The Rockets Daily – January 21, 2013

Ranked – Marc Stein’s weekly power rankings came out yesterday, with the Rockets rising one spot to number eight.

He’s not going to score 36 points every time out, like we saw against Milwaukee, but the success of Terrence Jones has become a pretty handy barometer for which version of the Rockets we’re going to get. Houston is 16-3 when Jones scores 11 or more … and 10-10 when he doesn’t.

The first thing I noticed about this adaptation of the rankings is that it is the first time in a couple of weeks that you can make a very reasonable case that every team the Committee of One has ranked ahead of the Rockets is actually better than the Rockets.  I never for a second believed that the Raptors or Suns’ hot streaks would leave them ahead of the Rockets for any length of time.

The second thing I noticed is that record, of course.  That kind of number is threatening to leave small sample-size range and is venturing into trend territory.  Coming off a game in which Donatas Motiejunas and Omri Casspi played so well in his absence (against the number two ranked team, no less) might dilute some of the praise Jones deserves for his contributions to the Rockets since he was moved into the starting lineup, but you can’t deny his impact.

Still Jones-ing – Patrick Harrel of The Dreamshake has a nice wrap-up of Terrence Jones so far this season.  Also, the first question posed to a Hickory-High roundtable was “Is Terrence Jones the perfect complement to Dwight Howard?”

With Jones’ play of late, it’s kind of hard to escape him (not that you’d want to), so allow me to indulge a little.

Here’s a fun little exercise: which player would you want as your young power forward of the future?

Player A: 27.5 mpg, 9.8 ppg, 53% FG, 72% FT, 7.7 reb (2.8 off), 0.4 apg, 3.25 blocks pg.

Player B: 30 mpg, 12.9 ppg, 52% FG, 59%FT, 8.5 reb (2.4 off), 1.4 apg, 1.6 blocks pg.

Last week the excellent Kirk Goldsberry did a feature for Grantland about the development of Serge Ibaka’s game.  I read it, and that night the Rockets beat the Pelicans in New Orleans.  Against all-world talent Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones had the first of his career-best games that he would go on to have that week, and it got me thinking: how does Jones compare to Ibaka at similar stages in their development?  I wanted to find a way to touch on this comparison that night, but with an up coming game against the Thunder and Ibaka, I couldn’t resist holding off and seeing my idea play out on-screen.  We all know how that went, and the bad taste in my mouth didn’t lend itself to talking nice about anything Rockets.  And then, just two nights later, this happened.  I couldn’t resist anymore, so I looked up the splits from Jones’ time as a starter so far this season and put them next to Ibaka’s time as a starter in his second and third seasons.  I used two seasons (10-11 & 11-12) for Ibaka to balance the age difference vs NBA experience, as Jones is already 22 and Ibaka only turned 21 during his sophmore campaign (Ibaka’s stat lines were nearly identical anyways).

You would most likely take Player A over Player B, but it’s close isn’t it?  Player A is a young Ibaka, and player B is Jones so far this season as a starter.  Again, small sample-size alert; Jones hasn’t played even half the games as Ibaka during these periods of their careers that I used.  But after the way Jones has played the last month, these numbers at least seem like a safe indicator of how the rest of his season will go for him.  And even when you take into account the entirety of his career thus far, Ibaka has never had a game like the one Jones produced against the Milwaukee Bucks Saturday night (and honestly, he’s only had a handful of nights as productive as Jones’ against the Pelicans).

Now, this isn’t to say that Terrence Jones is going to turn into Serge Ibaka.  But there are enough similarities there that it’s not outrageous to expect that kind of development from him.  Ibaka, in his short time in the NBA, has already proven mastery of two elite skills: mid-range jump shooting and rim protection.  But if you read the Goldsberry piece, the shot charts of Ibaka during the 2 seasons that I used for the comparison show something quite similar to what you would expect to see from Jones at this point in his career: mostly shots at the rim.  And while he is one of the premier shot blockers in the league, Ibaka’s overall defense has never quite lived up to his reputation.  Also, Jones lags behind in free throw shooting, something a player of his talent should resolve immediately.

Terrence Jones still has a long way to go if he wants to be recognized next to players of Ibaka’s ilk.  However, Serge had two elite teammates to help him sculpt his game and aid his development, and with James Harden and Dwight Howard in tow, Jones has similar help.  But Ibaka was drafted as a project on a young team with time to grow together.  Jones has only a few more months before his team will expect him to perform in the spotlight that is the NBA Playoffs.  If this team is going to meet the expectations of a contender, his learning curve will need to be sharp.

Push it to the max – No league in the world markets itself like the NBA, and the Rocket’s have two of the biggest personalities in the game.  That one of them has one of the all-time iconic looks doesn’t hurt either.

Even at the expense of the Beard, you have to admit, those side burns were pretty sweet.

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