Apple Valley’s Tyus Jones enjoyed Year 1 as a starting point guard in Washington, knows unrestricted free agency awaits

It’s no secret that the Washington Wizards haven’t had the season that Tyus Jones — or anyone else — wanted.

The Wizards, who currently stand at 15-66, conclude their NBA season on Sunday, and will do so without their starting point guard on the floor. He has missed the past few weeks with a back injury that almost certainly will keep him out through the remainder of the regular season, but won’t be an issue as he heads into the offseason.

The ailment caused Jones to miss Tuesday’s Wizards-Timberwolves game at Target Center. The Apple Valley native was in attendance, however, for his latest homecoming. He watched the game from the bench and, after the game, spent ample time near the floor, chatting with family and friends.

The 27-year-old played 66 games in his first season as a full-time NBA starter. That new role, Jones noted, was a “blessing in itself.” Yes, he was the starting point guard. And with that distinction, inherently comes a massive leadership role. Win or lose, that experiences carries a ton of weight.

“Those are all things that you don’t get to pass up on or overlook. So it’s getting a ton of different experience in a bunch of different areas,” Jones said. “It’s things that I’ll continue to apply to help me improve both as a leader and as a player in the future.”

This season was about as difficult as a first-year leader can endure. The Wizards’ roster was largely remade in the offseason under the influence of new front office leadership. The outside expectation of a struggling team in the early stages of a rebuild came to fruition. Washington fired head coach Wes Unseld Jr. midway through the season.

“It’s tough, man. It’s tough to navigate. But, honestly, that’s the league. It’s such a long season and there’s so many games. Even when you’re on winning teams and you’re winning a lot, there’s ups and downs within that in itself. The wins and losses come and go, but there’s always going to be rocky waters,” Jones said. “There happened to be a few more this year with our squad, but that’s a part of it. That’s just kind of where we were at as an organization. … The first year really trying to implement their system and stuff like that, a coaching change in the middle of the year. So it was just a lot of moving pieces, just trying to steady the ship day in and day out. Grew close with the guys. It’s something that you continue to bond over, just because you’ve got to lean on each other. So it was a year that I’ll use as experience and to my advantage, for sure, when it comes to just growing.”

Those experiences are impossible to replicate, and should prepare Jones well for anything he encounters moving forward in his career. In that sense, Jones called this year “a blessing” for himself. It’s all part of his growth process, as he continues to take steps forward as a player. His improvement was palpable again this season, even amid team struggles.

The guard, who will turn 28 next month, shot 49 percent from the field and 41 percent from deep, both career highs. His shooting continues to improve exponentially from where he was just a few years ago. His shot is now a legitimate offensive weapon. It pairs beautifully with Jones’ playmaking abilities. Jones was again an assist-to-turnover savant, dishing out 7.3 dimes per game to one turnover, an impressive feat for a floor general playing with a new cast of characters and two new offensive schemes within the same season. There was no decrease in quality of play, even with his increased workload.

“For the first year being here, I was very pleased with how I played and how I handled myself,” Jones said. “So I’m looking forward to what the future holds and just trying to continue to build and take another step forward as a player.”

What does the future hold? That’s uncertain at this point. Jones is an unrestricted free agent this offseason. That the Wizards didn’t deal Jones at the trade deadline shows they would like him to be a part of their future plans. And Jones and his family have grown fond of the D.C. area. But the ball is again in the point guard’s court. He has proven his capabilities and figures to have a number of suitors this offseason, and will get the chance to select the opportunity he likes best.

“A day at a time. It’s a business, I understand that. It’s going to be my 10th year next year, which is crazy. But honestly, I just feel like I’m in a good spot. Unrestricted, but still there’s a chance I come back to Washington. I enjoyed myself here, liked my role here, liked the locker room, and I like the guys,” he said. “And, at the same time, just weighing out all my options is something that I’m looking forward to doing. We’ll just kind of see where everything goes and how stuff pans out.

“But, at the end of the day, it’s a blessing to be in this position. It’s a blessing to be in this League. About to be 10 years now, so at the end of the day, there’s a lot of bigger things that I could be complaining about or that you could be focused on. So whatever happens, happens. And I’m ready for it and looking forward to the summer.”

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