Is Terrence Jones playing himself out of Houston?

It’s early, but 2014 has already been an incredible year for Terrence Jones. Since Jan. 1 (eight games) he’s averaging 16.9 points and 11.4 rebounds. He’s already attempted more free-throws than in the entire month of December (twice as many games), bumped his usage rate to 21.9%, and made 53.3% of his field goal attempts.

Jones has also notched a double-double in four of his last five games, scoring 25 points to go along with eight rebounds and six blocks in the one that missed out. He’s an omnipotent, versatile, athletic compliment who’s been asked to back up Dwight Howard at center and guard some larger power forwards in the post. He hardly ever turns the ball over and never complains about anything. The natural follow up question here would of course be: Is Jones playing himself out of Houston?

Earlier this season it felt like Jones was more a product of his environment than a beastly, developing individual talent. And as a scorer some of that’s still true. He scored 36 points against the Milwaukee Bucks last Saturday, but according to mySynergySports, 11 of his 14 made field goals came via a cut into open space, a put back off an offensive rebound, or in transition.

He’s far from the stage where Kevin McHale is calling plays to get him open, but that’s perfectly fine. As the fourth option in a starting lineup that already has two All-Stars and a budding third, right now the Rockets need Jones to be efficient in opportunities others create for him. Not the other way around.

And efficient he has been. Only seven players in the entire league average more points per possession in transition, and he’s shooting 65.1% on cuts. He might be the most athletic player on the team—it’s tough to name 10 guys who’re able to do more with their body, especially above the rim, in the entire league.

Jones has fallen back to earth after starting the season on flames from behind the three-point line. He’s now down to 28.3% after shooting 47.6% in November. But this hasn’t been to much of an issue so far.

Jones makes up for it with fantastic timing away from the ball; he does a wonderful job flashing into open space off Howard post-ups and high pick-and-rolls that draw his man’s attention (which is a vast majority of Houston’s offense).

Here’s his shot chart.

The more he plays the better he gets, opening the possibility for two different futures Daryl Morey will choose from.

He can either acknowledge Houston probably isn’t winning a title as currently constructed this season, stay the course, hold onto Jones and let this Rockets core grow together, take their postseason lumps and improve around the margins. (This scenario is independent of whatever the Rockets get for Omer Asik, who remains the number one trade asset on the roster, if they trade him.)

Or he can do Daryl Morey things and package Jones in a deal to upgrade some other part of the roster. This is the less patient option, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. If you’re of the thought that Houston should “go all in” and try to win a championship every year until James Harden and/or Howard are no longer elite players, then moving the second most attractive asset to get better wouldn’t be that much of a sacrifice.

The decision is ultimately based on two things: how well Jones fits beside Houston’s franchise center, and how high his new-ish ceiling stands. So far, so good on issue number one. The offense has scored 1.6 more points per 100 possessions than their average in the 818 minutes Jones has shared the court with Howard. (Interestingly enough, Jones’ field goal percentage is actually 4% higher when Howard’s on the bench.)

The Rockets’ defense has stayed the same with both out there, which is to say they’re a top-10 outfit. Jones isn’t perfect on defense (he can’t protect the rim—yet—and tends to get bullied in the post) but he’s improving as a pick-and-roll defender, finally learning how to use his speed and length as an advantage.

At the rate Jones is getting better, even if Houston fails this postseason they could come back next year with Howard, Harden, Chandler Parsons, their 2014 first round pick, whatever can be had for Omer Asik (again, if he’s not dealt before the deadline), and be a better basketball team.

They’re incredibly young, have spent this season battling myriad injuries, and are still 29-15. They’ll be better next year even if no trades are made. But “better” doesn’t mean they’ll be good enough to win a title.

Trading Jones would be an interesting proposition. If the Rockets really wanted to, they could package him with Asik and their 2014 draft pick to create an incredibly enticing bundle. I’m just not sure anyone out there is willing to offer anything substantial in return.

The good news is that there’s no pressure to do anything. Jones is on a cheap rookie scale deal for the next two seasons. He’s very good, with a skill-set that fits inside Houston’s scheme on both ends.

Jones could very well be on his way to making the same developmental leap Parsons did. Who knows. He’s been Houston’s most pleasant surprise either way.

Michael Pina has written for Red94, CelticsHub, The Classical, Bleacher Report, Sports On Earth, and Boston Magazine. Follow him here.

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Total comments: 14
  • Buckko says 2 months ago

    Only if they decline the option first. Then they can sign him or match another's offer. If they pick up the option and wait until next summer, then they could lose him for nothing (can't even say cap space).

    I know this and I would think they would go the RFA route.

  • Cooper says 2 months ago It's not like parsons is itching to leave if he got offered by another team his agent would give Morey a chance to match it probably even try to start a bidding war.
  • Steven says 2 months ago

    We'll just use the bird rights after this season, no worries.

    Only if they decline the option first. Then they can sign him or match another's offer. If they pick up the option and wait until next summer, then they could lose him for nothing (can't even say cap space).
  • Buckko says 2 months ago

    We'll just use the bird rights after this season, no worries.

  • Steven says 2 months ago

    Beverley is a RFA in the 2015 offseason- his qualifying offer will be about $1.2M, but I will be surprised if he doesn't get a better offer than that somewhere. Parsons is also a RFA that year, Lin and Asik are UFAs.

    Jones and Motie will be RFAs in 2016, as far as I know.

    Parson will be a RFA this offseason if the Rockets don't pick up his option for next season. If they do pick up his option, then following next season he will be a UFA. 2nd rounders are RFAs up until after their third season, UFA after their fourth. I used to think he would be a UFA after his fourth as well, until someone helped explain it to me.
  • BenQueens says 2 months ago

    Beverley is a RFA in the 2015 offseason- his qualifying offer will be about $1.2M, but I will be surprised if he doesn't get a better offer than that somewhere. Parsons is also a RFA that year, Lin and Asik are UFAs.

    Jones and Motie will be RFAs in 2016, as far as I know.

  • Buckko says 2 months ago Jones is under contract for a while and Beverly won't command much.
  • smeggysmeg says 2 months ago

    if handsome Chandler and Jones continue their growth, the question has to be do you need a full blown 3rd star or can you win with 2 stars and then 2 players that are not 3rd stars but better than a typical 4th complementary players..... more importantly can this work under the cap and also will Jones be ok be the 3.5 option on the team..... handsome seems like he will be but not sure about Jones (even with more growth i'm not convinced about is own shot creating ability which would be needed to be star), also messing with the Rockets cap at some stage will be the requirement to pay PBev..... how much does he get and when does that happen?

  • Sir Thursday says 2 months ago

    I really hate how the salary cap forces teams to underpay players, thus making team continuity very difficult. NBA careers are short enough as they are.

    Not only does a team have to develop players, it must flip them when they are about to command a market salary.

    In theory Bird Rights exist to counter balance this effect. You can still keep the players you developed if you want to pay them, it's just that you have to pay extra for the privilege. It seems that the more punitive salary cap has been scaring teams away from doing that recently though. Leslie Alexander has said in the past he's willing to pay if it puts the Rockets in contention...I guess we'll see whether the organization thinks they are in a position to do that when Jones is in line to get paid.

    ST

  • pretty pleaze parsons says 2 months ago

    I really hate how the salary cap forces teams to underpay players, thus making team continuity very difficult. NBA careers are short enough as they are.

    Not only does a team have to develop players, it must flip them when they are about to command a market salary.

  • Buckko says 2 months ago

    Parsons will be resign after this season with his bird rights to a 9 or 10 million contract and Parsons and Jones will develop to co-fill that 3rd star role. Asik might be traded or keep but I think lin will be resign to 4 or 5 million after his contract runs out.

  • timetodienow1234567 says 2 months ago Who cares? GMs don't care how they win, their goal is to win.
  • BenQueens says 2 months ago

    It's vaguely possible that Morey packages Jones in the last year of his contract, but I can't imagine him doing that earlier unless a team is willing to take a truly horrible contract off his hands in exchange for a star player. I think the situation you're going to see is this: Assuming one of Asik and Lin are still on the roster going into 2015, they won't be resigned and their Bird rights will be renounced. That money will be used to make an offer to Parsons.

    How many non-lotto players can you imagine returning anything close to production-for-dollar as Jones and Bev, especially if TJ extends?

  • rm90025 says 2 months ago

    How they handle Jones will reflect more on the Rockets and Morey than on Jones. Parsons too for that matter. These two are basically players that the organization developed. If Morey trades them in a package for that illusive third star, then Houston really comes across as a team of hired guns rather than a true organization that builds a spirit of camaraderie and belonging. The 90s Rockets had that spirit. It may be lacking a bit under Morey.