Timberwolves guard Tyus Jones has become an elite defender

Lazy loading placeholder
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 12: Tyus Jones #1 of the Minnesota Timberwolves defends against the New York Knicks during the game on January 12, 2018 at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

The numbers show that Tyus Jones has gone from defensive liability to one of the Minnesota Timberwolves' most reliable defenders.

Last season, Tyus Jones showed flashes of being a reliable backup point guard, but not much more. Tussling for minutes with No. 5-overall draft pick Kris Dunn didn't help his case, either.

Jones' high basketball IQ and above-average passing vision was evident, but the former Duke star was a reluctant, below-average shooter and most importantly to coach Tom Thibodeau, a turnstile on defense.

With a intensely defensive-minded coach like Thibs at the helm in both the coaching and President of Basketball Operations roles, it looked like the Minnesota native wasn't long for his boyhood team.

Jones' size and ability to fully grasp Minnesota's defensive schemes was easy to see in his 2016-17 campaign, and the statistics backed it up. The 21-year-old averaged a respectable 0.8 steals in his 12.9 minutes per night, but posted a ghastly 108.2 Defensive Rating, good for just ninth on the Timberwolves roster and 338th in the NBA, per NBA stats.

ESPN's Defensive Real Plus-Minus (DRPM) is one of the most well-respected defensive measurements around and a better indicator of individual defense than the standard Defensive Rating, but even that didn't help Tyus Jones last season. He posted a -0.34 DRPM, which sat him 28th for point guards and 260th in the entire league.

Long story short, the diminutive Minnesotan was bad on the defensive end.

Jones was often caught struggling to fight through the screen in the pick and roll and found himself trailing the play, making life hard on his paint protectors, hemorrhaging points in the process.

Jones was often caught struggling to fight through the screen in the pick and roll and found himself trailing the play, making life hard on his paint protectors, hemorrhaging points in the process.

This year, however, with Dunn gone and Jones in charge of the sole backup responsibilities, the point guard hasn't simply flipped the script on his defense, he has incinerated any remaining shred of defensive doubt that surrounded him.

Jones has shown more strength and will to fight through screens and has become an absolute pest for opposing ball-handlers, averaging 1.2 steals in 18.3 minutes per game. So pesky is the Timberwolves reserve that is the only qualified regular reserve in the league (defined here by a player that averages less than 20 minutes per-game on the season) to average more than a steal per game. All this thievery ranks Jones as the eighth-best in the league when it comes to steal percentage, according to NBA.com/stats.

Jones combines a mixture of quick hands on the ball to strip loose-handling opposition and his growing defensive IQ to man passing lanes and pick off sloppy passes. The small stature that hampered him in previous years seems to be now helping Tyus Jones each and every night.

When he does get picked off or beaten stuck behind the play like last season, he fights hard and uses his quick hands to break up the play more often than not.

When he does get picked off or beaten stuck behind the play like last season, he fights hard and uses his quick hands to break up the play more often than not.

In the aforementioned defensive rating, Jones has blossomed into the best in Minnesota. He ranks first on the roster with a 102.4 clip, outranking defensive geniuses Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson, per NBA stats.

According to Basketball Reference, the point guard has already racked up more Total Defensive Win Shares this season (0.8) than he did in the entirety of last season (0.6), providing more proof of the dramatic shift in Tyus Jones' defensive work ethic.

When it comes to the more reliable DRPM measurement, Tyus Jones explodes into an even more impressive stratosphere.

The 2.59 DRPM that Jones has posted thus far ranks him second among all point guards behind only the Spurs' Dejounte Murray, ranking him ahead of flat-out elite guards like Chris Paul, Ben Simmons and Marcus Smart. Out of the entire NBA, the Wolves' own Tyus Jones ranks as the 19th best DRPM player, outpacing the likes of Al Horford and Paul George.

The statistical side of things is a real fan of Jones' defensive improvement, and the almighty eye-test shows the same thing. Tyus Jones has gone from defensive liability to a player that purists enjoy watching each and every night.