.9 TOV% this season. He also needs a little bit of work on entry passes to the post, where he struggled at times to get the ball to a posted up Jahlil Okafor. However, Jones excels at passing out of the pick-and-roll, and he's got the potential to develop into a Mike Conley-level passer.
The most promising aspect of Jones's game is his ability to run pick-and-rolls as a shooter and passer. Jones is already fantastic at turning the corner on a hedging big, and can use a variety of hesitation and ball-fake moves to give him advantages against the defense. He's really good at hitting the roll man off these plays, and while he's not good at pulling up directly off the PNR, he can shoot consistently if given a second to gather himself, either via a defensive communication error or an opposing guard that's slow to recover. This also translates to isolations; he creates space really well with his dribbling, and can probe inside if he gets a step on a defender.
Where Jones has the most potential is with his shooting. Jones was not a good shooter at all in high school, but has developed well over the past year, shooting 37.9 percent from three at Duke. He isn't a great catch-and-shoot scorer, which could limit his effectiveness off the ball offensively, but he's getting better, and just needs to get more consistent mechanics. The major thing I see with Jones's shot is that he doesn't jump straight up when he shoots, creating a natural fade to his jumper:
However, Jones's release is fantastic, as indicated by his terrific free throw shooting (88.9 percent). He just needs to work on his jump mechanics, and should develop a great outside shot. It's also worth mentioning that Jones used Okafor to his advantage in isolations a lot last year; he would position himself with Okafor behind his defender so that the opponent would naturally hedge slightly towards the most dominant post player in the game, and then rise and fire before his defender could close out:
This savvy move is a really good quality for a point guard to exhibit at such a young age.
When Jones gets inside, he's great at finding lanes to the hoop that come from his bigs rolling to the rim. However, because of his size, he struggles to finish through contact, and prefers to go to his floater rather than drawing contact and finishing. He reminds me a lot of Kyrie Irving in this way, because his floater touch is good, but he needs to develop some touch finishing through, and not over, a defender inside. If he does that, he'll become a more complete pick-and-roll point, which is a great prerequisite to being a successful NBA point guard.
Jones makes his mark on the defensive end as an off-ball defender, partially because he's good at it, and partially because his on-ball defense is.......bad. Jones's physical limitations will make it very difficult for him to succeed at the next level on the ball, as he was rarely able to contain penetration off the dribble, even against lower level college point guards. However, Jones actually makes for a decent off-ball defender. He's attentive, and good at sniffing out off-ball actions like cuts and flare screens. He has good hands as well, which helps. It helped Duke a lot to have Quinn Cook to throw on opposing point guards, and then letting Jones hide on a wing. However, he has some bad tendencies, which seem to be Duke point guard trends. He often dies on high screens, rather than going under them and using his quickness to recover, and he's a very lazy transition defender unless he's already the last guy back. Sound familiar?
Jones could be useful in spots defensively, and maybe he grows into being a better and smarter defender. But he has a ton of work to do as an on-ball defender before he's no longer a negative on that end.
The big thing to keep in mind with Jones is that he's still only 18, one of the youngest players in this draft class. He just was a key cog on a national title team and won Final Four Most Outstanding Player. At age 18. He's got potential. However, some of his biggest limitations (Finishing at the rim, on-ball defense) are directly related to athleticism, and may be things he can't overcome. He's also pretty raw in some areas where I think he can succeed eventually, and is learning the most sophisticated position in the NBA. I think Jones has potential, but I'm pretty sure he's going to suck next year while he takes a year to figure things out, much like a fellow ACC guard drafted in this range, Tyler Ennis, did this season.
Will he be able to crack in as an eventual starting point guard, like fellow diminutive NCAA MOP Kemba Walker? Or is he destined for a career as a sound backup? That's the ultimate question here. He's got the instincts and offensive ability to be good, but I don't know if his body will allow him to be more.
Using this section to highlight something I couldn't fit anywhere else, because Jones reminds me a ton of Andre Miller. He's already an established up-and-down point guard who can manage a game. His shot is inconsistent, but his release is solid. He's quick and smaller than average. And he relies on a ton of Old Man Game moves offensively and smart play recognition to succeed defensively. I feel more comfortable saying this than I have about any other player in the last three drafts: Jones, if he can get his career off the ground, is going to be AMAZING to watch when he's 35.
How does he fit on the Cavaliers?
The Cavs would be a good fit for Jones's development. He'd play behind Kyrie for the foreseeable future, and the Cavs don't run a ton of highly sophisticated sets, which would help him adjust. It also would help him get his shooting mechanics down if he were getting wide-open looks every night playing next to LeBron James, Kyrie, and Kevin Love. Now, I'm not sure how much Jones would help next year's Cavs, because I expect him to be very inconsistent, and he's probably going to be really ugly defensively next year. However, the Cavs could draft Jones and sign a one-year stopgap to backup Kyrie - or just bring back Matthew Delavedova - and 2-3 years down the line, Jones could be a really productive bench player for the Cavs. And when it comes down to it, we know LeBron loves NCAA Title-winning point guards, so maybe this is already a done deal.