The Houston Rockets have at least two core members locked down—Dwight Howard and James Harden. But who consistently starts next to them in the title-fighting years to come is a considerably more complicated circumstance.
Chandler Parsons and Terrence Jones understand this better than anyone. Parsons, the longest-tenured Rocket, an ideal embodiment of their offensive ideology and a key locker room leader to boot, is very valuable to Houston. But so is Jones, a rapidly developing power forward with staggering athleticism.
Which player is more valuable to the Rockets?
Dollars and Cents
It’s looking like the team may ultimately have to sign one player or the other, not both—especially if the Rockets pursue a third superstar like Carmelo Anthony. Both Parsons and Jones are playing on very favorable contracts for now, but that’s bound to change. If they keep playing as well they have for Houston, they’ll inevitably exit such a reasonable price range.
Parsons, as has been well documented, is on one of the most cost-efficient deals in the NBA, with just one season remaining on it, a team option the Rockets would be insane not to exercise. Currently making about $0.95 million a year—he’s still on the contract he signed as a steal in the second round of the 2011 draft—Parsons is looking at easily a 600 percent pay increase, likely more.
Jones’ deal extends one season extra, as the team option on his contract is for 2015-16. As a first-round pick, he makes $1.5 million this season and next, but the Rockets will have to pay him closer to $2.3 million in 2015-16. He’s got a player option at $3.3 million in 2016-17, but unless Jones’ play goes into a tailspin or he gets seriously hurt, he’s probably going to deny that route and see what he can get on the open market.
From a solely financial perspective, Jones is the more likely candidate to remain with the Rockets. Parsons is a terrific player, but he’s not the third star the Rockets want and need to regularly compete for NBA championships.
When he hits free agency and Houston is still on the prowl for that big missing piece—Anthony in the silver and red is a long shot—it seems Parsons could walk, as it would be hard for the Rockets to give him the big money he’d definitely be offered elsewhere.
Jones, from the Rockets’ perspective, is a greater value for longer.
On the Court
Of course, what both players bring to the floor inspires a whole host of other questions.
Just like Jones’ youth makes him a more financially viable player for the Rockets, it also makes his ceiling more mysterious. A still-forming talent, Jones has been as inconsistent defensively as Parsons, exhibiting the necessary skills but not the proper discipline and attention to be a strong defender.
Offensively, Jones is captivating and efficient. His player efficiency rating of 18.54 is a testament to him using his big-man’s frame in a myriad of ways, passing into smart team action as often as he creates for himself in the post or finishes a play with a score at the rim.
The most wanting aspect of Jones’ game, though, is his shooting. He takes an inordinate number of his attempts close to the basket, as he’s only a 30 percent shooter beyond the arc, and Houston advises players against mid-range shooting. From Red94’s Rahat Huq:
Can his shooting improve? Sure. Will it improve? With that form, it’s highly unlikely, and it’s even less likely he changes his form (given the historical data on players doing that). It’s just too slow and awkward of a release to expect any type of consistency from the midrange.
Jones’ lack of shooting skill may be a bit of a problem for the Rockets, who place extreme emphasis on three-point performance. With Howard guaranteed to be on the floor for years to come, it’s hard to see the Rockets investing long term in another starter who can’t reliably stretch defenses outside of the paint.
Parsons, of course, is much better from deep. He’s 37 percent on the season from beyond the arc, but we all know he can be much better in hot spurts—like when he went off for 10 threes in a row against the Memphis Grizzlies back in late January. He’s also a great slasher and finisher, understands the Rockets offense well and is an able passer within it.
Parsons also offers a lot more to the Rockets in metaphysical qualities. Known as a vocal, team-first guy, his presence is essential to the team’s cohesion when considering that Howard and Harden are not, historically, wont to mobilize squads around themselves. They instead prefer to lead by example.
Put more simply: The Rockets love him. When asked by Grantland's Zach Lowe whether he asked to have his contract restructured, Parsons laughed about his close relationship with the team:
I may have done that. That’s just a product of our relationship. I was probably kidding. That’s just the kind of relationship I have with those guys. We’re so open, we’re so close, we talk about everything. I was just giving them a hard time.
Jones, to the contrary, is a rather shelled personality who prefers to keep to himself and fit into a team concept rather than personally mold it. He's quiet and detached in his team's locker room and shy toward the media and his peers.
As the Rockets get closer to championship contention and they yearn for leadership, such a disposition might make Jones more expendable than Parsons.
Success in the modern NBA has a ton to do with contract equity. Barring some serious leaps from Jones, Parsons is a demonstrably more valuable member to these Rockets in terms of basketball and humanity alike.
But since Jones may come at a great value—and is certain to past next season—his future with the Rockets may be more secure and significant. Which player the Rockets value more will, in the end, come down to how much they value their pursuit of another superstar.
Given general manager Daryl Morey's splashy player movement history, it looks like Terrence Jones is—all things considered—a more workable, valuable piece to the Houston Rockets' puzzle.