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Slicing And Dicing: Terrence Jones’ Secret To Success

In 24 games with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers last season, Terrence Jones played out of his mind, averaging 19.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.3 blocks per contest. But along the way, there were some glaring weaknesses in his game, mainly his jump-shot. While he knocked down 30 threes over the course of the season, he was incredibly inconsistent from beyond the arc (29.7 percent) and shot far too many per game (4.2). The thing is, the situation Jones was in didn’t best play to his strengths, as he was often left on an island having to create shots for himself, implicated by his high usage rate. It soon became clear that his jump-shot was iffy and that he wanted to go left every, single time, which allowed defensive-minded players like Christian Eyenga to take advantage.

While it wasn’t necessarily a huge issue in the D-League, I had concerns about his game transitioning to the next level. Obviously he had the tools to be a big time asset to a team like the Rockets, I just couldn’t tell how ready he was to produce. What I didn’t take into account, though, was that, unlike what happened in the D-League, Jones could sit back into a more comfortable role; one that doesn’t require him to shoot nearly 15 times a game; one that doesn’t require him to be the first, second, third or even fourth option. Instead, he could focus on the things he does best, which is rebound, be a terror on the defensive end, fast-break and cut to the basket like his life depends on it. And through the six games he has started, it’s clear that those tools are what the Rockets have been missing.

When James Harden, Patrick Beverley, Chandler Parsons or Jeremy Lin are on the court, Jones is a perfect pick and roll partner because he’s strong, fast, agile and has a pair of soft hands, making him capable of throwing up floaters over the outstretched arms of opposing centers. But as you’ll tell from his shot-chart below, Jones doesn’t have a mid-range game and isn’t much of a threat from three, making him quite different from stretch fours like Ryan Anderson.

But there are two positives to take away from this:

1) He’s not afraid to shoot threes. Jones won’t shoot 50 percent from beyond the arc all season long. In fact, if he shoots anywhere near 33 percent, I’ll consider it a win. But letting it fly when he’s wide open keeps the defense honest and prevents his defender from doubling down on Dwight whenever he’s in the post. You know, the opposite of what happens when Omer Asik is out there.

2) He’s a great finisher around the rim. 70 percent of Jones’ shots so far this season have been within five feet of the basket, which is great news for the Rockets. He’s not a very good finisher with his right hand, but that’s not a big problem when he’s losing his defender with crisp cuts to the basket and floating high above the rim.

But more about those cuts.

In the video below, I want you to just watch Jones. Don’t worry about Howard, Harden, Parsons or Lin; just key in on Jones and watch how he’s always moving, getting himself in a position that spreads the floor and thereby making him an easy target for his teammates to find.

Back door cuts aren’t something I expect every basketball fan to drool over, but there is no denying its effectiveness. Just ask the Miami Heat how valuable Chris Andersen is when it comes to spacing the floor. I bet they’ll tell you they wouldn’t have won the championship without him. Now, I’m not saying that Jones is on Birdman’s levels, but there are some parallels here.

After spending the majority of his rookie season in the D-League, Jones has only played a total of 486 minutes in the NBA. He’s young. He’s raw offensively. He has a lot to learn. But unlike many sophomores currently in starting roles, Jones doesn’t have to worry about pressure. Instead, he can just focus on doing what’s gotten him this far already.

So far, that’s gone swimmingly. Jones has averaged 13.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.3 assists in 32.4 minutes as a starter this season. There will be some nights when Jones looks out of his depth, like on Wednesday when he fell victim to the wrath of Dirk Nowitzki’s silky smooth jumper. But there are also nights where he’ll make you marvel over his potential, like when he scored 24 points on 10-for-12 shooting in 27 minutes against the Boston Celtics.

Rumour has it that the Houston Rockets will trade Omer Asik before the trade deadline, and if they get someone like Ryan Anderson in return, great. Red Nation will be happy. But thanks to his recent outburst, Jones may have given the Rockets some food for thought: Do they really need a knock down shooter? Or could a tweener with huge upside be a perfect fit?

What the answer is to both those questions, we don’t know. But for now, Terrence Jones looks a damn good fit with this Rockets squad.

Scott Rafferty