Timberwolves' Tyus Jones breaks down his pick-and-roll connection with Towns
MINNEAPOLIS — Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau went to the same play four consecutive times on Wednesday, Nov. 15. Minnesota spread the floor and left Tyus Jones and Karl-Anthony Towns to run a pick and roll in the middle of the court.
And on all four trips, the Wolves came away with a bucket, a key stretch in a 98-86 win over San Antonio that snapped a 12-game losing streak to the Spurs.
"We just got in a good rhythm," Towns said after the game. "Known each other since high school, so we've always had that chemistry."
Towns and Jones were in sync on every read, rendering the normally dominant Spurs defense — currently ranked fifth in the NBA — moot. Thibodeau said Jones was "reading the defense really well" Wednesday, adding the point guard's job on those plays is to "just make the right reads, and that's what he's doing right now."
"It's something that we've just continued to work on," Jones said. "He's a good pick and roll player because he can pop, as well, and that puts his man in a tough spot. So, he can mix it up each time and he's really smart at reading his man, reading the help side and whether he should roll — if that's open, or if he needs to pop and get space, and then I just read him."
That's a lot to digest, so, on Thursday, Jones took the time to dissect that key stretch of offense, one score at a time.
No. 1: Towns screens Spurs guard Patty Mills, allowing Jones to drive left. Pau Gasol, Towns' defender, steps up to stop Jones, and Jones drops a bounce pass to Towns, who finishes at the rim.
Jones said Towns read Mills' positioning, which was designed to not let Jones go right, and "flipped" the screen to clear the path for Jones to go left. Then when Gasol stepped up, "Pau was square with me, so I knew Karl would have the angle to the hoop once he did roll. ... I knew the drop-off pass will be there.
"That's one I knew: just take a quick peak over my shoulder and see (Towns) rolling hard to the rim. He had a wide-open lane in front of him and nine times out of 10, he's going to score that and/or get a foul."
No. 2: Towns sets a screen on Mills for Jones to go right, but Mills slips under the screen and recovers. Towns decides to pop instead of rolling to the rim, and Jones hits him for the free-throw line jumper.
Often times, when the on-ball defender goes under the first screen, the read is for Towns to re-screen for Jones. But that didn't happen in this instance. Jones said that was because Gasol, Towns' defender, stayed back in the lane — likely to defend Towns rolling to the rim again — instead of coming up to defend the screen.
"Pau was a little bit further back, so Karl pops. That was one where Karl read Pau first and I read Karl next," Jones said. "It's all just a feel."
No. 3: Towns sets a screen on Mills that allows Jones to go left, Jones pulls up from the free-throw line and buries the jumper.
Here is where the re-screen comes into play. Towns originally screens for Jones to go right, but Mills goes under the screen. So Towns re-screens in the opposite direction and contacts Mills to free Jones.
"I think I actually called for (Towns) to re-screen, I told him to just flip it," Jones said. "When they go under and you re-screen, that's going to a lot of times open it up."
Jones said at that point, it's his job to read Gasol. If Gasol comes up to stop him, then Towns will be open to roll to the hoop for an easy finish. If Gasol stays back to defend the roll, Jones has an open shot. This time, it was the latter.
No. 4: Towns screens for Jones to go left, the defense collapses on Jones on the drive, so Jones drops a bounce pass to a driving Towns for an easy dunk.
Jones noted San Antonio switched its defense up this time. Instead of the smaller Mills covering Jones, it was Danny Green.
"Who's a bigger, stronger guard," Jones said, "so he's trying to get a little bit more physical, into the ball. This was the fourth time in a row we did it, so they were trying to be a little more aggressive with it. Pau was up a little more, in a little bit more of a stance."
Gasol and Green both commit to stopping Jones' penetration. This is where Jones recognizes one important detail — Jimmy Butler is in the weak-side corner.
"They're not going to leave Jimmy wide open in the corner, so I knew there wasn't going to be help down there (on Towns)," Jones said. "So (I'm) just waiting for KAT to roll. ... Once he was rolling, I knew there wasn't going to be help because" the weak-side defender wouldn't leave Butler.
Once Towns caught the pass, the path to the hoop was uncontested because Spurs wing Kyle Anderson stayed home on Butler. Jones said he takes pride in noticing those details.
"Just being smart on the court, having a high basketball IQ," he said. "It's just all reads like that. You don't have to look for stuff like that, but it can make your job a lot easier if you do."
Having that knowledge allows Jones to anticipate what the defense will do, which gives him an extra split second to make a decision. In pick-and-roll situations, that can make the difference.
"You've got to make them quick," Jones said, "because the next thing you know, the lane will shrink up or the window for the pass will close."