What if the Knicks are Clearing Cap Space For a PG Not Named Brunson?
Making the case that Tyus Jones, not Jalen Brunson, should be the No. 1 point guard target for New York in free agency.
After the Knicks traded away Kemba Walker's contract by attaching the rights to Denver's 2023 first-round pick, their own 2023 second-round pick, the rights to Utah's 2023 second-round pick, the rights to Miami's 2023 second-round pick and their own 2024 second-round pick - in order to clear Kemba's $9 million salary from their cap sheet - nearly every respected reporter proclaimed New York did so in hopes of luring Jalen Brunson away from Dallas.
As I detailed on Friday, I am highly skeptical of that strategy.
However, is it possible that team president Leon Rose has his sights set on a different free agent point guard?
After Brunson, the second-best PG to hit the open market as an unrestricted FA this summer is Tyus Jones. Other interesting options include Dennis Schroeder, Ricky Rubio (who is recovering from a torn ACL), Gary Payton II, Delon Wright, Goran Dragic and John Wall (should he receive a buyout from Houston). But none of them possess the high upside and the solid floor Jones brings to the table.
The Grizzlies shockingly took the league by storm this past season, finishing 30 games above .500 and posting the second-best record in the NBA. Much of the credit went to Ja Morant, who emerged as the face of the franchise and was named the NBA's Most Improved Player. However, it's important to note that Morant missed 25 games in 2021-22, and Memphis won 20 of those 25 contests.
Yes, their winning percentage with Jones as the starter at point guard (.826) was significantly higher than their win % with Morant as a starter (.631).
In the 23 games he started this season, Jones averaged 12.7 points, 6.6 assists (vs. just 1.0 turnovers), 3.1 rebounds, 1.6 made three-pointers and 1.1 steals in 30.3 minutes a night, while shooting 45% from the floor, 39.6% from downtown and 83.8% from the free-throw line. (Jones averaged 20.9 points and 10.7 assists per 100 possessions without Morant on the court in 2021-22.) And his impact on the team's bottom line was undeniable. The Grizz were 32-6 in games in which Jones logged at least 19 minutes. His cumulative plus/minus of +255 was the highest among all Memphis guards (yes, that includes Morant, Dillon Brooks and De'Anthony Melton).
On the season, Jones dished out 324 assists and, incredibly, turned the ball over only 46 times. His mind-boggling assist-to-turnover ratio of 7.04 is the highest mark in NBA history among all qualified players. And his meticulous care of the basketball was no fluke. 2021-22 was the fourth consecutive season Jones led the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio. That's the longest such streak in league history.
Jones is also a reliable, underrated defender, both on and off the ball. The Grizzlies were nearly four points better defensively when Jones was on the court, and he was near the 90th percentile in steal percentage.
His Pure Point Guard Rating of 10.7 ranked second in the NBA, behind only Chris Paul and just ahead of Dejounte Murray.
And the dude's been a winner all his life. As a five-star recruit in high school, he carried his team to a Minnesota state championship. During his lone season at Duke, Jones led the Dukies to a national title by tallying 23 points and five rebounds in the championship game, en route to being named the NCAA Tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
After Morant was injured in Game 3 of Memphis' second-round series vs. the Warriors (who would go on to win yet another Larry O'Brien trophy), Jones started at PG for the Grizzlies' final three games of their season. He averaged 15.7 points, 7.3 assists (vs. just 1.0 turnovers), 6.0 rebounds, 2.7 triples, and 1.3 steals, while slashing 43/47/100%.
So, given his relative importance to the team, he's a lock to return to Memphis, right?