New Orleans Pelicans guard/forward Herbert Jones sits in the upper echelon of NBA defenders. He has established this already. Few defenders can match his versatility, as Jones locks up high-volume scorers and creates havoc off of the ball. Through 13 games, Jones’ steal (3.1%, 96th percentile) and block (4.5%, 91st percentile) are only matched by Jonathan Isaac. Jones and Isaac are the two defenders placing in the 90th+ percentile for blocks and steals. Jones has played over double Isaac’s minutes.
Rim Protectors on the Perimeter
Jones has more than doubled his block rate from last season. He’s likely making incremental progression, though the emergence of Dyson Daniels skyrocketed Jones’ rim-protection numbers and opportunities.
As a rookie, Daniels flashed high-end defensive tools, stifling ballhandlers with excellent movement skills and intelligence. Rookies who defend as well as Daniels did are rare. And in year two, Daniels’ minutes have jumped to starter level yet his defensive output is still strong in his 28 minutes per night.
Daniels and Jones form a sum greater than their individual parts. Very few NBA teams have one quality on-ball stopper, especially critical for a high-pressure scheme like New Orleans’. The Pelicans have two; Willie Green trusts Daniels to pick up 94 feet and pressure the ball, moving Jones off of the ball. Though Jones locks the ball down, he’s truly special off of the ball, digging and helping with his length and creating turnovers with elite range and instincts.
On-ball Nightmare for Point Guards
No single game performance exemplifies the Pelicans’ defensive plan better than their 129-93 win over a healthy Sacramento Kings on November 20th. The Pelicans trusted Daniels to chase De’Aaron Fox around the floor all night, holding him to a season-low 14 points on 20 shots. Daniels stuck to Fox like glue, allowing Herb Jones to roam off of the ball and clog Fox’s driving lanes. His aggressive nail helped stunt Fox drives all night, letting Dyson freely hound the ball.
Critical here is Daniels’ screen navigation; his flexibility, balance and footwork let Dyson glide past screens. Ball screens are ever-present in today’s NBA and Daniels shuts them down like a veteran, his pressure acting as a keystone for the Pelicans’ aggressive, hunting defense.
Against the Kings, New Orleans shrunk the floor repeatedly, pressuring with length to minimize the space elite offenses create. With Jones and Daniels lurking on the weak side, the Pelicans can double relentlessly without fearing a numbers disadvantage. Even without touching the ball themselves, Jones and Daniels’ presence as recovery defenders allow for the other New Orleans defenders to force turnovers and bad shots of their own.
Impacting JV’s Defensive Value
Remarkably, Daniels and Jones are helping spark Jonas Valanciunas on the defensive end, a long-time dark spot for the Pelicans back line. The pressure created by Daniels and Jones helps to mitigate Valanciunas’ mobility and awareness issues. Over the last stretch of games, he’s playing more freely, hugging tighter to the level of the screen without getting burned constantly.
On some nights, offensive juggernauts like Zion Williamson can win games by themselves. But defense is always a five-man game. The Pelicans’ recent defensive success exemplifies this. Shrewd defensive scheming plus all-league defensive talent elevates all defenders on the floor, forming the backbone of a successful basketball team.
Written by contributor Ben Pfeifer.
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