Pelicans

Jones Deserves All-Defensive Whistle

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New Orleans Pelicans forward Herbert Jones is one of the top defensive players in the league.

Perimeter on-ball defense

Jones is an excellent on-ball defender. He has the elite ability to navigate through screens on the perimeter and keep the basketball in front of him. The 25-year-old defensive star anchors the Pelicans’ steady defense.

When Jones goes under screens, he does a terrific job of closing air space the ball and contesting pull-up threes. When Jones chases over screens, he consistently gets back in front of the basketball and forces ball pickups.

Low-man responsibilities

Jones holds many defensive responsibilities when he is an off-ball defender.

The Pelicans primarily play up at the level in pick-and-roll coverages. When Jones is the low man on the weakside of the floor, he makes plays that show up on the stat sheet and plays that don’t show up on the stat sheet.

Jones’ main responsibility in pick-and-roll defense is to tag the roller. He also must position himself at an angle where the roll man catches the ball in front of him but he must also be in a position where he cannot get caught fighting through a down screen, trying to retreat back to the weakside corner.

So, Jones consistently sinks in to tag the roll man and discourages the pass. Then, he retreats back to the weakside corner where the pass is going and closes out on the perimeter, sometimes coming up with a block on a 3-point attempt.

After retreating back to the corner, he also trusts his teammates to recover back to the roll man.

In this clip, Ousmane Dieng rolls to the rim as the Pelicans put two on the ball. Jones discourages the pass to the rolling Dieng. Josh Giddey throws the skip pass to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to the corner and Jones closes out hard to block Gilgeous-Alexander’s three-point attempt.

The other defensive coverage Jones is elite at executing is the “X coverage.”

X coverage is a coverage where two defenders switch their assignment on the perimeter, which results in forming an “X” as they close out to the three-point line.

Playing once again as the low man while playing up high in pick-and-roll coverage, Jones tags the roller. After tagging the roller, Jones’ teammate on the weakside wing will rotate to his man in the corner. Now, after Jones tags the roller, he closes out to the shooter on the weakside wing, creating the “X” coverage.

In this clip, Jones is the low man and rotates to attempt to take a charge on Domantas Sabonis. As Sabonis kicks it out to Keegan Murray, Brandon Ingram peels off De’Aaron Fox and closes out air space on the ball. Murray swings the ball to Fox and Jones completes the X coverage by closing out hard and blocking Fox’s three-point attempt.

That’s a ton of ground to cover while guarding multiple players in one possession by one of the elite perimeter defenders in the league.

Part of Jones’ elite off-ball defense is taking charges. He has a knack for covering his teammates’ mistakes. When the Pelicans are out of position, Jones has great instincts to rotate and challenge shots on a player that was not even his assignment.

In this clip, the Spurs run an empty-side ball-screen pick and roll. Two defenders stay with the ball and nobody goes with Jeremy Sochan diving to the rim. Jones shows his awareness by making an instinctive rotation to Sochan. He makes Sochan put the ball on the deck. As Sochan goes up for a hook shot, Jones shows his hands and forces Sochan to finish off the top of his length and that results in a hard heel miss.

Fouls

Jones has culminated a defensive reputation and the tape shows he is an elite defender, yet the officiating still has him on a short leash compared to other players with a “defensive reputation.” There’s a difference between a defensive reputation and being an elite defensive player. Players can be both, but there are some that are just players with a defensive reputation by yapping.

An elite defender like Jones should not have to constantly show his hands and go vertical while defending. When he shows his hands, there’s still a good chance that he is called for a foul when he should not even be considered for one.

Yet, other “defenders with a reputation” can blatantly hammer offensive players on shots and there won’t be a call. Other defenders are allowed to get away with much more contact without being called for a foul. This is selective enforcement by the officials and it makes the game inconsistent.

Marcus Smart is a former Defensive Player of the Year with a defensive reputation. He plays with a ton of physicality and averages 2.8 fouls per game.

Jones averages 3.1 fouls per game and some “fouls” he is called for are plays when he just shows his hands.

It’s baffling to see that Jones is not allowed to play with the same physicality that other defenders are allowed to play with.

When Jones has a conversation with the officiating, he won’t ask for an explanation on why he was called for a foul. He will ask why he was called for a particular foul, yet that same foul was not called on his counterpart on the other end. Players just want the same call. Consistently, that’s all.

The way Jones is officiated makes it more impressive how well he has to defend without being called for a foul.

Herb Jones is well overdue for an All-NBA defensive selection. No doubt he is that conversation.

Jones is the Pelicans’ unsung hero.

About Mac Pham

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