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Rockets Would be Wise to Keep Terrence Jones

George Bridges/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

The Houston Rockets’ dream season is quickly becoming a nightmare. Initially considered a championship contender, Houston is 11-12 and barely holding on to the eighth seed in the Western Conference. The team’s defense, which ranked sixth in efficiency last season, is currently sitting at 27th with a rating of 105.8. Head coach Kevin McHale, who signed a three-year extension with the club around this time last year, is already on the unemployment line.

When you add all of those factors together, it’s only a matter of time before general manager Daryl Morey starts fielding calls for trades. According to ESPN.com’s Calvin Watkins, opposing teams are already making Morey’s hotline bling in hopes of prying power forward Terrence Jones away from H-Town.

It’s easy to understand why Jones sits atop many rival GMs’ Christmas list. He’s only 23 years old and still in the final year of his rookie contract, which will pay him just under $2.5 million for this season. He’ll be a restricted free agent next summer, which means whoever holds his rights at season’s end can match any offer that comes his way.

While he’s battled injuries throughout his four years in the pros, he’s shown flashes of being both a solid rim-protector and a floor-spacing offensive threat. This season, only five players are averaging at least 15 points, seven rebounds and a block per 36 minutes while shooting 39 percent or better from three-point land: Marc Gasol, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Karl-Anthony Towns and Jones.

As tempting as it may be to turn Jones’ vast potential into someone who could help salvage the Rockets’ season, it would be wise for Morey to hang on to the former Kentucky standout.

In addition to the team’s other glaring needs, the Rockets are also weak at the power forward position. After missing the first 20 games of the season following back surgery, Donatas Motiejunas has contributed only two points in 22 minutes so far. Rookie Montrezl Harrell is struggling to crack the rotation, logging just 10.3 minutes per game, while 2015 first-round pick Sam Dekker is still sidelined with his own back troubles. With a majority of the depth chart failing to perform, why should Morey shop his best player at the four-spot?

Furthermore, Jones is one of the team’s better shot-blockers, which comes in handy with Dwight Howard in and out of the lineup. Since joining the team in 2013, Howard leads all Rockets with 212 blocks. However, Jones isn’t far behind the three-time Defensive Player of the Year, despite playing in two fewer games and seeing significantly less time on the floor. Jones also holds a career block percentage of four percent, which is slightly above the 3.9 percent D12 has accrued during his time in Texas.

SWAT

At the other end of the court, Jones has improved his three-point percentage each year since entering the league in 2012. He went from 26.3 percent as a rookie to 30.7 as a sophomore to 35.1 percent last season. This year, he’s converting 39.4 percent from behind the arc. While he’s attempting less than two treys per game, his ability to stretch the floor is valuable to a Rockets team that is infatuated with the three-ball. Houston has been among the top two in three-point attempts per game in each of the last four seasons.  Jones also has a developing mid-range game, as evidenced by this season’s shot chart (courtesy of Vorped.com).

TJ

Lastly, Jones is emerging as a double-double machine with his ability to score the basketball and clean the glass. His 26 double-doubles over the last three seasons are third-best among current Rockets behind superstars Howard (77) and James Harden (40).

Jones will continue to be a hot commodity as long as he stays on the court and off the trainer’s table. His name was already linked to the Rockets’ reported pursuit of Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris earlier this month.

However, young, emerging talents on affordable contracts are hard to come by these days and the Rockets need all the help they can get, especially on the defensive end. Unless another team blows Morey away with an incredible offer, he would be better served using Jones as a building block instead of a trading chip.

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