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2016-17 Player Preview: Terrence Jones is the Pelicans X-Factor this season

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Terrence Jones could be the secret to unlocking Anthony Davis and making New Orleans viable in the Western Conference.

NBA: Preseason-New Orleans Pelicans at Orlando Magic Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

First, the good news: The New Orleans Pelicans signed a lot of nice NBA players this offseason. Now, the bad news: A lot of those players may lack the talent to become proverbial needle movers for a franchise that desperately needs several others to stand out alongside of Anthony Davis. Terrence Jones might be the lone exception from this incoming group of mundane players.

Among all the players the Pelicans signed during the summer, only one that has had a good season — dare I even say really good or excellent — on his resume. Two seasons ago, and at just a tender 22 years of age, Jones started 77 games for the Houston Rockets. He compiled a 19.1 PER, a 2.2 VORP, and a 119 offensive rating paired with a 104 defensive rating.

The caveat to Jones season two years ago is, well, pretty much all of last season. [Lets forget the 2014-15 season as Jones missed more games than he played.] Needless to say, he had a very Pelicans-like season — that is to fully imply it was an epic disaster.

During the 2015-16 NBA campaign, Jones started only 11 games and appeared in 50 games total. His PER diminished all the way down to a below average mark of 13.5. He also posted the first negative net rating of his career with a 105 on offense and a 109 on defense. In the Rockets playoff series against the Golden State Warriors, he failed to register a single minute of action and was forced to watch Michael Beasley and Josh Smith from the sidelines.

Ouch.

Luckily for the Pelicans, that poor season and Jones’ connection with Davis from their University of Kentucky days allowed Dell Demps to sign the free agent forward to a bargain basement deal.

Reasons to be optimistic

The best argument I can make as to why Pelicans fans should be optimistic about Terrence Jones is because even in his worst season, he was still statistically better than most of his peers on the roster. Jones’ 13.5 PER was higher than any PER posted by Dante Cunningham, Alonzo Gee, or Quincy Pondexter the past two years. So basically, Terrence Jones worst is has been better than the rest of the Pelicans backup bigs best.

Another reason to be optimistic about Jones is that he uhhh………… pretty much hated his teammates in Houston.

If you believe in things like effort, team chemistry, and a good work environment, then you probably should probably expect to see Terrence Jones have a bounce back campaign. That doesn’t mean he will be a star again, but certainly he should be better than his most recent results.

Another strong reason to be hopeful about Jones’ ability to return to form is just his sheer talent level. Standing at 6’9.25’ with a 7’2.5” wingspan and a 8’11” standing reach, and tipping the scales at 252 pounds, Jones is a physically gifted player, even by NBA standards.

Fans have received a taste for what Jones can do during the preseason schedule. He appeared against the Mavericks, Pacers, Hawks and Magic and averaged 17.3 points and 1.3 blocks — the highest preseason marks in both categories — in just 25.8 minutes a game for the Pelicans. In those contests, his energy and production was evident. Jones was flying around the court blocking shots, making some fine passes, and using his ball skills to drive down the lane past other big men for easy scores.

Reasons to be Pessimistic about Terrence Jones

The number one ding against Jones for his entire career has been his rebounding rate. For a PF he just isn’t a very good on the glass. His rebound rate of 11.1 ranked 59th amongst 76 PFs who qualified last season. In his best season his rebound rate was 14.1, which was good enough to tie for 31st among qualifying PFs in the 2013-14 NBA season. Terrence Jones has never been a good rebounder so the best the Pelicans can realistically hope for is that his board work isn’t absolutely terrible.

Jones poor rebounding does pragmatically limit his ceiling with the Pelicans, which is more of a concern considering the team-wide issues evidenced on the glass in preseason. I would love to see Jones play spot minutes at center, but to play minutes at center he would need to post a rebounding rate somewhere closer to 15. Hence, the Pelicans will likely be forced to take minutes away from Jones and give them to the likes of Asik and Ajinca (Yuck) when rebounding is vital.

The only other thing that makes me nervous about Jones in the slightest is his attitude. Gentry and Erman have been known to be critical of players in the public eye. Jones might be a guy who would react to such criticism after his coach effectively banished him last season. My hope is that Anthony Davis’ relationship with Jones can help mitigate that risk.

Dear Pelicans Coaching Staff - Stop Trying to make Dante Cunningham happen

Here’s what I know: The Pelicans big men, outside of Anthony Davis, are not very good because of glaring flaws. In my opinion, this lack of talent on the roster has always hindered Davis because he hasn’t been particularly good at handling double teams. For Davis to maximize his potential, Terrence Jones would have to return to being a multi-dimensional producer.

Hey, stranger things have happened, so lets just hope Jones gets a chance to prove himself.

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