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Terrence Jones and perception

Terrence Jones is now averaging 10.1 points and 6.5 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game on the young season, shooting 53% from the floor and 48% on 3’s.  Per 36 minutes, these numbers come out to 15.8 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks.  The 21-year-old has thus far posted a PER of 19.1 (15 can be understood as the ‘average’ NBA player) while his team has posted a whopping 119 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.  As a starter, Jones has averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds and his team has gone 8-2.  By the testimony of most interested observers, Jones’ insertion into the starting lineup (in place of center Omer Asik) has been the catalyst for Houston’s sudden turnaround after a disappointing early start.

As we know, Jones fell to the Rockets at #18 in the 2012 NBA Draft.  I decided to take a trip through the archives to cobble together the story on a guy who most felt would go much higher had he come out a season before.

Jones was rated the 10th ranked prospect coming out of high school in 2010.  (Interesting to note Harrison Barnes ahead of Kyrie Irving.)

This December 2010 DraftExpress profile writes of Jones: “With his physical tools, NBA-ready body, and strong and growing skill set, Jones has a high ceiling and should stay put firmly in the early-to-mid lottery if he can continue this play all season.”

This December 2010 piece from Washington Wizards TrueHoop Network affiliate Bullets Forever writes: “Most mock drafts have Terrence Jones listed anywhere from pick 3 to 8 in the first round. I have him as #1.”  The author goes on to make his case for why Jones will be the best player in the upcoming draft.

Jones then decides to return to Kentucky for his sophomore year, and that’s when the wheels fall off.

 

From an April 2011 DraftExpress profile on Jones: “early season success surpassed the expectations of most. The lefty looked dominant at times playing as a face-up power forward, displaying a lethal combination of skill creating his own shot and making shots from the perimeter, along with aggressiveness and intensity attacking inside the paint and crashing the boards.”…”His early season success drew plenty of attention from NBA decision-makers, with his name often being mentioned with some of the top prospects in the NCAA. As the season went on, however, Jones lost some momentum, as his shot wasn’t falling, his role in Kentucky’s offense decreasing, and his confidence appearing to take a hit.”…”Some early evidence of this was seen in Calipari’s profanity-laced tirade during the Alabama game on January 18th, where he called Jones, amongst other things, selfish. Calipari later explained that Jones sometimes has a tendency to play soft and bail out his defender by settling for 3-pointers as opposed to putting pressure on his man and attacking the basket.”…”The more likely role for him at the NBA level, at least at this stage in his career with his current body and skill set, would be to play as more of a face-up four man, similar to his role at Kentucky. This would suit teams looking to get out and run a bit more, and would help with spacing in the half-court. Jones could continue to exploit his quickness advantage on the offensive end and utilize his ability to make plays of the dribble, attacking the basket, or using a dribble or two and pulling up for jumpers.”

(Lo and behold, that last bit is dead-on foreshadowing of Jones’ fit in the Rockets offense.)

April 2012: “An incredibly versatile and talented player with clear-cut NBA tools, Jones was an elite player in the college game when he was zoned in, but the difficulties he has had making his presence felt on a consistent basis, staying focused for entire games, and not pouting when things don’t go his way remain disconcerting.”…”Kept on an incredibly short leash and challenged publicly on a few occasions by John Calipari, who had no qualms pulling Jones early and often for a defensive lapse or not boxing out, Jones struggled with his body language at times early in the season, and seemed entirely content to simply blend in for long stretches as the season went on.”…”Measured at 6’9 with a 7’2 wingspan and powerful 245-pound frame that he worked hard to add additional muscle to last summer, Jones has everything you look for in a NBA forward physically, even if he could be considered a tad undersized for the power forward position. He runs the floor like a small forward, plays above the rim in traffic, makes fluid moves off the dribble, and has the package of tools to defend multiple positions at the NBA level.”…”A likely lottery pick, Jones’s stock could rise if he can convince NBA scouts he’s moved past the issues that have plagued him in the past.”

From viewing this timeline, one can understand not only why Jones has flourished thus far with the Rockets, but also why he languished on the bench for so much of his rookie season despite showing early signs of physical readiness.  His is the story of an uber-talented prospect with skillset and prototypical size and athleticism but severe issues with effort and concentration.

One of my pet topics is perception and the role of pedigree in polluting future forecasts.  Take Jeremy Lin for instance.  A guy with his size and quickness who has produced at the rate in which he has would be considered much more valuable than he is under normal circumstances.  But because he was undrafted, most people view him as a fluke.  It’s interesting to apply this same thought exercise to Terrence Jones.  Let’s imagine he had come out in 2011, gone to the Rockets at #5, and was putting up the numbers right now that he is.  We’d almost surely be extrapolating that production out via age and maturation and projecting him to become a 20-10 All-Star type player by his mid 20’s.  Since we got him at 18, we’re still not really sure if he’s the longterm answer at the ‘4.’

Is he the answer?  We’ll need more than ten games to determine that, especially as teams continue to adjust their game plans towards his tendencies.  You can rest assured, however, that if Jones keeps up his current rate of production, the Rockets won’t be targeting a power forward in an Omer Asik trade.

What’s the future for Jones?  He’s done his damage exactly how the scouting report predicted.  He’s spread the floor, facing up off the dribble, but also makes quick cuts to the hoop for easy baskets which he’s converted.  (I actually think this latter ability has gone unappreciated, especially when realizing that those same passes Jones is converting upon were being dropped by Omer Asik.)  Can he stay focused and committed?  Those were the issues that ruined his draft stock.

That 48% 3-point shooting will regress to the mean in due time.  But simply the threat of 3-point ability is what makes the Rockets’ offense work and gives Dwight Howard and James Harden room to operate.  Jones’ main task this season will be to just continue bringing the effort and focus.  It is far too often that Dwight Howard goes for a block and his man scores the offensive putback.  (This happens atleast once every game.)  As the next biggest Rocket, Jones has to do a better job boxing out in these situations.  He also must do a better job on defensive rotations where, at some points, he’s been horrendous.  I could say that this will be rectified with age but I’ve seen far too many talented big men flame out after failing to ever mature in this facet of the game.

Over the summer, I’d like to see Jones continue refining his face-up game, working on ways to beat his man off the dribble.  His quickness and ability to handle the ball will always put him at an advantage and as he gains confidence in himself, he’ll become more decisive with his moves.  Right now, Jones far too often looks unsure of what he wants to do when receiving the catch.

Still, the biggest area which will determine Jones’ future is his help defense and concentration.  Fans look at rebound numbers and blocks and think a big man is producing defensively.  In actuality, help defense is the most critical barometer.  Teams with title aspirations simply cannot overcome shoddy interior defense.  That’s one of the biggest reasons why so many young teams flame out.

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About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of Red94.net.

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