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Jonesing for Respect: The Importance of Terrence Jones to Rockets

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The Houston Rockets face numerous questions entering the regular season. With plenty of new faces, Rockets’ coach Kevin McHale will need training camp to make sense of his rebuilt roster. However, the biggest wildcard entering training camp will be the development of starting forward Terrence Jones. If Jones is ready to take a quantum leap forward, the remaining pieces of the puzzle might be that much easier to sort. The importance of Terrence Jones cannot be overstated.

Despite a breakout sophomore campaign, Jones has been one of the least discussed players on the Rockets this offseason. Maybe Jones visibility was clouded by the tumultuous nature of the team’s offseason, or the disappointment of a fan base intent on embracing a third superstar to pair with James Harden and Dwight Howard.

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The more likely scenario, however, is that far too many people are sleeping on Jones’ overwhelming potential.

Jones’ 12.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game represent great value and improvement from his rookie season, but his limited minutes (27.3 mpg) helped water down those averages. Per 36 minutes, Jones’ averages increase to 16.0 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game.

While Jones’ per 36 minute stats provide some clarity to his potential in a larger role, a look at his advanced metrics paints a clearer picture of his on-court development.

Last season, Jones’ 19.1 PER ranked inside the top 50. True, it’s easier to be a more efficient player in limited minutes; however, Jones efficiency often came from making smart choices. Over 85 percent of Jones’ shots were two pointers, with slightly over 50 percent of those shots occurring within three feet of the basket.

How does this constitute smart decision making you might ask? For starters, it shows that Jones’ understood his limitations last season, which is the mark of a player with increasing on-court awareness. Within three feet of the basket, Jones’ made an impressive 72.4 percent of his shots. Jones’ made his living on athleticism last season, as he moved well off the ball and developed into a solid finisher at the rim, often using his springs to throw down some impressive dunks.

Don’t think for a minute that Jones is a one-dimensional offensive player, however, because the kid has flashed potential from the arc and corners. I know his overall three-point percentage was only 30.7 percent, but from the corners, Jones hit 33.3 percent of his shots. While he definitely needs to improve his three-point shooting, it’s not too difficult to see Jones as a potential nightmare stretch power forward in the near future.

The one area that Jones must improve above all others is defense. Jones is not a terrible defender, but he needs to work on using his strengths to his advantage more often. At 6’9” and 250 pounds, Jones is uncommonly athletic, quick, and agile. If he can improve his footwork and body positioning, his length could pose problems for opposing forwards. Jones demonstrates the necessary effort, but the Rockets need him to understand the little nuances in order to progress defensively.

During his college career, Terrence Jones was Kentucky’s quintessential Swiss army knife. The kid could handle the rock, pass the rock, shoot the rock, rebound the rock, and play sound defense. I’m not suggesting that Jones will become the reincarnation of Charles Barkley (for a big guy, the Chuckster could do it all), but he can become a keystone player for this Rockets squad.

If Jones can improve his defense and outside shooting this season he could boast the type of all-around game that could give the Rockets some frightening lineup flexibility. Paired with Howard, he could space the floor and help spark a dominant inside-out offensive approach in the half-court. When Howard needs to sit, Jones could provide some competent offense on the block or form a frighteningly potent shooting lineup with fellow big man Donatas Montiejunas.

There are a lot of ‘ifs’ in this whole scenario, but the foundation is in place for Jones to take that next step in his career. Whatever you do, don’t sleep on him. The importance of Terrence Jones can’t be overlooked if the Rockets hope to be championship contenders next season.

All statistics courtesy of basketball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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