In a dynamite defensive performance, the New Orleans Pelicans
stifled the San Antonio Spurs, 113-103, advancing to the second
round of the Play-In Tournament toward a matchup with the Los
Angeles Clippers on Friday night. The final score indicates a close
game, and while there were moments down the stretch after a Devin
Vassell heater, the Pelicans largely controlled the game.
The trio of Brandon Ingram, CJ
McCollum and Jonas Valanciunas combined for 81 of New Orleans'
points, all putting forth stellar performances.
Yet, if there was one takeaway (for me) from last night's game,
it was that Herb Jones is HERE.
If you've followed the NBA season and come across the Pels for
even a modicum of time while perusing NBA League Pass, you probably
know about Jones, as he's done this all year. But he
dominated in primetime, and Mark Jones' silky voice
peppered the broadcast with varying intonations of "HERB JONES" as
many different points of the night.
There are moments and games where it becomes recognized that a
player is a star. Last night, Jones put his stamp on the national
stage, emphatically punching his ticket as a defensive star. That's
such a wild statement. A defensive star.
It's not easy to cement yourself as a bucket-getter or primetime
scorer, and it's that much harder to play defense with the
ferocity, efficacy and splendor required to captivate an audience.
Jones fits the bill and then some, and as a rookie, that's
(Nekias Duncan, Jackson Frank and I unanimously voted Herb Jones
to the All-Defensive Second Team
about a month ago.)
Jones took first time All-Star guard Dejounte Murray as his main
assignment, and man, he had him in purgatory. Murray finished 5 of
19 from the field Wednesday night. Jones' hands were everywhere and
on everything, reminiscent of a Naruto montage.
The opening possession of the game was indicative of what the
night would be for Murray. It was akin to watching a world title
fight open up, and the challenger unloads the first jab and
immediately it's like "Oh, this is way different than I thought."
And as the viewer, you quickly find out that this isn't a tune-up
This is one of my favorite things about Herb, and a part of what
makes him a special defender. He uses his hands and his feet in
tandem with regularity. It sounds minute, but it's a sizable
difference. So much of defense is about consistency, and Jones
His hands never come off of Murray; just enough to bother, but
also possessing the deftness to not foul. Even with a pretty solid
screen from Jakob Poeltl, Murray can't shake free. The Pels
maintain their shell, and it's a turnover.
The Pels run a great deal of ICE coverage, forcing ball-handlers
to the sidelines to prevent middle penetration. Valanciunas is a
quality defender, but he has some limitations with his mobility.
Plays like this allow New Orleans to stay solid and maintain a
strong base. (I'm super interested to see how this plays out
against a more dynamic offensive team in the Clippers, because it's
much harder to play ICE against a team that can thrive on five-out
Jaxson Hayes comes up with the double drags to ICE along with
Jones, calls out the coverage and Murray catches him going
downhill. While this isn't a perfect defensive possession from
Herb, it's a reflection of the tools that allow him to supersede
technique at times (he's an incredible technique defender, don't
get it twisted). Even if he does take a wrong step, he has
impeccable recovery skills and the ability to still contest what
would otherwise be an easy finish at the rim against most
Run Jones through the ringer of screens and try to grease the
context for an off-ball scorer? Not on Herb.
Try to initiate the offense with a kick-ahead to one of the best
downhill drivers in the game in Keldon Johnson? Not so fast. I am
not a fan of the charge, but man, Jones makes me want to be. This
is just a clean standing of ground, and I love it. It would be so
easy to let that be a quick lay-in with a decent enough contest,
but again, this is what separates Jones from the rest.
Jones also emphatically closed the half, shutting down a
sideline out-of-bounds play leading to a Johnson three-point
The block, the staredown. YES.
Even in moments when Jones did get overly physical and was
called for fouls, those are plays you live with. I'm not a huge
believer in tone-setting; it can be cliche and attributed to
non-basketball plays that really don't do much but stop the clock.
(Although, what do I know? Glue Girl was a game-changer.)
That rotation to block Vassell is fantastic; the communication
and vision stands out. That reconnection on Murray after the screen
is all you can ask for, even if ideally a foul is not attached.
Jones constantly made multiple Spurs players feel him.
Then, there are the "crown jewel" plays — the pinnacle defensive
highlights that you watch in amusement and giggle because those
things just shouldn't be able to happen on the court.
There aren't enough words to describe what a fun and enjoyable
defensive player and prospect Jones is. This isn't just a "rookie
defenders" shouldn't be able to that type beat. This man is
legitimately already one of the best defenders on planet earth
regardless of age.
While the Pelicans still need to win against the Clippers on
Friday night to secure another week or two of guaranteed
basketball, Herb Jones' play should be cemented in your cerebrum