Before the season began, Houston faced one predominant question regarding its roster. The most pressing question was simply: “Who is our power forward?” Many writers looked outside the current Rockets roster. Some lauded Terrence Jones to be the incumbent starters. Others, still, sought Donatas Motiejunas. To this day, sadly, many still press the idea of trading Omer Asik for a power forward. Faith in the Rockets roster was rare but, where it was present, it was rewarded. Terrence Jones has emerged as the ideal running mate to Dwight Howard in averaging 10 points, 7 rebounds, 1.5 blocks a game on the season. Jones’s PER is around 19, above league average.
A quick disclaimer, Hollinger’s NBA Player Statistics for Power Forwards lists Dwight Howard as a power forward. Reduce all PER ranked spots by one (except for Anthony Davis) to accurately reflect positional roles.
The emergence of Terrence Jones has been a key reason for the early season success of the Rockets. The early experimentation of the Twin Towers ended in disaster. From that disaster, Jones rose like a Phoenix in the ashes of the maligned lineup. Currently Terrence Jones ranks 12th in the NBA in PER, 15th in true shooting percentage, 31st in points and 17th in rebounds. All of this is in only 24 minutes a game. For comparison’s sake, let’s look at some of the other power forwards in the 2012 draft class and see how they stack up to Terrence Jones.
Anthony Davis, the unibrow, the number one pick in the 2012 draft is averaging a dominant 19 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 blocks a game while posting a 26.4 PER. Let’s face it, Davis is a special talent and that’s why he went number one overall. Jones, still, has posted per 36-minute totals of 15 points and 10 rebounds, not far off of the mark that Anthony Davis is setting in roughly 34 minutes a game.
Thomas Robinson, the fifth pick, former King, Rocket, and current Blazer went number five overall in 2012. This season Robinson is sporting a (roughly) 16 PER, 6 points, 4 rebounds, and .2 blocks per game. Much was made of Robinson’s potential and, sadly, he has not had a chance to really showcase this talent. Houston acquired Robinson for trade purposes despite his immense potential. Robinson is only seeing 12 minutes of floor-time a night with the league darling Portland Trailblazers.
John Henson, not to be confused for a puppeteer, is a close analog for Terrence Jones. Henson is putting up 11 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game posting a PER of about 20. For reference, that puts Henson in the top 10 most efficient power forwards in the NBA. The Bucks sit at 4-16 but that level of efficiency is impressive for a team that could easily encourage poor shot selection and wasteful play.
The last player to have been drafted in front of Terrence is Royce White. We don’t talk about Royce White.
A look at the comparators reveals one simple fact. Jones is one of the three best power forwards from his draft class. Not only has Terrence managed to carve out a spot amongst the top players in his draft class but the top players at his position. Jones has managed to carve out such a niche as a player with athleticism at the basket and skill from the three-point line and inward. Jones’s help-side defense and perimeter movement has been a major boost to the Rockets at times. His ability to pull opposing big men away from Dwight Howard on post ups and run the fast break has kept lanes clean for the Rockets in transition. Defensively Terrence Jones is setting the tone on a consistent basis by blowing up the highlight reel with blocks leading to dunks at the opposite end of the floor. Despite all of this the conversation revolving around the Rockets seems to center around the idea that Omer Asik needs to be dealt for a power forward. Just ask yourself one simple question.
Why? Jones is already one of the better power forwards in the league. He’s barely missing the top 10. From a wins-added standpoint Terrence Jones is 19th among power forwards. The players ranked above Jones in this category? Kevin Love, Lamarcus Aldridge, Paul Milsap, Derrick Favors, John Henson, and Ryan Anderson. The majority of those players are considered key to their teams or immovable so long as their teams are viable playoff contenders. For the non-contenders the conversation centers around their integral nature as building blocks. None of the players who could reasonably be moved by their teams are as complementary to Howard as Jones. For example, Jared Sullinger is the only really fungible player ahead of Jones in the wins added column. Boston likes what they have in Sullinger, they’re rebuilding, and his game is similar to Jones’s with some added power and bulk.
At the end of the day, the Rockets are thriving because of the efforts of Terrence Jones. The sophomore power forward is, for all intents and purposes, a rookie on the floor. As a rookie he’s producing at a clip that, in an expanded role, could see production similar to Anthony Davis. The presence of Dwight Howard and James Harden means that Terrence Jones doesn’t need to grow as quickly as Davis nor does Jones have to produce obscene point, rebound, or block totals to contribute to this team’s winning. The situation in Houston is perfect for Jones to develop at his own pace and each step in that development is integral to Houston’s winning ways. The proposed trades by fans and various media outlets eschew that simple principle in favor of sexier names on the trade market. These names, however, are instant producers at higher usage rates, and in more minutes. Is there anything really wrong with winning and letting Terrence develop?