Last spring, Lamarcus Aldridge put Terrence Jones in a crucible and melted him down. The lesson from that is obvious, isn’t it? Terrence Jones needs to learn to defend the post. He needs to bone up, bulk up, and learn to defend the power forward position. The lesson most people would learn from seeing Jones get roasted by LMA is that he needs to become someone he’s not. I think he learned something better.
On Saturday night, Jones was matched up with Kelly Olynyk, a skilled 7-foot post player–exactly the kind of guy who Jones struggles to defend. On the very first possession, Jones catches the ball near the corner and welcomes Olynyk into the torture chamber.
A pump fake, a jab step, and a quick spin move into the lane, and Olynyk is taking the ball out of the net. Less than 20 seconds later, the Rockets go straight to Jones again, this time in the mid-post. A couple fakes, a quick dribble into the paint, and Olynyk has picked up his first foul. Clyde Drexler makes a joke about the Dream saying “we want to check his lateral movement.” Jones went on to put up 25 points with 10 rebounds and 2 blocks. It was one of the biggest games of his career to date.
Overshadowed by that performance however, was that Jared Sullinger pushed Jones around a lot. Sully grabbed nine rebounds, posted 14 points (although it took him 15 shots), and generally bullied the Rockets’ front line most of the night. Terrence Jones is still just 6’8″, and he still can’t defend bruising 4’s and 5’s. On some nights, against some teams, he’s still a liability.
Big. Fat. Hairy. Deal.
NBA players don’t become great by eliminating all of their weaknesses. They win by playing to their strengths. For every big man who Jones struggles to defend, there are two who will struggle to defend him. He’s arguably the best perimeter ball-handler of any true power forward in the league, even better than many starting small forwards. Go down the list of top-tier power forwards in the league–Kevin Love, Zach Randolph, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Anthony Davis–and how many of those guys are going to cherish the thought of having to defend a perimeter player for 36 minutes? Even if they can hang with the guy (thinking of Davis here), they’re still going to be dragged away from the rim.
Of course, all of those stars will go into the matchup with the mindset that they’re going to crush the smaller player in the post. For great players, mismatches are just an opportunity to dominate. That’s the lesson Jones should have learned from LaMarcus Aldridge: force the other guy to play on your terms. Force their coach to pull them out because they can’t stop you. Force them to cry for mercy. Jones has holes in his game that he needs to work on, but he has all the tools he needs to torture opponents right now. Just ask Kelly Olynyk.