Herb Jones is the Pelicans’ MVP: Most Versatile Player

The growth of Herb Jones marked a strong positive takeaway for the New Orleans Pelicans after a disappointing conclusion to their season.  Averages of 11-3.6-2.6 on a strong 63.2% true shooting percentage led Jones to career highs in scoring and efficiency. And as always, he finished as one of the league’s best defenders, likely to make an all-defensive team for the first time.

Jones’ versatility and ground coverage make him one of the best defenders in the NBA. This past season, Jones backpacked the Pelicans to a top-six defensive finish. Jones anchored their defense from the wing position, an incredibly rare and impressive feat in a modern NBA dominated by defensive big men.

Given the starting lineup’s lack of defensive ability outside of Jones, he covered an astronomical amount of space this season. Jones made long rotations, helped protect the rim and jumped passing lanes from everywhere on the floor. When Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum or others erred, Jones swooped in to counter their mistakes with his omnipresence.

He was also the Pels’ best on-ball defender, shutting down opposing handlers with his excellent length, lateral quickness and strength. Whether it was Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, De’Aaron Fox or Anthony Edwards, Jones took the challenge each night and delivered. His defensive load this range season was vast.

Much of Herb’s growth came on the offensive end this past season. His confidence shooting the basketball bloomed, hitting career highs in three-point percentage (41.8%), volume (3.6 3pa per game) and free-throw percentage (86.7%). Defenses can no longer ignore Jones on the perimeter as they once did. When Jones parks in the weak-side corner, he’s a true threat to burn the nets.

Increased shooting prowess opened up lanes for Jones to slash into; his confidence as a scorer off of the dribble increased this season.  As Jones continued to draw defensive attention, he drove decisively from the corners, pressuring the middle of the court as an improved finisher and a playmaker. 

Jones’ improving handle let the Pelicans experiment on offense, involving him as a primary handler and a short-roll extender more often. He’s evolving into an ideal complementary wing with the requisite playmaking, handling and speedy court processing to take full advantage of Zion and Ingram’s scoring gravity.

New Orleans locked Jones under contract until the 2026-27 offseason and his $13.5 million average annual salary looks like one of the league’s biggest bargains. The Pelicans’ roster likely will undergo significant turnover and change this offseason. They’re fortunate to have Jones as an affordable, malleable backstop, stabilizing lineups on both ends of the floor.

Analysis by Ben Pfeifer

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