Last March, as the Rockets were in the midst of a race for the 8th seed in the West, Terrence Jones was a non-factor. He was sent to the D-League with average results, dangled at the trade deadline as the Rockets looked for draft picks, and had yet to appear for the Rockets since December before Kevin McHale let him loose in a early April game against the Kings.
After being freed from the shackles of the bench, Jones appeared in the Rockets final eight games, earning more and more playing time, and seemed to give the Rockets hope that he could be a factor in the 2013-14 campaign. Three and a half months into this season, Jones has exceeded all expectations and established himself as a starter in a injury-wrecked Rockets lineup.
With all the praise being tossed Jones' way, let's look at how he has helped the Rockets and where he could use some improvement.
The first and most obvious thing that Jones has improved has been his scoring and his consistency scoring the ball. Since joining the starting lineup, Jones has hit double figures in scoring in all but nine games, and has done so fairly efficiently. He is putting up these big numbers by getting easy shots; by getting a great deal of his shots on put-backs, cuts, and in transition, he has managed to average over 1 PPP on 51.5% shooting this year.
Those shots in transition are where he makes perhaps his greatest mark, as he has used his above-average handle, quickness, and finishing ability to average 1.43 PPP, a category that makes up almost 20% of the shots he takes. By turning and getting upcourt the moment the rebound is corralled or ball turned over, Jones has boosted the Rockets efficiency and made them a real threat to run teams down.
And in the half-court, his ability to make plays as teams pay attention to Harden and Howard has been extremely welcome, a vast difference from what the Rockets saw when Asik was paired with Howard. With his above-average athleticism and agility, Jones has been able to get into excellent positions near the rim to score when Harden or Howard is doubled. His ability to cut to the rim (on cuts he shoots 63.2%), has forced teams into a difficult decision. If they overcommit to Harden on the perimeter, Jones can get free for a backcut and an alley-oop. If they stay with Jones, that opens up Harden to get to the rim.
With all that Jones is doing, it makes a lot of sense that the Rockets are scoring nearly 5 points more per 100 possessions with him on the floor. What is a bit troubling, however, is that they are giving up 5 more points per 100 possessions on the defensive end. With Jones on the floor, the Rockets are allowing opponents to a 49.3 eFG%, compared to the 46.6% with him off the floor.
There are certainly confounding variables at play here, but as a whole it seems clear that Jones simply needs to improve in team defense. He has a propensity for making the highlight reel with his backboard-jarring blocks, but he also can get out of position and leave his man open when going to help.
If he can learn to harness his incredible athleticism, he has the potential to be a Josh Smith-like effect on that end, but he needs to work on his positioning and discipline before he can realize that potential. With any luck, Kevin McHale and his team of assistants can make a mark there.
Jones is just a sophomore and has less than half a season of full playing time under his belt, but one thing is clear: He is here to stay. Though Morey would love to add talent at any position, the hole at power forward sure has gotten a great deal smaller.
[Note by Xiane, 01/20/14 6:21 PM CST ] Great article, Patrick. We at TDS were high on Terrence Jones from draft day. Also this is what confirmation bias looks like.