New Orleans Pelicans: Herb Jones is a 2nd-round steal in the making

Herbert Jones #1 of the Alabama Crimson Tide (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
Herbert Jones #1 of the Alabama Crimson Tide (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /

Herbert Jones was 35th overall selection in the NBA Draft but he definitely turned some heads in Summer League. The New Orleans Pelicans appear to have found a guy who could crack the rotation in the second round.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, the draftee who played four years in college slips to the second round because he’s “too old”. That player comes in and immediately shows the pressure of going up a level won’t be an issue. And finally, that player becomes a real rotation player for a team.

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That is exactly where the New Orleans Pelicans and Herbert Jones find themselves today. Jones was selected in the second round of the 2021 NBA draft and has made the front office look very smart for that decision.

New Orleans Pelicans: Herbert Jones could be a rotation player…soon

His four years at Alabama ended with a Sweet Sixteen appearance after winning both the SEC regular-season and tournament titles. Jones was a major factor in that as well, finishing fourth on the team in points per game (11.2) but leading in rebounds (6.6), assists (3.3), steals (1.7), and blocks (1.1). It’s safe to say Jones got quite a bit of screentime this season for the Tide.

His junior season 2019-20 also saw him spend considerable floor time with another Pelican, Kira Lewis Jr. The two of them will have an early chemistry that could help both of them improve and settle into the season a little easier.

In Summer League, Jones fit right in with his teammates, hustling and playing strong defense every game. The main theme through the Pels five games was effort and intensity, “No Days Off” might as well have been the team’s mantra all summer.

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Jones finished Summer League in a tie for the 9th best Defensive Rating, checking in at 79.9 DRtg according to RealGM. One great thing for the New Orleans Pelicans was Jose Alvarado was tied with Jones, and Naji Marshall finished in third with a 76.3 rating. Marshall is a lock to be a part of the Pels rotation when the season starts and Alvarado could work his way in there as well.

In addition to the great defensive rating Jones had, he also put up pretty decent stats. In five summer league games, he put up a 7.6/3.6/1.8 stat line while also getting more than one block and steal per game. For a guy who was seen primarily as a switchable defender coming into the draft, Jones has proven to be more than capable of chipping in in many ways (does he remind anyone else of Josh Hart and Naji Marshall?)

Not that he’ll be asked to do a whole lot early if he were to crack the rotation right away. His role this season will be to defend like Hell and shoot threes. Primarily used as the sixth man during Summer League, Jones was able to float between both forward spots depending on who he shared the floor with.

In his last year at Alabama, Jones shot 35% from three and 71% from the free-throw line. Both are decent marks but there needs to be some improvement in those areas for Jones to earn more playing time. The Pelicans are very deep on the wing for the first time in a long time with Jones likely the odd one out in a group of players that includes Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Naji Marshall, and Trey Murphy III. Playing time in the early going will be hard to come by.

A bit of hope that Jones will stay with the big club instead of being sent down to Birmingham; Jones was given a Pelicans uniform number (my personal favorite number).

The obvious upside to staying with the New Orleans team is the learning that comes at the NBA level. But the no longer hidden advantage comes from one of the assistant coaches with the Pelicans, Fred Vinson. It’s been talked and written about ad nauseam how Vinson has helped players improve their shooting touch. Jones might just be the next in line for some tutoring from the shot professor.

If his shooting improves it will be a tough task to keep Jones off the floor; he does all the little things that help a team win. His effort never wained in Las Vegas, even as the Pelicans trounced nearly every opponent. Herb Jones fits the mold the Pelicans front office went after this summer; high basketball IQ, a tough as Hell defender, and effort that doesn’t stop just because his team is winning.

I’ve long believed that a successful draft pick after the lottery is someone who signs a second contract with the team that drafted them. Jones could be on that path.

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