COMMENTARY | The 2012-2013 season didn't go as planned for Terrence Jones.
The rookie out of Kentucky played in only 19 games for the Houston Rockets, scoring just 104 points and grabbing 65 rebounds in 276 minutes played. Jones played in 24 games for the Rockets' D-League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, playing extremely well while nearly averaging a double-double (19 points and 9 rebounds per game).
The highlight of Jones' first NBA season came as the Rockets' season was winding down. In the six April games where Jones played north of 20 minutes, he averaged 11 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. In the postseason, Houston shortened up its bench considerably, with Jones only playing in just two games in a limited role.
With last season in the rear-view mirror, next season could be a make-or-break year for the young forward. Jones will have a chance to win the starting power forward job in training camp next year, earning the right to start next to one of the top three centers in basketball. The job could go to several candidates, including Omer Asik, Greg Smith and Donatas Motiejunas, and who starts at power forward will be a major storyline throughout training camp.
Looking back at Jones' college career could be an easy way to figure out how he'll adjust to the team next season. In his freshman year at Kentucky, Jones played with a number of future NBA players in Doron Lamb (Orlando Magic), Brandon Knight (Detroit Pistons), and DeAndre Liggins (Oklahoma City Thunder). Josh Harrellson, who spent a short stint with both the New York Knicks and Miami Heat, played alongside Jones in the Kentucky frontcourt, enjoying a breakout senior season. Interestingly enough, Enes Kanter (Utah Jazz) was initially supposed to team up with Jones in the Kentucky frontcourt, but Kanter was ruled ineligible.
In Jones' freshman season at Kentucky, he averaged 15.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game for the Wildcats. Jones didn't assert himself as a pure scorer, but he was a definite glue guy for the team. Brandon Knight received much of the praise as the team's lead guard, but Jones was just as valuable as his teammate, providing the squad with sound rebounding and defensive prowess. Jones failed to assert himself as a legitimate back-to-the-basket scorer, but he displayed a decent face-up game and was fabulous in transition.
Following his freshman season, Jones could have entered the 2011 NBA draft, where many experts had him projected as a top five pick. It wasn't clear which forward spot fit Jones better in the NBA, but many scouts were enamored by his athleticism, strength, motor and court awareness. However, instead of joining former teammates Knight, Liggins, Harrellson and Kanter, Jones decided to stay at Kentucky for another chance at a title with Lamb.
The decision to stay in Kentucky paid some serious dividends from an experience standpoint, but it did hurt Jones' draft stock. In his sophomore season at Kentucky, Jones and Lamb were joined by Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Charlotte Bobcats), Marquis Teague (Chicago Bulls) and Darius Miller (New Orleans Pelicans) to make what was one of the greatest college basketball teams ever assembled.
The Wildcats went on to post a 38-2 record en route to a national championship. Jones played a lesser role on the team as a sophomore, but once again displayed the unselfishness that coaches love to see from their talented players. Jones took a backseat to Davis' shot-blocking and Kidd-Gilchrist's electric slashing, but all three played relatively equal roles in the team's success.
After the season, Jones, Lamb, Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist, Teague and Miller were all drafted. Jones slipped all the way to 18th and was taken by the Rockets in what was a very talented draft pool. Jones joined Jeremy Lamb (Oklahoma City Thunder) and Royce White (Philadelphia 76ers) on a Rockets' roster that was in the process of being torn apart in hopes of landing a star.
Fast forward about nine months and that leads us to today. Coming off a disappointing rookie campaign, Jones could have himself a breakout 2013-14 season. The young lefty has legitimate height, great athleticism, and a thick build that will come in handy against the league's elite power forwards. His shooting is still a little suspect, but if he can stretch his range out to the three-point line with any kind of consistency while providing sound defense and rebounding, he'll be a great candidate to start next to Dwight Howard.
Jones spent that second year in Kentucky playing next to some of the NCAA's best players, and Jones' big-time contributions were lost in the shuffle. All the youngster did was keep his mouth closed, score when the team needed him to score, and help the team win basketball games. He was instrumental in the team's transition offense, where he often times look like a guard either filling the lanes with grace or handling the ball with precision. Although he didn't receive nearly as many accolades as Davis, his intangibles were instrumental to Kentucky's title run; hopefully, he can add the same kind of intangibles to the Rockets next year.
With his NBA body, his athleticism, and his winning pedigree, the Rockets are lucky to have a high-character guy like Jones on their roster. After next season, we'll have a better idea as to what kind of career T-Jones will have in the league but right now, he's certainly part of what looks like a promising future in Houston.
M. De Moor is an NBA junkie and a graduate of Montclair State University. He has followed the Rockets from the championship days of Hakeem Olajuwon, to the years of Francis and Mobley, to the McGrady and Yao era, and will continue to follow them through Harden and Dwight's reign of destruction.
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