WASHINGTON — The verdict is already in.
Without needing to play a single minute of the preseason, Washington Wizards players and coaches know exactly what newcomer Tyus Jones will bring.
“Calmness,” Kyle Kuzma said.
“He is a professional point guard, and he is a professional set-up guy,” Corey Kispert said.
“He’s essentially a coach on the floor,” Wes Unseld Jr. said.
As the Wizards prepare for the first year of their rebuild — with all that entails, including all that could go right and all that could go wrong — Jones ranks as one of the team’s few near-certainties. His new teammates and coaches envision him as a connecting force who, because of the cerebral and unselfish way he plays, will bind together a roster flush with go-to guys such as Kuzma and Jordan Poole and youngsters such as Bilal Coulibaly, Deni Avdija and Johnny Davis.
“He’s not going to turn the ball over,” Unseld said of Jones. “He’s steady. He’s going to give you a sense (of leadership) and a presence, essentially being an extension of myself and the coaching staff. But also, he can score the ball.”
The 2023-24 season will be a transition year for Jones almost as much as it will be for his new team. About to begin his ninth year in the NBA, the former backup to Ricky Rubio or Jeff Teague in Minnesota and to Ja Morant in Memphis will enter a preseason as a projected starting point guard for the first time in his pro career.
“It feels great,” Jones said Monday, during the Wizards’ annual media day. “This is what you strive for. You always want more, right? If you’re not striving and working towards more responsibilities, I feel like you’re in the wrong profession. So, this is what I’ve been working for going into Year 9 for eight seasons now. But, at the same time, the work’s just getting started now. (There’s) more responsibility, more pressure — all those things.”
Jones came to the Wizards in the three-team trade headlined by Kristaps Porziņģis going from the Wizards to the Boston Celtics and Marcus Smart moving from the Celtics to the Grizzlies. The deal also sent Danilo Gallinari and Mike Muscala from Boston to Washington.
For the Wizards, Jones was the true prize in the trade.
He offers a chance at stability. A revolving cast of characters has manned the Wizards’ point guard spot ever since injuries decimated John Wall’s career. Russell Westbrook spent one productive season in Washington before he was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. Spencer Dinwiddie, whom the team acquired in a sign-and-trade, was supposed to be the Wizards’ long-term solution at point guard, but the Wizards traded him after just 44 games. Before last season, the Wizards traded for Monté Morris, but Morris largely underwhelmed in Washington; over the summer, the Wizards traded Morris to the Detroit Pistons for a 2027 second-round pick.
There’s a possibility that Jones won’t be with the Wizards for very long, though. Complicating matters is that Jones is in the final year of the two-year, $29 million contract he signed in 2022 to remain with the Grizzlies. With unrestricted free agency for Jones looming next summer, it won’t be a surprise if he draws significant interest at the February trade deadline from contending teams that might need point guard help.
During a brief interview with The Athletic on Monday, Jones, 27, said he’ll approach his contract year in the same workmanlike way he approached it during the 2021-22 season. Starting 23 games that season when Morant was injured, Jones shot a career-high 39.0 percent from 3-point range and averaged 8.7 points per game, which was another career high at the time.
Asked about his uncertain contractual future, Jones answered, “It’s a part of the business. I try not to think about it. I try to just hoop and keep things in perspective and just remember that I’m in a fortunate situation. Everything will kind of take care of itself.”
Wizards players said Jones has remained focused on his new surroundings, trying to attune himself to his new teammates.
In pickup games in recent weeks, Jones approached center Daniel Gafford to discuss how they can help each other when they run pick-and-rolls, with Gafford rolling to the hoop as a lob threat. Jones also has spoken with Kispert about how he intends to help Kispert generate open shots.
“We’re all locked in to the small things on the floor, and we’re just trying to make it better for each other,” Gafford said.
Jones has been described as kind of a throwback.
“Us having a lot of young guys and guys who still haven’t figured it out, it’s great for people to see teammates like him,” Kuzma said. “He’s focused. He’s locked in. He’s actually very focused on the team aspect of the game. It’s kind of rare — not rare, but he doesn’t care about his numbers. He doesn’t care about, ‘Oh, I need 10 assists.’ He’s going to make the right play.”
Jones consistently making the right play — and consistently making unselfish plays — would set a positive tone for the young Wizards.
General manager Will Dawkins has described Jones as “wise” for his age.
“He just sees the game from an advanced processing perspective,” Dawkins said. “He’s a committed athlete to the team, and that’s something that you really, really want. I think when you watched him in the moments where he got an opportunity to start in Memphis, you saw the capabilities that he had. We’re going to put the ball in his hands a lot more (and) allow him to make decisions. We’ll challenge him to continue to be a pest defensively but also take the young guys under his wing, which he’s already started doing, and put them in positions to be successful (and) be an extension of the coach on the floor.”
If Jones can do all of that, he has a real chance of becoming not just the Wizards’ point guard of the present but also their point guard of the future.
(Top photo of Tyus Jones: Petre Thomas / USA Today)