Terrence Jones has been here before, playing as a fourth option on a team brim-loaded with talent, waiting his turn to step out of the shadows, to shoot, to shine.
But unlike his run with the 2011-12 national champion Kentucky Wildcats—when Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Doron Lamb so often shone instead—Jones might not be giving up the spotlight so easily.
In his past five games, the second-year forward is averaging 21.6 points and 12.2 rebounds on 64.0 percent shooting—a run punctuated by Jones’ 36-point performance in the Houston Rockets’ 114-104 win over the Milwaukee Bucks Saturday night.
LOTN (runner-up): @TerrenceJones1 36 pts, 11 rebs, 2 blks, 14-20 FG, 7-10 FT, W— Chris Palmer (@ChrisPalmerNBA) January 19, 2014
If that 36 sounds impressive, well, the Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen knows one guy who might agree:
From the great Jim Foley: Terrence Jones, 22, is the second youngest Rockets player to score 30 in a game. Hakeem was 47 days younger.— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) January 19, 2014
Jones' teammates, like Dwight Howard, are taking notice too, per the Associated Press (via ESPN): "He's been doing an excellent job. He's still growing as a player and he's learning the game at a very fast pace, which is great."
Rockets coach Kevin McHale notes Jones' many facets, also via ESPN: "He's got enough skill that he can put the ball on the floor, he can make shots, he can drive, he can finish, he can pass...He's a very versatile player..."
Even more important for a talented but top-heavy team desperate for a reliable third scoring option: The Rockets are 4-1 during Jones’ quantum quintet of games.
To be sure, Jones has tallied such spells in the past only to disappear for games on end. During one such stretch in late November, Jones recorded eight straight games of 10 or more points before scoring just 10 in the next two games combined (on 5-of-14 shooting).
Such are the ups and downs of a versatile blue-chipper forced to find a groove on a team built around the erratic left hand of James Harden.
Harden will always get his—that much is clear. Whether Jones can continue to assert himself as a legitimate secondary option, however, will go a long way in forecasting Houston’s playoff fortunes.
Judging by the numbers—something to which general manager Daryl Morey has always paid close attention—Jones should have ample opportunities to do precisely that.
According to NBA.com, Jones is charting a true shooting percentage of 55.5 percent through his first 39 games, above the likes of Joe Johnson, Danny Green, Paul Millsap and Eric Gordon.
Impressive though Jones’ efficiency has doubtless been, there remains a fairly sizable drawback: a paltry 27.8 percent career clip from three-point range.
While Jones has stuffed the stat sheet, his shooting from downtown has fallen off a cliff: Prior to Saturday’s game, in which he went 1-of-2 from deep, Jones had misfired on his previous 14 attempts from distance.
Who is Houston's third-best player right now?
Indeed, for all his undeniable offensive talent, Jones’ inability to hit the long ball at a consistent clip could prove crippling in the long term.
The philosophical conundrum is a profound one: The Rockets’ Development League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, are rewriting the run-and-gun rulebooks as we speak. (Grantland’s Zach Lowe wrote a terrific piece about this trend last month).
For a team at the forefront of the league’s three-point revolution, Jones’ limited range poses something of a long-term problem.
At the same time, Jones is young and has shown enough in the way of steady improvement (his points and rebounds per game have already more than doubled over last season) to at least instill some semblance of confidence that his three-point shooting might eventually improve.
If that doesn't happen, Jones is still a legitimate weapon, particularly in the context of Houston's fast-paced, opportunistic offense.
If that three-point improvement does happen, however, all bets are off.
At 6’9” and 250 pounds, Jones boasts the ideal build to excel in today’s NBA, rife as it is with versatile stretch 4's who can both work the paint and make opponents pay from deep.
Like any team jockeying for postseason positioning, the Rockets are in the process of figuring out not just who they are but who they need to be.
They know James Harden is the scorer.
They know Dwight Howard is the rim-protecting stud.
They know Chandler Parsons is the five-tool role-player extraordinaire.
They know Jeremy Lin is the unpredictable, sporadically brilliant spark plug.
Should they figure out who the real Terrence Jones is, the Rockets could go from being fringe contenders to a team with two dynamic stars and a third waiting in the wings.
If his recent spat of games is any indication, however, Jones might well bypass waiting for outright taking.