With the Rockets potentially looking to make a big move for Kevin Love or another star player this summer, we are going to take a moment to take stock of what is in the cupboard for Daryl Morey to offer. First up is Terrence Jones.
Wednesday, May 28th: Omer Asik
Thursday, May 29th: Jeremy Lin
Rest of series: TBA
Terrence Jones is an interesting case. He spent most of his rookie year shuttling between Houston and the Rio Grande Valley, but played a major role in the final month of the 2012-13 season before being benched for almost the entirety of the first round of the playoffs. This year, he had an excellent season by all statistical accounts, but once again gradually saw his minutes dwindle as the playoffs went along.
Part of the minutes reduction was a simple case of a matchup game with the Blazers big front court, but Jones' lack of defensive awareness also played a role. How much of Jones' success was fool's gold, a product of playing next to one of the most dominant bigs in the NBA, and how much of it was his true skill? That will be the biggest question facing Daryl Morey and any GM who would look to acquire Jones.
Jones is signed for two more years at a total of $4.1 million, the second of those years being a team option. After the expiration of his contract, Jones will be a restricted free agent if his team makes him a qualifying offer, allowing his team to match any contract another team can offer.
His contract is one of the biggest reasons why Jones is one of the top trade assets the Rockets have to offer. Not only does Jones produce at a fairly high level, he does so at a bargain basement price. In a free agency market where mediocre big men can get $6 million per year, getting Jones at just $2 million per year is an absolute steal.
Moreover, his status as a restricted free agent means that if Jones excels, any team that acquires him can view him as a long term asset. Though they would not reap the same benefits of a below-market contract after two years, any team that acquires Jones could have him for five or more years instead of just the two. When trying to rebuild from trading a superstar away, that ability to pitch for the long term comes in handy.
His Value as a Player
As we talked about earlier, this is where it gets tricky. Jones improved statistically on the offensive end from his rookie year to his sophomore year, but it's easy to attribute that to playing alongside Dwight Howard. The stats, however, seem to indicate that those improvements were more a case of him simply picking his spots better and becoming a more confident finisher.
When Howard was off the floor, Jones shot about the same from the field, rebounded at roughly the same rate, and even scored a little bit more. There is little evidence that Jones was simply feasting on the open looks Howard got him.
What we saw was a dynamic, athletic big that could run the floor, make timely cuts, and finish at the rim. His 65.5% shooting inside of 5 feet was tops on the team and reflected a player who was not afraid to go up and slam the ball down the opponents throats.
On the defensive end, however, it's clear that Jones has not made the same strides. The Rockets were a significantly better defensive team with him on the bench, allowing more than 5 points fewer per 100 possessions without him on the floor, and those defensive struggles may give opposing teams some pause before going after him.
Jones has below average strength down low, but should be at least an adequate defender because of his quickness and impressive vertical skills, but those tools have not translated yet. Whether they ever will is up for debate.
Rockets fans are very high on Terrence Jones as a player, and they are equally high on him as a trade chip. Personally, I think it might be time to tap the brakes a little bit. Jones had a very successful sophomore season, and is just 22, but he is going to have to grow as a two-way player before he becomes a consistent starter.
The tools are there, and it seems like the desire is too, but will he make that leap? Will he improve on that nascent three point game he flashed at times last season? Will he bulk up and shut down the paint like he is capable of?
Jones is a good fit next to Dwight Howard, and will hopefully continue to grow as a player, but there is no way he can be the headliner of a blockbuster trade. As a piece of a bigger deal, he could work, but Jones is not going to be the savior of a franchise.