SLAM x Panini Rookie Spotlight: Pelicans Forward Herbert Jones

When they call him “Straitjacket,” this is why:

And this is why:

And this is why:

And this is why: 

There are more, too. A lot more. The Pelicans have a saying to explain clips like those: “Not on Herb.” As in, “You can try that, [insert name of elite offensive player here], but it’s not going to work. Not on Herb.”

You’ve probably seen that as a hashtag (#NotOnHerb) on Twitter recently. Word is finally starting to spread about what the 23-year-old rookie has been doing down in New Orleans. First, a little background: Jones, a 6-8 point-forward out of Alabama, was the 35th overall pick in the 2021 Draft. He had a breakout year as a senior with the Crimson Tide, averaging 11.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks, and winning Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in the SEC. His size, length and quickness allowed him to guard every position on the floor; and under head coach Nate Oats, he often orchestrated Alabama’s offense, pushing the ball in transition, making unselfish plays for others and improving drastically as a shooter. Given his versatility, Jones projected as someone who could come in and potentially contribute right away. But very few envisioned him having this type of impact—the type where #NotOnHerb has become a thing—this early on.

Jones is logging 26.2 minutes per game and has earned a spot in the Pelicans starting lineup, mainly because of his prowess on defense. He embraces his role as “Straitjacket” and welcomes the opportunity to guard the opposing team’s best player. 

“To be great on defense, you have to really want it,” Jones told Will Guillory of The Athletic. “You have to play with a different kind of aggression, a different kind of desire. I take pride in always being the guy who’s ready to lay it all out there for my teammates. That’s what I care about the most.” Not scoring (he’s only averaging 5.7 shot attempts per game). Not highlights. Not getting his. Just laying it all out there for his teammates, especially on the defensive end. That’s what Herb cares about. That’s his mindset. 

“He’s my favorite player on the team by far,” Devonte’ Graham said about Jones last week. “He’s one of those guys that just does everything he’s asked. He doesn’t complain. If he’s [not] shooting the ball, he doesn’t care. He just makes winning plays. Guards the best [opponent] every night.”

Of course, it’s not easy to take on that responsibility every night, and Jones has struggled at times (Luka Doncic dominated their head-to-head battle on Wednesday). But he welcomes the challenge and approaches it without fear or hesitation. He held former No. 1 pick Anthony Edwards to 14.3 percent shooting from the field (2/14) in three games against Minnesota, and All-Star Donovan Mitchell to 21 percent (3/14) in their two meetings with Utah, according to data from the NBA. He has spent significant time defending both guards (62 percent of the time, per the NBA, including matchups with Trae Young, Zach LaVine, Ja Morant and Bradley Beal) and bigs (38 percent). His awareness and instincts—partially influenced by his experience as a free safety in childhood, as Guillory notes in his piece—have led to a lot of steals (14 over his last five outings). When he’s on the floor, Jones just disrupts the flow of the other team’s offense. It’s that simple. 

The numbers clearly back that up. Opponents have scored an estimate of 118.8 points per 100 possessions with Herb on the bench, but that mark drops to 108.8 with him on the court. He has the best plus-minus of anyone in New Orleans’ regular rotation and leads all rookies in steals per game (1.5) and deflections per game (3.0). A lot of what he does—bringing constant energy, picking up 90 feet from the basket, knowing when and where to be in help, taking on those tough defensive assignments so that guys like Brandon Ingram can focus on offense—doesn’t show up in the stat sheet, either. That, coupled with the Pelicans’ overall struggles, has led Jones to fly a bit under the radar through the first quarter of the season.

But the hype is building. The word is spreading. #NotOnHerb is catching on. People are finding out about the rookie in NOLA, and why they call him “Straitjacket.”

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