Latest posts by Don McCormack (see all)
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The Cleveland Cavaliers will not have to contend with Jeff Teague tonight, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing.
The Minnesota Timberwolves (26-15) are actually playing better without him.
Teague, the veteran point guard of the Minnesota Timberwolves acquired as part of a three-team deal that also sent George Hill from Indiana to Utah and Taurean Prince to Atlanta from Utah, suffered a Grade 1 MCL sprain in his left knee during an overtime triumph over Denver on Dec. 27. He was expected to miss three or four weeks.
The former Atlanta Hawk was averaging 13.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 7.3 assists when he went down, shooting .447 from the floor and .825 from the line in 34.2 minutes per game.
Enter, Tyus Jones.
With Jones running the show and in the starting lineup with Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, former Cavalier No. 1 overall draft choice Andrew Wiggins and Taj Gibson, Minnesota’s starting lineup is humming.
In fact, in the minutes with Jones on the floor as a starter, the Timberwolves are outscoring their opponents by a staggering average of 23.3 points per 100 possessions.
Just how good is that?
Simply put, it’s the top five-man lineup with at least 180 minutes played as a group in the entire NBA.
As always, though, since it’s part of his DNA, second-year Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau says it comes down to defense for Jones.
“For him, the challenge is defensively,” Thibodeau told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “As he continues to develop, that’s probably the most important thing. I like his growth in terms of who he is as a player. I think shooting the three efficiently is important, and he’s shown each year that he’s gotten better shooting the three (38 percent), he’s shooting his free throws great (87 percent), and that’s what you have to do.
“Your point guards, you judge by how they run the team, and (Jones has) done a good job.”
For his part, Jones, a 6-foot-2, 195-pounder out of Duke, says it’s all about fit as a member of Minnesota’s starting five.
“We just gel well,” Jones said. “They trust me and I trust them, and I think that’s kind of a big thing is why it’s been such an easy transition (to joining the starters)… the trust we all have back and forth.
“I’m just taking what the defense gives me and just trying to do my job. (The other starters) make my job easy.”
Butler, acquired from the Chicago Bulls last summer, says Jones is selling himself short. After all, he, Towns, Wiggins and Gibson are all shooting higher percentages from the floor when Jones is playing with them as opposed to when he’s not.
“Man, everybody loves playing on Tyus’ team because he’s so unselfish… to a fault, sometimes,” Butler said. “He knows all the plays from every position, he’s competing and he wants to win.
“That’s all you can ask for out of a teammate.”
Which Jones could have been… in Cleveland.
The Cavaliers actually drafted him in the first round of the 2015 draft with the 24th overall pick. However, facing a huge luxury-tax bill not wanting to pay a player drafted that low on a guaranteed two-year deal, Cleveland traded him to Minnesota in exchange for the 31st and 36th overall picks, owned by the Timberwolves.
With those selections, the Cavaliers drafted Cedi Osman at No. 31 and Rakeem Christmas at No. 36.
Osman, now 22, is beginning to emerge as a rotation guy off the bench for the Cavaliers, though his numbers (2.2 points, 1.6 rebounds in 7.8 minutes per game) are modest, at best. Christmas, a Syracuse product, is no longer in the NBA, being waived by the Indiana Pacers on July 6.
Then-Cavaliers General Manager David Griffin was confident Osman, who was the first man off the bench for the Cavaliers in relief of starting point guard Isaiah Thomas in both the first and second half in a 131-127 win at Orlando on Saturday night, would be worth more than Jones would have been as a rookie for Cleveland.
“We think Cedi is going to be better in the future than what this risk (Jones) was worth,” Griffin said after making the trade. “We think Cedi is going to contribute more two years from now than anybody was going to contribute right away.”