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Film Session: Terrence Jones

How Terrence Jones has the potential to be a weapon at both ends of the floor

Funny thing about playing on a team absolutely loaded with talent: some players shine brighter and receive more recognition than they otherwise would, while others find themselves frequently underappreciated despite making key contributions and sacrificing their games for the betterment of the team.

For an example of the latter, look no further than the Heat’s Chris Bosh, a player who far too often found himself referred to as little more than a walking punch line as the least celebrated and much maligned member of Miami’s Big Three. Forget about his All-Star caliber production or the fact he willingly subjugated his considerable skill set so that his more spectacular teammates could rise to even greater heights. In the court of public opinion, he was often labeled a colossal disappointment and an underachiever; that is, of course, until he got hurt during the second round of the playoffs and Miami’s postseason title hopes ended up on the brink of oblivion as a result. Suddenly, Bosh was appreciated like never before and the recipient of newfound respect that was long overdue.

What actually changed? Nothing, of course, but the public’s perception. Bosh’s cautionary tale offers a valuable lesson on the way we assign value to players, especially those with tremendous talent who willingly accept complimentary roles in order to better mesh with their All-Star studded rosters. It’s so easy to get seduced and hoodwinked by numbers (especially the wrong numbers) that we sometimes lose sight of the dirty work and little things that go a long way toward determining winners and losers.

So where does Terrence Jones fit into this? Here’s what we know: He was a highly touted forward from Oregon who put together a very good freshman season at the University of Kentucky. And though many of his per game numbers dipped during his sophomore campaign, he played a pivotal role on an absolutely stacked Wildcats team that lost only two games all season, won the national title and eventually produced the Nos. 1 and 2 overall picks in the NBA Draft. Jones is a strong, long (wingspan: 7-2) and explosive athlete who can score in a variety of ways. He’s also a highly disruptive defender capable of guarding multiple positions.

Was Jones undervalued on draft night due in part to having played alongside Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist? Only time can accurately answer that question. So while we await the first hints of a reply, let’s head back into the film room to take a closer look at what the Rockets’ rookie brings to the table and how he might fit in among the club’s current collection of talent.

 

Typically our film sessions have spent the vast majority of the time discussing a player’s skill set on the offensive end, but with Jones it seems only appropriate to begin the conversation with a look at his ability as a defender. The 6-9, 252 pound 20-year-old excelled in nearly every defensive metric available this past season, wreaking havoc with length that allows him to protect the rim like a much bigger man and quickness that enables him to patrol passing lanes like a guard. Post-ups, spot-ups, isolations -- Jones slammed the door shut on his assignment with regularity regardless of the situation. Opponents shot a shade under 35 percent from the field against him in post-up opportunities and that number dropped all the way to an anemic 23 percent when anyone tried to beat him one-on-one via isolations.

Check out this sequence of plays and it quickly becomes clear why he enjoys so much success on that end. Jones shows great instincts as a help defender, utilizing tremendous technique (in the first clip, for instance, he demonstrates a strong understanding of where he’s supposed to be on the floor and also does an excellent job of staying vertical and on the ground just prior to rejecting the second shot) and timing both to block shots and pick pockets. Going forward, it’s easy to envision him becoming a demon defending the pick-and-roll with the versatility his considerable physical gifts afford.

 

Another benefit to Jones’ defensive prowess: every time he makes a play on that end it simultaneously triggers his transition game at the other and Jones can be an absolute beast when running the floor -- no surprise given his explosive athleticism. The former Wildcat averaged 1.178 points per possession in transition this past season, ranking him in the nation’s 69th percentile according to Synergy Sports.

But Jones’ burst and bounce aren’t just made manifest during fast breaks; he’s also a terror on the offensive glass (the free throw follows in this sequence won’t be routine at the next level but they’re certainly jarring examples of his dynamic athleticism) and a threat to flush anything every time he darts in from the wing.

 

Currently the most consistent part of Jones’ offensive arsenal in the half court can be found when he sets up shop on the low block. As can be said of pretty much any 20-year-old basketball player on the planet, Jones’ low post game is certainly in need of more polish, but that didn’t prevent him from punishing opposing defenses down low last season. Jones averaged .924 points per possession when operating out of the low post in ’11-’12, good enough to place him in the nation’s 74th percentile according to Synergy.

Watch the above sequence and you’ll see Jones alternatively exhibit patience when operating out of a double-team, assertiveness when occupying prime real estate in the paint, and an overpowering relentlessness when matched up against an opponent who’s simply outclassed. His body of work suggests Jones can be a real weapon in this area over time, especially with additional experience, refinement and tutelage from the likes of Rockets Head Coach Kevin McHale.

 

Believe it or not, Jones is almost as versatile on the offensive side of the ball as he is on defense. In addition to his strong work in the low post, he also excelled in spot-up and isolation situations this past season (ranking in the 69th and 78th percentile in each category respectively according to Synergy), lending credence to the notion that he has the ability to slide over to the small forward position in a pinch and be productive there as well.

Jones knocked down about 33 percent of the three-pointers he attempted over the course of his two-year college career and if he can improve upon that mark going forward he will open up a wide world of possibilities when it comes to his pro potential. Force defenses to respect his perimeter stroke and suddenly plays like the ones seen in clips three and four of this sequence will be available to him thanks to his ability to put the ball on the floor, drive past defenders and finish around the rim.

Moving Forward

On the offensive side of the ball, the first priority for Jones is to become a better shooter. Obtaining range from the NBA three-point line will take time, but there’s no reason why the rookie can’t make significant strides at the charity stripe right away. Jones hit less than 65 percent of his free throws last season and given the amount of time he spends banging bodies and drawing contact, he would help his team immensely if he can improve that mark by about ten percentage points.

The need for consistency, too, will be preached at every opportunity.  Jones had some monster games fully befitting his talent while at Kentucky; perhaps none better than the 26 points, 9 rebounds, 4 blocks and 4 steals effort he produced against St. John’s last December. But there were some outright clunkers mixed in as well. Some of that wild vacillation is just part of the package of youth (this just in: 20-year-olds have a tendency to be unpredictable on occasion!). It should be noted, however, that the Rockets coaching staff has thus far been extremely impressed with the effort Jones has showcased in practice.

It comes down to this: Terrence Jones doesn’t need to dominate or put up monster numbers to make a significant impact upon the game. Perhaps one day he will do all of those things but he can help his team win right now by simply doing the dirty work, cleaning the glass and locking down his opponent on the defensive end. He did as much (and more) at Kentucky. Perhaps it wasn’t fully appreciated the way it should have been. Keep winning, however, and it will be. Sooner or later, that value eventually gets recognized and receives its proper due. Sometimes it simply takes us a little longer to figure out than it should.