Who is Terrence Jones?

Just what exactly is Terrence Jones? We know how tall he is – officially 6’9”. We know that he starts next to Dwight Howard for the Rockets. Now, we know that he played sixteen minutes in the 2014 Rising Stars Challenge. What we don’t know, not at all, is what his ceiling is… or even where it is. Could Terrence Jones, Rockets power forward, jersey number six, become a star in this league? More importantly, just what, exactly, is he good at? In a meaningless game on a Friday night, we got a peek at something important. We’re starting to see who Terrence Jones might be.

Last year, he looked a little bit lost, a little bit underused, and a little bit underwhelming. Houston had high hopes for the trio of rookies they took into the year. Jeremy Lamb was and is promising, but was traded as part of a package for James Harden. That left 16th pick Royce White, 18th pick Terrence Jones and 20th pick Donatas Motiejūnas (waiting in Europe from the prior year). We’re best off ignoring last season for now, because the glimpses of what Terrence Jones is turning into were there in his first summer league.

Jones was one of the stars of the league, climbing up the rookie ladder, scoring over 18 points a game on 50% shooting and looking NBA ready before even seeing a minute on court. That’s not what his rookie year looked like, as so often happens in the NBA. But now, after a year of waiting for his chance to get back to those kind of minutes, he’s starting for the Rockets and reaching for that potential he showed in 2012. His 12.7 points in games he’s started look a lot closer to the aggressive, confident player we saw in Summer League. He’s shooting over 50%, he’s grabbing almost 9 rebounds a game and averaging a block and a half in those games.

What we saw in the Rising Stars Challenge was nothing more than a confirmation of what people in Houston already know. Terrence Jones is the real thing. His 14 points and 6 rebounds may not have been as eye-popping as Andre Drummond’s 30 and 25, but that’s not a bad thing. Drummond shot a respectable 12-21 from the floor. Jones shot a blistering 7-10. The difference between Drummond and Jones can be summed up by one moment from the Rising Stars Challenge practice session. Coach Nate McMillan was calling players up to participate in a game of around the world with military veterans, and he needed three point shooters. Drummond quickly jumped up with a smile on his face, volunteering himself. Of course, nobody minded that Drummond had only attempted (and missed) two threes all season. The game meant nothing except for fun. Terrence Jones, on the other hand, calmly waited and was called last… and placed in the corner, the most efficient spot on the arc. Jones sank his second try, sat back down, and prepared for the next event.

Drummond has to shoulder as much of the load in Detroit as he can. The Pistons are struggling and need some heroes to step up and do it all. Jones isn’t in that situation. Jones has heroes next to him in Dwight Howard and James Harden. Jones doesn’t need to take over. He just needs to take advantage. That’s exactly what he’s been doing, and that’s exactly what he did in the Rising Stars Challenge. He may play as a big most nights, but his game is far removed from Drummond’s. Jones only heaved one three, his first and last miss from deep. With the exception of a contested mid-range jumper, Jones saw a path to the basket and he took it. Sometimes he was ready for a pass to an open dunk. Most of the time, he created for himself.

I asked Terrence Jones after practice if he had been purposefully putting the ball on the floor more. “It’s something my coaching staff believes I can do,” Jones said, “and gives me the opportunity to do.” He’s had that opportunity a lot lately, especially with Dwight Howard and James Harden commanding so much of opposing defensive attention. “I’m a real good ball handler, and some bigs find that difficult to guard,” Jones noted, something that’s been obvious to anyone who watched him play. He has hands like a guard, something he used on national TV repeatedly during the Rising Stars Challenge.

Of course, with the dearth of point guards on Team Hill (Damian Lillard, and that’s it) and the offense-only, my-turn-your-turn style of play in that game, that’s simply what was available. Terrence saw what was on the table, and he took it. “Grant Hill told me he might need me at point forward,” Jones smiled when asked about what position he would play. He won’t be seeing many opportunities to run an offense, but the ability to dribble, to pass, and to shoot corner threes is more than just being a stretch four. That’s something different.

On a night when Terrence Jones helped Grant Hill’s team win the Rising Stars Challenge, the twist is that Jones more resembles the opposing team’s namesake: Chris Webber. Jones isn’t your average big man, and he isn’t your average player. He’s a passer, a shooter, a dribbler and a driver. We don’t know what the limit on his game is, and we don’t know if he could be a star. The beauty is that it doesn’t matter. He doesn’t have to be the next Chris Webber in Houston. He just has to keep taking advantage.

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