The Houston Rockets need second-year man Terrence Jones to develop into a versatile power forward that can perfectly complement center Dwight Howard. The Kentucky product has the kind of skill set that will allow Howard to thrive in Houston.
Jones, the No. 18 overall pick, didn't get much of a chance to showcase his skills last season. After spending the bulk of his rookie year with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBDL (where he averaged 19 points and nine rebounds a game), the forward spent the final month of the regular season with Houston.
Jones logged 23.1 minutes a night during the month of April. He averaged 8.8 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.9 blocks and 1.1 assists per contest (in 19 games). He didn't see much time in the playoffs, appearing in two games and playing around 17.5 minutes a game.
While the sample size is small, Jones had his moments last year. He notched 13 blocks in the final four games of the regular season and showed the ability to hit the occasional three-pointer.
Jones carried the momentum from his late-season surge into this year's Orlando Summer League . He averaged 15.8 points and seven rebounds a game. More importantly, he converted 36 percent of his attempts from behind the arc (4-for-11 from deep).
If Jones can perform in the regular season like he did in the summer league, he could have the inside track on the starting power forward spot.
As Comcast SportsNet Chicago's Aggrey Sam pointed out in his piece on summer league standouts, Jones' "ability to play inside and out could earn him some minutes, especially now that Houston has center Dwight Howard, who's best when paired with a floor-spacing partner in the post."
Last year's starting center Omer Asik could see some time at the 4, but his inability to score from mid-range will make things congested inside when paired with D12. The Rockets could stick with a smaller lineup and move Chandler Parsons to power forward (which they did a lot of last season and were very effective), but that leaves a void at the 3.
Outside shooting isn't the only improvement Jones needs to make to prove himself worthy of being Howard's sidekick. He will have to continue to get better as a defender. The biggest plus to having Asik and Howard side-by-side is the Turkish big man's ability to protect the rim.
Jones got his hands on a few shots in Orlando, but had his struggles defensively as well. Celtics rookie Kelly Olynyk went 8-for-14 from the floor and finished with 19 points playing mostly against Jones. The Gonzaga star also grabbed 10 rebounds.
Jones will be up against forwards a lot better than Olynyk on a daily basis. It is imperative that he shows the ability to be a factor on both ends of the court. Howard's presence will improve the overall team defense, but Jones can't rely on the three-time Defensive Player of the Year to bail him out.
Jones also needs to keep working on finishing at the rim. He really made strides attacking the basket in the summer league. Against Boston, he routinely forced Olynyk into committing fouls and managed to go 10-for-14 from the line.
The 21-year-old has the speed and power to get to the basket at will. Plus, as a lefty, he can be an even bigger mismatch for opponents that aren't used to defending southpaws. That being said, developing his right hand will make him more versatile on the offensive end.
Jones has the skills to be a breakout star in his second season—if given the opportunity. He will certainly benefit from the attention paid to his more-famous teammates. However, for his biggest teammate to profit from him, Jones will have to be the sweet-shooting forward Dwight Howard has always coveted.
Howard's best statistical season came in 2010-11 while with the Orlando Magic. He averaged 22.9 points and 14.1 rebounds a game. He also had one of the best shooting big men in the game in Ryan Anderson as his teammate.
Now, Jones is nowhere near as skilled from behind the arc as Ryno, but it would help him to watch tape of Anderson and Howard playing together. If Jones can draw his man out of the paint, it will allow Howard to dominate on the inside once again.
If he can't, the Rockets will be forced to utilize a slower, more plodding big man like Asik or Donatas Motiejunas. That will affect the team's offensive tempo as well as hinder the team from getting the best possible results from their Howard investment.
The Rockets brought Howard to be the catalyst that puts them over the top. He can't live up to those expectations if he doesn't have the personnel that will allow him to succeed.
That's why it is imperative that Terrence Jones emerges in his second season and becomes Howard's ideal frontcourt mate.