Back in July 2012, I wrote a story about how the Rockets were loaded with power forwards, many of them undersized for the position. In addition to players already on the rosters like Luis Scola and Patrick Patterson, there were new guys like Donatas Montejunas and Royce White (God help us) and even people you may never have heard of like Jon Leuer and Jon Brockman -- yes, we had two guys with the spelling Jon on our team at one time.
Scola was renounced. Patterson was traded as was Marcus Morris. White was traded/banished (#BeWell) to Philadelphia. Both Jons were released. What remained was Montejunas, a European player with some upside, and Terrence Jones, then a rookie heading into his first season. GM Daryl Morey and the coaching staff had hoped that at least one of those guys would pan out, but only two remained. And by the middle of last season with Montejunas an afterthought on the bench and Jones demoted to the D-League, most everyone believed that power forward would need to be a high priority for the Rockets prior to the trade deadline this season.
It had gotten so bad in fact that the Rockets opted for a Twin Towers approach to the front court, playing both Dwight Howard and Omer Asik at the same time. Within a month, that idea was scrapped and the search began for a "stretch four" that could hit three pointers and still be big enough to rebound and hold his own on the low block. By all accounts, the Rockets tried to land one of them even setting a self-imposed deadline on a trade of Asik that never materialized.
Then, something happened. Out of the rubble of that eight-man power forward blob emerged Jones.
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Hopes had been high when he was taken in the first round of the 2012 draft out of Kentucky where he won a national title alongside burgeoning star Anthony Davis. But, he struggled his rookie year with discipline and on the defensive end of the floor. He was even involved in an altercation over the summer involving a homeless man. All that seemed to turn around for Jones in his second season once he entered the starting lineup. For the season, Jones is averaging 11 points and nearly 8 rebounds per game and 1 block per game. Since January 1, he is averaging just under 17 points, 11 rebounds and nearly 2 blocks. His field goal percentage has improved as well from 51 to 53 percent.
This includes a 36-point outburst against Milwaukee on Sunday and 25 against New Orleans (and his old Kentucky teammate) last week. Since Christmas he's scored in double figures in all but three of the Rockets 13 games with three games over 20 and one over 30. Perhaps his most complete game was in Washington where he put up 19 points, 14 rebounds and 3 blocks, shooting 50 percent from the field and not missing a free throw (still an issue for the youngster).
Jones has not only become a legit starter at power forward, he has all but solved a problem position for the team and given them options when it comes to trading Asik. Before the emergence of Jones, the Rockets almost certainly were forced to go after a forward in a trade. But, now, they could look for defensive help on the perimeter or try to acquire some shooting, especially considering how bad the Rockets have been from the three point line -- one of their greatest strengths the last couple of years.
Of course, the toughest task for any young player is not just playing well but sustaining it over time. Jones will need to work hard at keeping his energy level up and adjusting as the league begins to figure him out. But, even if he can provide solid play at the position, it certainly alleviates what was a significant weakness for the Rockets and perhaps even turns it into a strength.