Way back on May 30 of this year — three days after the Rockets were eliminated from contention by the Golden State Warriors — Terrence Jones told the Houston Chronicle "I want to get better all-around, in the post, shooting, just come back a better all-around player for my team."
He's going to have to do just that if he plans on being a valuable contributor to the current iteration of the Houston roster.
Last year Jones was plagued by injuries. It started with nerve inflammation in his left leg in November, in February he got the flu and in March he was sidelined again with a partially collapsed lung. That limited his total play time for the squad to just 33 games played, and 24 started, over the course of the 2014-15 regular season. Disappointing would probably be the best word to describe Jones' campaign last year.
Entering last season, there was a lot of cautious optimism surrounding Jones and his ability to contribute. The 2013-14 season was a bit of a coming out party for the Kentucky alum. His minute allocations went way up, we saw his point per game increase from 5.5 to 12.1 and his rebounding went from 3.4 to 6.9.
He had fans convinced that he was the kind of ball-handling power forward that could get into the paint, shimmy and bump and generate offense. He drew comparisons to something like a young Brandon Bass with a little more size.
And then last season happened.
Every statistical category either plateaued or decreased except for his 3-point shooting which went from "really bad" at around 31 percent to just "kind of bad" at 35 percent.
The story isn't all bad, however. His defense showed some slight improvement over the past two seasons. His per-36 numbers in blocks per game jumped from 1.7 to 2.4 which is not an insignificant improvement. Aside from that his defensive rating went from 105.8 to 100.3 (According to NBA.com/Stats). While defensive rating can be heavily affected by the overall defensive quality of the team surrounding the player on the floor — which was undoubtedly better this past season — the more than 5 point decrease in points allowed while Jones was on the floor still bears mentioning.
Injuries obviously played a role in his lack of improvement but the fact of the matter is the numbers he posted in his sophomore season of 2013-14 were promising, but that's all. If he can't continue to build upon that foundation and further increase his 3-point percentage, become a guy who can rebound at a rate of 9 or 10 per game over 36 minutes and be a legit threat for 20 points each night, then there is no way he starts at power forward over offensive savant Donatas Motiejunas.
The biggest blight on Jones in the memory of the majority of Rockets fans is likely tied to last season's exhilarating series against the Los Angeles Clippers. The Rockets were down 3-1 in the series and McHale made the decision to move Jones to a supporting role on the bench in favor of mid-season acquisition Josh Smith at the starting spot. Everyone knows the story from there.
The Rockets won Game 5 to force a Game 6 that at the midway mark looked like a sure loss. Then recently promoted Josh Smith made it rain for two quarters, pushing himself to the brink of immortality and almost single-handedly forcing a game seven (that of course the Rockets won to advance to the Western Conference finals against Golden State).
Should any of the three losses in that series be placed squarely on the shoulders of Terrence Jones? Probably not. Yes, he posted a collective plus-minus of -46 over the first four games, but that's what happens when your team keeps losing by double digits. That doesn't mean that anyone in Houston honestly believed that Jones could have had the same effect on those games in which Houston and Smith orchestrated their comeback.
With the memory of the playoffs still fresh in everyone's mind, it seemed obvious that Terrence Jones would be the centerpiece in any trade the Rockets executed during this off-season. He's a young guy with physical tools, the sum of which should create an above-average power-forward in today's fast paced NBA. However, the departure of Josh Smith to (ironically) The Clippers in free agency put Houston in a difficult position at the 4-spot. It speaks to the genius of Houston's GM Daryl Morey that he didn't have to give Jones up in his fleecing of Denver during the Ty Lawson trade.
Maybe Morey's hand was forced and he just couldn't afford to give up Jones without a guy like Smith to fall back on, but one could also reason that Morey was hesitant to let Jones go because he sees some talent and potential that as of last year was unfulfilled because of injury. Rockets fans should all hope that's the case because to this point, his peak has been fairly underwhelming.