How Tyus Jones became one of the most underrated point guards in the NBA

WASHINGTON – The point guard’s mantra echoes a phrase often attributed to Hippocrates.

First, do no harm.

For point guards, that means limiting their turnovers above all else.

Washington Wizards point guard Tyus Jones has embraced that philosophy to an unprecedented degree.

With an assist-to-turnover ratio of 7.3:1, he will break his own NBA assist-to-turnover ratio of 7.04:1 he posted in 2021-22 with Memphis and he will become the first player to lead the league in assist-to-turnover ratio in five consecutive seasons.

“Being a point guard is taking calculated risks,” Jones told USA TODAY Sports. “It's knowing time and score, it's knowing your personnel. It's knowing what the other team's defensive schemes are, what's their personnel. So there's so much that goes into it.

“I take a lot of pride in it. That's something that I focus on and that I definitely pay attention to night in and night out. Majority of the times if your team has a lower number of turnovers, you're upping your chances of winning if your possessions are ending in at least a shot or two.”

Jones, 27, is nearing the end of his first season with the Wizards and his first season as a full-time starter. He is averaging career-highs in points per game (12.0), assists per game (7.3), rebounds per game (2.7), field-goal percentage (.489), 3-point percentage (.414) and minutes per game (29.3). He also has a league-best 15 games with at least five assists and zero turnovers in a minimum of 20 minutes played per game.

Washington Wizards guard Tyus Jones is set to lead the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio once again.
Washington Wizards guard Tyus Jones is set to lead the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio once again.

Jones’ preoccupation with low turnovers began as a young basketball player, a lesson from his mom, Debbie.

“It’s just how I was raised, and I give a lot of credit to my mother,” Jones said. “She was my basketball coach since I was little all the way up until I got to high school. She started that, helping me be a student of the game, playing with a high IQ, teaching me the fundamentals of the game and obviously you're not trying to turn the ball over.”

He brought the same mentality to high school and then college at Duke where he led the Blue Devils to Mike Krzyzewski’s final championship and earned the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player honor as a freshman in 2015. He had two turnovers in the national semifinals and final.

It carried over to the NBA with the help of Ryan Saunders, the son of late NBA coach Flip Saunders. The Minnesota Timberwolves acquired Jones with the 24th pick in the 2015 draft, and then-Timberwolves assistant coach Ryan Saunders, now an assistant coach for Denver, spelled it out for Jones. As a rookie backup point guard, the best way to get minutes is to limit turnovers.

"He told me, 'One thing you got to be is plus in the plus-minus category and your assist-to-turnover ratios has got to be good,' " Jones said. "I just took that and ran with it. It was something that I felt like I naturally already did and then I started to really pay a little bit more attention to it and put it in perspective because I'm trying to get on the court, I'm trying to play more.”

After four seasons with Minnesota, he signed with Memphis as Memphis began its rise with Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. Jones developed into an important reserve and a Sixth Man of the Year candidate.

Last offseason, Jones, whose brother Tre plays for the San Antonio Spurs, embraced the move from Memphis to Washington as part of a three-team trade also involving Boston. The trade gave Jones an opportunity to start on a regular basis – he wanted more minutes and more responsibility.

He spent considerable time watching film of his new teammates, learning where on the court they excel and how he can get the basketball to them in that position the best way possible.

"In Memphis, I never viewed myself as a backup. I viewed myself as a starting point guard. I was just in a backup role and I felt like this year I finally (got) a chance to showcase (myself) and I felt like (I) showed that I am a starter in this league," Jones said.

Jones had to balance personal success with the Wizards’ rebuilding season that has them with the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference at 15-65.

“It's tough, right? Obviously, I’m a competitor,” he said. “That's how you get here in these situations, the best league in the world. There have been frustrating nights and frustrating drives home. At the same time, this is a part of it, right? It's a part of coming here, having a big role, being a starter. So I’m trying to keep the big picture in mind.”

He likes the transparency of the first-year front office led by president Michael Winger and general manager Will Dawkins. “They want to win, they want to get this organization back into a much more competitive place,” Jones said. “At the same time, that doesn't happen overnight. And I feel like the approach has been correct day in and day out."

Opposing teams inquired about Jones’ availability at the February trade deadline, but the Wizards didn’t move him because they like what he provides. “I'm looking to obviously continue to be a starter, but I just want to continue to be valued,” Jones said. “And honestly I feel like that's value here. I feel like they allow me to be the leader that I know I am. They allow me to be the point guard on and off the court, extension of the coach on and off the court, and to play my game and to try to continue to influence our team in the right way. For me, that's what's important. See what happens.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tyus Jones is best point guard in NBA that no one ever talks about