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The Spurs should bring Tre Jones back

The Spurs don’t need to look far to find a point guard who actually fits their timeline and can help Victor Wembanyama get acclimated to the league.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The news about Chris Paul potentially becoming available after being waived by the Suns reignited a discussion among Spurs fans: Should the team get a proven veteran point guard who can run the offense and help Victor Wembanyama get accustomed to the NBA?

While Paul is clearly not a good fit for a rebuilding team, the question itself is valid. A calm, selfless playmaker who can create for Wembanyama and get him the ball in the right spots would help. But there’s no need to pay exorbitant amounts for veterans when the Spurs can simply get that type of player for cheap by retaining Tre Jones.

Jones is by no means as good at basketball at this point as Paul and Fred VanVleet, another crowd favorite. Both would represent an upgrade. They are only similar in terms of what type of player they are. At this point in their respective careers, all three guards are turnover-averse medium-usage players with a relatively high assist ratio. They are three of just 39 players in the entire league to finish at least 750 pick-and-rolls with a shot, an assist or a turnover. None of them is a particularly efficient scorer. In all those areas Paul and VanVleet are superior to Jones but the chasm in terms of numbers isn’t huge and it would not be crazy to expect a slight improvement from Jones in what would be his second year as a starter. If the idea is to get someone who can score when necessary and set up others out of the pick-and-roll without fully dominating the ball Jones fits the bill.

The main reason to want a more accomplished veteran, then, would be production in the short term. Again, Paul, VanVleet or many of the lead guards that should be in the market would represent an upgrade over Jones specifically in certain areas. Shooting, both spotting up and pulling up, is the most obvious one. Jones started to let it fly from beyond the arc more often last season but he’s still not a prolific outside shooter and he’s definitely not an effective one. He also shot just 42 percent on two-point pullups and wasn’t a consistent threat from the elbows, a necessity for a small and not explosive ball handler. He had moments where he would suddenly take over a stretch of a game but it’s safe to say that he’s not and likely will never be a high-level scorer in general, even if his shot improves. But is that an issue if the main goal for next season is to have someone who can focus on setting up others?

Next year the Spurs will have two wings who averaged 22 and 18 points per game the previous season in their roster unless Keldon Johnson or Devin Vassell get traded. Those two and Wembanyama will get the majority of shots, which means having facilitators around them makes the most sense, especially since the bench will have shooters. The issues with spacing Jones would cause off the ball would be somewhat offset by the benefits the Spurs would get from having someone who is more than fine with just playing tough defense, pushing the pace, creating out of the pick-and-roll and getting out of the way when others get the ball. More heralded names might not be as accommodating. Similarly, an established veteran might not be happy with fluctuating minutes, experimental lineups and an offense that often runs through the big men.

It just makes sense for the Spurs to carry the current group of guards into the season and bring back Jones for a reasonable salary. In Jones, Devonte’ Graham, Blake Wesley and Malaki Branham they have passing, shot-making, athleticism and range that they can mix and match. A contending team would want all those attributes condensed into one player, but the Spurs can afford to wait. If by some miracle they find themselves near the top of the standings thanks to internal growth and a Tim Duncan-esque rookie season from Wembanyama, they can always swing for the fences near the trade deadline to acquire an upgrade. For now, though, it would just make more sense to retain Jones and see what he can do while remaining young and flexible. The only scenario in which letting him go makes sense is if they can acquire another first-rounder to use on a point guard, as they have been rumored to be interested in doing, but that could prove to be hard to do.

Jones is not perfect and he probably isn’t the starting point guard of the future for the Spurs, but neither would be a veteran that would cost more and not fit the timeline of progression of San Antonio’s young core. An upgrade could potentially help with Wembanyama’s adaptation to the league, but Jones has the tools to also assist there while likely being cheaper and bringing continuity to the table.

The Spurs’ roster will change significantly in the coming years and not all of the young players will be around when the wins start coming. There’s no need to get overly attached to anyone who isn’t untouchable. But there’s also no need to throw guys aside too early. If it becomes clear that Jones is not a good fit with the rest, he’ll need to go, but there’s no reason to believe that he can’t be a valuable part of the rebuilding process for a while longer.