The initially not-serious leg injury to Terrence Jones continues to grow more mysterious by the day, with the forward’s absence now at eight games — over two weeks of real time — and counting.
Consider the timeline:
Nov. 3: Jones plays 30 minutes in a 104-93 win in Philadelphia but at much below his usual efficiency, scoring 6 points (3-of-11 FG) and grabbing 4 rebounds. Two nights earlier, Jones led the Rockets with 25 points (10-of-16 FG) and 10 rebounds in a home win over Boston.
Nov. 4: An hour before the Rockets play in Miami, the team lists Jones as out with a “bruised right leg”. Houston Chronicle beat writer Jonathan Feigen hears the injury “does not seem serious”.
Nov. 7: The Rockets update the official listing of the injury to a “Peroneal nerve contusion”, saying Jones will be out one week (same as Patrick Beverley, who was nursing a hamstring strain) and then reevaluated. This remains the last official Jones medical update from the team with a timetable.
Nov. 14: After said week, Kevin McHale says Beverley will be back “much sooner” than Jones. Beverley did, in fact, return for the next game (Nov. 16).
Nov. 17: Play-by-play announcer Bill Worrell says on the Rockets-Grizzlies telecast that the Rockets are “maybe a month or so away” from getting Jones back. If that timeline ends up accurate, meaning Jones returns Dec. 17 — his absence would be 19 games, or nearly 25% of the season.
Nov. 19: Houston’s PR team says a timetable on Jones hasn’t been set and that’s he’s being monitored regularly.
Nov. 20: In an interview with SportsTalk 790, GM Daryl Morey is asked for an update on Jones. His response, transcribed by ClutchFans user J.R.:
“It’s a tough one. It came on quick, unexpected. They don’t know what triggered it. The nerve is not signaling his foot well but it’s coming back. It could come back as quick as it went. It’s longer rather than shorter. It’s gonna be awhile is what their best guess is. … They thought it could be caused by getting hit in the leg in a certain spot. The doctors are confident he’ll have a full recovery but don’t know when. If he was you or I, this would not be a big deal. He has full movement but just weaker now. Getting back to being a NBA player, that’s a much bigger difference.”
So in two-and-a-half weeks, this has progressed from “does not seem serious” to still “gonna be awhile”. Considering they’re also challenged up front by a minor knee injury to Dwight Howard and sub-standard play from Jones’ replacement Donatas Motiejunas (5.4 points on 36.7% FG, 5.1 rebounds, PER of 8.1), it’s certainly not welcome news for an already thin group of Rockets’ bigs.
From what I can tell, Morey’s comments look on point. Jones has been seen walking around Toyota Center without a noticeable limp. The issue, of course, is that he’s been in suits rather than basketball gear. His routine walking movement seems fine, but the nerve injury appears to have shut Jones down from any sort of strenuous physical activity.
As a result, the longer this goes on, the trickier it gets. Not only will Jones have to rehabilitate the leg, but he’ll also face a major challenge in regaining the peak conditioning that it typically takes players an entire training camp and preseason to attain. There’s also the issue of Jones’ game being extremely dependent on his speed and athleticism. Naturally, because of all the variables in play, a precise timetable for his return to play is becoming rather difficult.
I reached out to Will Carroll, lead writer for sports medicine at Bleacher Report, to see if he could recall any comparable injuries whose recoveries could serve as a template. Carroll referenced Carson Palmer, the starting quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals (though he’s now out for the season with a torn ACL, a different injury), as a possible analog. Though the nerve injury to Palmer was to his arm rather than his leg, the functionality of the throwing arm for an NFL quarterback would carry similar importance. Palmer, who suffered the injury on Sept. 8, was able to return on Oct. 12.
Summary: The reason no one knows a timetable is because even the Rockets themselves don’t know. The situation remainds fluid. What is clear, though, is this: the longer we go without hearing word of Jones resuming physical activity, the more concerning the situation becomes. It’s a real shame for Jones, who in his third year was off to a very encouraging start (14 points on 52% FG, 7.5 rebounds, 19.4 PER in 29 minutes) as the Rockets’ starter on the front line next to Howard.
In the meantime, starting Saturday, the 9-3 Rockets play five games in eight nights. With some luck, it seems Howard could help out that difficult stretch by returning early next week.
Jones, however, appears much further away, with no resolution on the horizon.