Pelicans forward Herbert Jones showed why he received votes for the All-Defensive Team as a rookie and is quickly becoming one of the best defenders in the game when he blocked Kevin Durant’s three-point attempt to begin his second NBA season.
“He’s long and athletic,” teammate CJ McCollum said. “He’s low maintenance. He doesn’t complain. Sometimes, he might not get the ball when he’s open. He does his job. He’s wise beyond his years.”
Pelicans coach Willie Green echoed praise for Jones, calling him “key” to their defense because of his ability to disrupt an opponent’s offense.
Despite being a former SEC Defensive Player of the Year, few expected Jones to be this impactful defensively so quickly after he fell to the second round in the draft.
“Nothing was given to him,” McCollum said. “I think he has a hunger and a ‘want to.’ Larry Nance Jr. talked about having to kick him out of the gym. I told him he needs to start going on more vacations. You can only work so much. I think he has that mindset that he’s going to work, and it’ll always pay off. Tonight, he showed his versatility guarding one through five and doing it well.”
Jones spoke with HoopsHype and discussed several topics, including who he watched growing up. The answers will definitely surprise you. The versatile defensive forward also shared his toughest players to guard, goals for the Pelicans this season, his long-term goals for his career, and much more in our interview below.
Who were the people you watched growing up and took stylistic aspects from their games defensively?
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Herbert Jones: I watched a ton of Tony Allen and some of Kawhi Leonard. I think my defense and how I see the game is something where I’ve tried to watch safeties in the NFL. Ed Reed and Kam Chancellor, who was long and covered so much ground. I just tried to figure out how they were able to read and react to plays on that side of the field. I felt like if I could take pieces from their mentality, then I could roam around on the basketball court fairly easily.
When you were in college, did you feel like defense would be your path to the NBA?
HJ: When I was in college, I always tried to be a guy that was available for any task that my teammates or coaches asked of me. I always wanted to be versatile if I needed to be able to screen, play defense, rebound, or be a playmaker and set up guys offensively. I always wanted to be a guy they can call on or ask to do something and know that I could do it. I’ve always relied on my defense to keep me on the floor because I know every team needs a defender. I know a lot of guys want to shoot shots, but there’s always that one guy that the other four scorers need or want to have on the court with them to play defense. I’ve always been that guy.
Who are some of the toughest guys you’ve had to guard?
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HJ: It’s pretty much a different beast night in and night out. If I had to cut it down to a few, I’d say Luka (Doncic) is a tough guard. KD (Kevin Durant). I’ll also say Trae Young.
What’s it like guarding the toughest player on a nightly basis, whether it’s a guard or a forward, and adapting to that challenge?
HJ: I go into every game with one mindset, and that’s to make it as tough as possible on the opposing player I’m guarding or team to score. I know these guys are getting paid a lot of money to score. It’s my job, and my teammates rely on me to make it tough for these guys to score. That’s what I go out and do. I know they’re going to make tough shots, but it doesn’t bother me at all. It’s another possession they’ll have to come down and work for. My mindset is I want to be relentless on the defensive end no matter how many shots someone makes. I want them to know it’s going to be tough every time.
Are All-Defensive Team and Defensive Player of the Year goals of yours?
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HJ: It would be nice to, but that’s never been a goal of mine ever. I just go out and do whatever my teammates ask of me and be the hardest-playing player on the court that does all of the dirty work. The stuff they say doesn’t show up in the box score is what I really pride myself on. I want to walk away from the game where they might not look at the box score and say how I affected the game, but I always try to go out and affect the game in ways that don’t necessarily show up in the box score.
What did you think of the offseason for the Pelicans?
HJ: I’m feeling really good. I’m sure if you ask anyone in the organization, they’ll say the same. Dealing with the expectations, we just keep a tunnel vision approach and try not to get distracted by the outside noise on what they think we should do as opposed to what we expect of ourselves. We want to show up and win each day. Any game we play, we want to win. If that leads to a championship, I’m sure everyone would be – sh*t – who wouldn’t be happy with a championship. I don’t feel like we’re result driven. We just show up and believe in the work and trust in the process of getting better.
What have you been working on to improve defensively and offensively?
HJ: Defensively, I’ve tried to move better with my slides, working on my hips a ton and watching a lot of film this summer. Offensively, I’ve been getting up a lot of reps in the gym on my catch-and-shoot shots and one-dribble pull-ups, trying to advance them to another level.
If you received an All-Defensive Team selection, what would it mean to you?
HJ: I’d love it. That’s what I pride myself on, my defense. If the league notices it, that would be amazing. If they don’t, it still wouldn’t change anything about my approach. I’d have the same approach the next season trying to get better at something.
When you were at Alabama with former NBA coach Avery Johnson, what tips did you take from him to the NBA that stuck with you?
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HJ: Being a professional. I remember the first meeting we had. I didn’t have a car, and one of my teammates, Braxton Key, and I got to the gym. It might’ve been, and we got there at 6:55 for a 7:00 meeting. When we walked in, coach Johnson said, “You’re freshmen. You have to be early and can’t be walking in when one of the older guys is walking in. He’s already been here.” It spoke volumes. If you’re showing up early as a freshman, they’re going to assume you meant business. That’s what I’ve carried over since. If we’re having a film session, practice, any meetings, or have to arrive for a bus time, I try to get there at least 10-15 minutes early so nobody will be looking around calling for me.
Has anything surprised you about the NBA thus far?
HJ: The flights. It’s like you never get off of a plane. I had to adjust to the travel. I think that was the biggest adjustment. In college, you fly, but it’s not 82 games. Adjusting to the traveling and trying to manage my sleep schedule was the most surprising thing. I really had to be aware of what times we landed and how many hours I’d need to sleep. I’d say the travel was the most surprising thing to me.
What do you want to accomplish by the end of your career?
HJ: A goal of mine before my career ends is to make it at least 10 years in the NBA, and if you were to ask any of my teammates who was the best teammate they had, I’d want them to say me.
You can follow Michael Scotto on Twitter: @MikeAScotto
Story originally appeared on HoopsHype