HOUSTON -- Terrence Jones is emerging.
Jones finished with 16 points off the bench in the Rockets' 107-104 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night. The Rockets have won a season-high five consecutive games and -- like Jones -- are rising.
In the past four games, Jones averaged 13.5 points following a meager average of just four points per game in three prior contests.
Something has finally clicked.
“It was great to see and we continue to encourage him,” guard Jason Terry said. “Obviously he means a lot to this team, giving us what he’s giving us off the bench. He’s tremendous and we’re just going to need him to continue to keep doing it. He’s a valuable player and he’ll be in this league a long time if he continues to play the way he’s playing now.”
Jones, who turned 24 on Jan. 9, is still a young player in the Rockets’ minds, and since he was a first-round pick from Kentucky in 2012, the organization has been waiting for him to play with a level of consistency.
Health is the biggest issue for him. From losing 40 games last season due to left leg nerve inflammation, six to a pneumothorax and three more to the flu, it seemed like it was always something holding him back.
This season, he missed time in training camp with a bruised rib and five more games with a laceration of the right eyelid.
Injuries aside, his poor play forced him to lose his starting job as interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff took over for Kevin McHale. Bickerstaff wanted Jones to come off the bench so he could have a bigger front-court starting lineup with Dwight Howard and Clint Capela.
The Rockets also asked Jones to expand his game, shoot more 3s and continue to take people to the basket. Jones is averaging a career-high 3.7 3-point field goals per 100 possessions, and while some other overall numbers continue to show him struggling, his current play is improving.
Prior to the victory on Wednesday, Jones was shooting 49.2 percent in victories (45.4 percent overall).
Wednesday night, Jones came off the bench again, but started the second half with Bickerstaff liking the physical presence he gave the Rockets. Bickerstaff said Capela will continue as the starter but Jones’ value has never been this high.
On the night, Jones grabbed nine rebounds, made seven of 11 shots from the floor and led the Rockets in the plus/minus with plus 13.
During this five-game winning streak, Jones is shooting 55.2 percent from the floor and grabbing five rebounds. It’s a well-rounded game the Rockets like from Jones.
“It’s another challenge,” Jones said. “I’m coming from always playing with challenges from playing in Kentucky to Houston. In high school, I’ve always wanted to be on that best stage, playing against the best teams and best opponents. They just want me to be ready to surpass what we did in the playoffs and change this around this season and be one of the top seeds.”
The Rockets' veterans have pushed Jones to become better, especially Howard and James Harden. With this team short-handed in the front court as power forward Donatas Motiejunas continues his recovery from a sore lower back, Jones’ presence to become a solid player is needed.
“Sometimes you got to learn how to talk to guys, and it takes time and it takes years,” Howard said. “With TJ you just got to embrace him, and there’s time in the heat of the battle you want to pick somebody up, with him, to get through to him is to just sit down with him and let him know how important he is to the success of the team. He’s been doing a good job so far.”
The Rockets’ standard is to finish the season in June so a first-round pick will be near the bottom of the list, and when this team acquired him back in 2012, there was so much promise.
It might finally be showing.
“The talent is there with Terrence,” Bickerstaff said. “We need to get to a point where it’s there every night and we can depend on Terrence because he’s a big part of what we do. He’s a big part of our big rotation up front -- he, Clint and Dwight right now get all the minutes at the big spots for us. This is the type of performance that he had tonight and [Tuesday, when he scored 20 points] that he’s capable of. We just need him to string those performances together.”