Memphis Grizzlies: Don’t underestimate Tyus Jones absence

The Memphis Grizzlies will be without backup point guard Tyus Jones for at least the first week of the NBA’s Orlando restart.

The Memphis Grizzlies have yet to play their first official game in the Orlando bubble, yet the hits keep on coming for the team. The latest? They’ll be without backup point guard Tyus Jones for at least a week.

Memphis announced on Wednesday that Jones was suffering from right knee soreness. There’s no indication that there’s something seriously wrong, but he won’t be re-evaluated for another week, all but ruling him out for the team’s first three restart games. This comes on the heels of Justise Winslow being ruled out for the restart with a left hip displacement.

Jones’ contributions are (rightfully) overshadowed by the man who stands ahead of him on the depth chart: Ja Morant. The rookie out of Murray State has exceeded even the highest of expectations for him and should roll to the Rookie of the Year award. How far the Grizzlies go this summer is largely dependent on their star guard.

But Jones plays an important role in spelling Morant when he needs a rest. This season, he has averaged 7.4 points and 4.4 assists in 19.0 minutes per game. He sports an unbelievable 5.2 assist/turnover ratio and is one of just two Grizzlies to play in every game this season, with Dillon Brooks being the other.

Jones has also turned into a solid shooter this season. He has made 45.9 percent of his shots this season and 37.9 percent of his three-point attempts, both career-highs. His effective field goal percentage is 51.4 percent.

Without Jones, the backup point guard situation looks a bit murky for Memphis. The most obvious solution would be to give Morant more minutes. The bubble restart is essentially a postseason situation anyways, where rotations would become tighter and star players would be on the court for more minutes. But this isn’t a wise approach for Morant, who is coming off a four-month break and has never played more than 37 minutes in a single game – with the long odds facing the Grizzlies, there’s no use in running a star rookie into the ground.

The next best move for coach Taylor Jenkins may be sliding De’Anthony Melton into the backup point guard role for a few games. Melton averaged 8.1 points and 3.0 rebounds off the bench this season, his first in Memphis. He’s better suited as a wing, playing 82 percent of his minutes at shooting guard this season (per Basketball-Reference). But the only other option may be pigeonholing Grayson Allen into point guard minutes, which is an even worse fit.

The games Jones will miss are a double-edged sword. On one hand, the Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs, and New Orleans Pelicans all trail the Grizzlies in the standings. Losing two or three of those games, however, can do significant damage in the standings; a game against the Utah Jazz follows.

Tyus Jones is not a player whose impact is well-known beyond Memphis. If the Grizzlies struggle out of the gate in Orlando, his importance will shine through like never before.

Next: What we want to see in the NBA's return
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