Wearing an orange jacket with a white shirt underneath, Mason Jones walked up to the podium for his first-ever post-game availability. An exhausted Jones said to himself, “Shit, I’m tired,” before a reporter could ask him a question via Zoom. Nobody — not even Jones —could predict that he would be one of three players speaking following the Houston Rockets’ 103-91 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. But Jones’ chances rose after he was one of eight players activated for the night.
He played 31 minutes for the short-handed Rockets and provided more than just an extra body on the court. Jones scored 24 points (8-12 FG, 6-8 3PT) to go along with 6 rebounds and 4 assists — a career night across the boards.
“It really means a lot to me. Every day I come here, I come ready to go. I want to be great. I know I have to continue getting better for opportunities like I had tonight. I just wanted to seize the opportunity to show why they brought me here on the team. I wanted to show why I was correct about being one of the best players in the draft this year.” — Jones
Jones’ play inside the Alamo City was an attestation of hard work, perseverance, and faith. It was those three principles that guided Jones from a JUCO player at Connor State College to SEC Co-Player of the Year at Arkansas. Now it’s those principles that helped push Jones from undrafted in November to cracking the Rockets rotation as a two-way player three months later.
Jones has seized the opportunity each time he hears his number called by Stephen Silas. And after 13 games, he has surpassed the expectations of an undrafted rookie who was supposed to join K.J. Martin, Kevin Porter Jr., and Brodric Thomas in Orlando for the G-League bubble.
“To be honest, it’s really all God because it shows the journey I’ve been on — which has been amazing. It’s not about proving people wrong, it’s about proving myself right. I am a big believer in my faith. And I knew that my hard work and dedication was going to pay off. For the fact that coach Silas and the players respected me as an undrafted rookie, that just makes me want to be more of a learner.” — Jones
Jones has been a spark plug off the bench providing instant offense for the Rockets. With comparisons to James Harden, Jones is a tough assignment for defenders due to his scoring versatility on the court. His pure textbook jump shot has him on the cusp of leading the league in three-point shooting (53.6% 3PT). And his ability to attack the basket often results in a layup or a trip to the charity line.
His breakout game in San Antonio was one of a handful of performances where Jones showcased the talent that awarded him the SEC scoring title (22.0 ppg) last season. A week later, the Dallas native registered 16 points in 19 minutes to help the Rockets take a 133-108 road victory against the Dallas Mavericks. He went 3-for-4 from three-point range inside the American Airlines Center — which included a 28-foot triple.
Jones’ offensive game has led to early success in Houston. But his desire to develop into a two-way player awarded him the trust of his coaches and teammates.
“I’m a good three-point shooter, and there is so much more I can do. I think I can shoot better than what I am shooting right now. I want to be great. And I know there are steps to it. If a game comes and coach Silas wants me to step up, I know I can do it”. — Jones
Defense has never been his forte. Jones admitted that he did not play defense in college but wanted to enhance his play on that side entering the league. He has spent extra time in practice working with Silas and his staff on both on and off-ball defense. Helping Jones reach his goal of becoming a better defender is John Wall.
As his mentor, Wall challenges Jones each day to become an adequate defender and playmaker for his teammates. Everyone is aware that Jones can score. But expanding his game as an all-around player is the best way for Jones to gain more minutes as a backup point guard.
“Mason is a scorer. I watched him a lot when he was at Arkansas. He can score the ball at a high level and shoot with confidence — I like him a lot. He doesn’t back down from anybody and he has a lot of confidence in his game. I tell him, ‘we know you can score.’ But when you are the third and fourth option, we don’t need too much scoring from him. We need a guy who can go in and control the game. Take open shots when they are there. And do the little things like communicate. That is something I can respect from a young player. He is working hard each day to get more minutes.” — Wall
For Jones, the lucrative opportunity he has to showcase what he could do in a Rockets jersey is foreign. Had he signed with the organization a year earlier, Jones would’ve had a first-class ticket to Orlando to suit up for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. But that was under the old regime who did not play younger players on their pursuit for a championship — especially rookies.
Instead of being the odd man out, Jones is the quintessential Rocket in 2021. He is one of six undrafted players on the roster headlined by Christian Wood and Jae’Sean Tate.
“Rafael [Stone] does a good job picking out guys who went overlooked or just haven’t had success. He believes in our system and our ability to make players better. And he has trust in John Lucas in his player development. Most of the credit goes to the players for the adversity they had to overcome to get to this point. On draft night when your name isn’t called — that’s the adversity. What are you going to do to get to this point?” — Silas
Playing time doesn’t come around too often yet for Jones. But each time he steps onto the court, it’s a moment for him to prove that 29 other teams made a mistake passing on his talents on draft night. With a lot to prove, Jones has every reason to be playing for himself. But his top priority is helping the 11-10 Rockets succeed as a team with every opportunity he receives.