Houston Rockets forward Terrence Jones is the missing piece the team has been looking for to take it to the next level. Midway through his second season, the Kentucky product has been one of the NBA's breakout stars and has filled a huge void at power forward.
Jones took over for Omer Asik in the starting lineup early in the season and has hit the ground running ever since. As of Jan. 31, he is averaging 11.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. He's also shooting 52 percent from the field.
What makes the 22-year-old so valuable is his production on both ends of the court. On offense, he has decent range on his jump shot. He can step outside the paint and hit a mid-range J or even knock down the occasional three.
His ability to score on the outside opens things up for Dwight Howard in the paint, making him a better complement to D12 than Asik ever was. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Jones is currently shooting 45.5 percent from between 10 and 16 feet.
Still, Jones' bread and butter is playing on the inside. Basketball-Reference.com also has the big man shooting 73 percent at the rim, where he's attempted 177 of his 402 overall shots (most of any area). Furthermore, Jones has converted 40 percent of his shots from within three to 10 feet.
When you take a look at Jones' shot chart for the season, you'll see he enjoys the real estate on the right side of the paint. From there, he's 65-of-91 (71.4 percent) this year. He's also found a comfort zone shooting the left corner three, although it isn't a shot he attempts often (5-for-10, 50 percent).
Defensively, Jones more than holds his own. His 61 blocks are second best on the team behind Howard (a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and two-time league leader in blocked shots), who has 83. According to 82games.com, opponents have an Effective Field Goal Percentage Allowed of 49 percent when facing Jones.
The 18th overall pick of the 2012 draft really came out of his shell after the new year. For the month of January, Jones averaged 15.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks a night. He also shot nearly 55 percent from the field during that span.
A couple highlights from his breakout month:
- 19 points, 17 rebounds and three blocks in a win against Washington on Jan. 11
- 25 points, eight rebounds and six blocks in a win over New Orleans on Jan. 15
- Career-high 36 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks in a win over Milwaukee on Jan. 18
Let's take a look at some video from that big night against the Bucks. Throughout the clip, the main theme you'll find is Jones' ability to score around the basket. A brunt of Jones' scoring output came on teammates finding him for open dunks or aggressively following up on putbacks.
However, it is the subtle things that are worth keeping an eye on. For one, his speed getting down the court in transition. He moves surprisingly well for a man his size (6'9", 252 lbs), and on a few James Harden steals, he was one of the first guys down the floor to help finish the play.
Also, at the 3:15 mark, you'll see Jones stroke the three from the aforementioned left corner. Jones' defender had no hope of closing on him to defend that three before it was put up. Once Parsons kicked it out, Jones had a great open look.
That was poor defense by Milwaukee, but Jones still deserves kudos for knocking it down.
At 3:28 comes my favorite play of the entire clip. Jones steps out and blocks the three-pointer. Then, he charges down the court, spinning around one man before splitting two defenders for the layup. A good display of timing on the swat and an even better showcase of athleticism and ball-handling on the coast-to-coast bucket.
While Jones has emerged over the last few weeks, he isn't without his faults. To help become more of a weapon stretching the floor, the three-point shot needs to become more consistent. Currently, he's shooting just under 29 percent from behind the arc.
Also, while big men aren't typically automatic from the free-throw line, a guy with Jones' shooting touch could do better than the 59 percent he's converting from the charity stripe. With Howard's well-known free-throw struggles (53 percent), the Rockets don't need two bigs on the floor together who are liabilities at the line.
As he works to improve those two areas, he'll become an even greater asset to an already talented Houston squad. The important thing, even with Jones' ascension, is that he still understands his role in the pecking order.
"I'm just trying to play my game, just do whatever it takes," Jones told Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle on Jan. 29. "I'm not trying to take any stardom from anybody or anything like that. I know who the best players on our team are, who are the go-to guys. I just try to play off them, read off when Dwight has the ball, move when James is driving and just be an outlet and a guy they can pass to if my guy helps."
Jones was selected to the NBA's Rising Stars game, where he will be reunited with former college teammate and another emerging star in New Orleans' Anthony Davis. That game will allow one of the league's breakout stars to have a little more of the limelight he deserves.
Going forward, the strides made by Jones and point guard Jeremy Lin have made the Houston Rockets one of the deeper teams in the league. From 1-to-5, they possess one of the most talented starting rotations in the NBA.
If Jones is the fifth-best player in the starting five and he's averaging nearly 11 and eight a night, that's a problem for potential opponents. His ability to shoot from the outside as well as his effectiveness on the boards and on defense takes a ton of pressure off Dwight Howard.
It also takes Houston off the hook for the failed Asik-Howard experiment. If Jones never pans out, maybe general manager Daryl Morey panics and rushes into a trade for a starting power forward. Instead, the man for the job was already on the roster.
For years, power forward has been a sore spot for Houston. Now, it's a position of strength. The focus coming into this season has been on the team's Big Three (Howard, Harden and Parsons) and whether they can carry the Rockets to a championship.
Instead, the role players have become equally impressive.
Over the first half of the season, Terrence Jones went from starting the season as a backup to Houston's missing link. It should only be a matter of time before he becomes a household name.