The Houston Rockets seem set for a 2014 championship run, right?
Two excellent facilitators and shooters in Jeremy Lin and James Harden—who also doubles as a budding superstar—two of the league's top centers in Dwight Howard and Omer Asik, and a promising young small forward in Chandler Parsons will be the ones to lead the revamped Rockets this season.
Houston has four starting positions down, but it's a crapshoot as to who will assume the full-time responsibility of starting at the 4. At the moment, it seems to come down to Greg Smith, who played center last year, or Terrence Jones, the former Kentucky star who played sparing minutes last season.
There are few other possible choices. Power forward Robert Covington is an option, as is Donatas Motiejunas, who has played at the 4 in the past.
Jones, however, is barely three years removed from averaging 15.7 points and 8.8 rebounds as a freshman with the Wildcats. He's one of the few exceptions to the idea of a player staying in college for refinement, since he ended up having his minutes and numbers regress across the board in his sophomore year.
However, that decrease in usage could be tabbed to an increase in talent surrounding him.
The Rockets chose him 18th in the 2012 draft. He was Houston's third pick of the first round following the selections of Jeremy Lamb, now with Oklahoma City, and Royce White, now in parts unknown.
Despite the first-round selection on a young team, Jones couldn't get any consistent minutes. Patrick Patterson, Motiejunas and Marcus Morris all ended up playing larger roles at power forward than Jones, who played only 19 games.
However, his minutes picked up late in the season. After playing no more than 10 minutes in only three of his first 11 games, he earned at least 13 minutes in his final eight games of the season.
He was the recipient of less than 15 minutes per and didn't start any games. The best game of his young career came in a 14-point, 12-rebound effort in 29 minutes during a win over the Sacramento Kings. It was one of four occasions where he scored at least 10 points.
He also grabbed 12 boards on two occasions and recorded six blocks in 29 minutes against Phoenix a night after recording five blocks in 20 minutes against Sacramento. In a three-game span, the 6'9" forward had 13 blocks.
He impressed enough to even earn some postseason minutes, playing in two of Houston's six postseason contests and recording a total of 15 rebounds in a 35 minutes of playing time.
With the sudden influx in minutes near the end of the season, the Rockets' coaching staff may have warmed up on the idea of giving Jones significant minutes and a larger role in the rotation.
Kevin McHale would be wise to give the 21-year-old a larger role. In fact, he could possibly become a member of a staring lineup that includes four players under the age of 26.
As evidenced by those last-season stats, Jones has a knack for shot-blocking and rebounding, especially on the offensive glass. His athleticism and energy, as well as the work ethic that comes with trying to earn minutes, allow him to get to altitudes that few other players his size can reach.
In the limited minutes he received, he posted an offensive rebounding percentage of 11.6 percent. For comparison, the league leader, Reggie Evans, grabbed 15.5 percent of available rebounds while on the floor. Had Jones played enough minutes to qualify and put up an 11.6 percent ORB%, he would have ranked 18th in the league.
In the 12-rebound game he had against Sacramento, eight of those boards came on the offensive glass. In another 12-rebound effort against Memphis, he had five of offensive boards.
As far as being a shot-blocker, he averaged nearly two blocks per game in two years at Kentucky. He sent back 19 shots, with 13 of those coming in three games, in his rookie season with Houston.
His block percentage of 5.2 percent would have had him pegged in the top 10 in a category that primarily features 7-footers who play the 5. However, the sample size is low, and a vast majority of those blocks came in a three-game span. In the other 16 games he played, he only had six blocks total.
But consecutive games of five and six blocks are noteworthy. It shows promise, and it's even more encouraging to the Rockets when you consider he may be starting alongside Howard or coming off the bench with Asik.
Either way, the Rockets are going to be a tough team to score on. Per Synergy, Jones held opponents to 32 percent shooting on 19 attempts and held assignments overall to 40 percent shooting from the field and 31 percent from beyond the arc.
The Rockets have picked a defensive winner in Jones. However, he still needs to refine his offensive game. He has trouble shooting from outside of the paint, is a below-average free-throw shooter who shot less than 65 percent in his two years at Kentucky and takes too many three-pointers.
It's nice to see him buying into the no mid-range shots idea, but that came with a cost as he was 5-of-21 from deep last year. At Kentucky, he never shot better than 33 percent from beyond the arc. Remember that the three-point line at the NCAA level is closer to the rim than it is in the NBA.
Jones' go-to method of scoring in college was his work in the post, where he shot 42 percent from the low block in his sophomore season.
On 43 attempts near the rim last year, he shot 74 percent overall and 64 percent on layups. His percentages are deplorable outside of three feet of the rim. He was a 28 percent shooter on 29 attempts in the three-to-10-foot range and was 2-of-11 in the range from 10-to-25 feet.
Per Synergy, he thrived on cuts, offensive rebounds and transitions but struggled significantly in the half court. He was a 38 percent overall shooter on spot-ups, 1-of-7 as the pick-and-roll man, 0-of-5 on post-ups and 2-of-9 in isolation settings.
This won't bode well for Jones if he's the expected starter. With Howard already clogging up the paint and requiring his touches in the post, Jones will be left in the lurch without a role on offense until he develops a consistent jump shot.
With his ball-handling skills lacking as well, Jones needs to improve his raw offensive skill set.
He could end up playing a large role for the Rockets, especially on the defensive end, if he's able to make a significant jump along with a likely increase in his minutes. Although he has much room for improvement, specifically on offense, he has the makings of a potential starter on a dangerous team that should contend for championships over the next five years.