When the Alabama Crimson Tide Men's Basketball team had one of the best seasons in school history last year, it remained to be seen if any of those players' successes would translate to the NBA. By many scouts' estimation, the player with the most difficult jump to the league was Herb Jones. He struggled offensively in college at times, and would need a complete overhaul to be relevant in the NBA. Jones would not only go on to prove his doubters wrong, but he would also turn out one of the best rookie seasons ever by a Tide player.

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One of the top players in the country in 2021, Jones would lead the Tide to win both a regular season and SEC tournament championship. He would secure both SEC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors, only the third time it had been done. Despite his college dominance, a poor combine showing only further dampened expectations for a player who shot only .441 from the field and .288 from three in his four years at Alabama. Teams knew he possessed a ferocious defensive skill set, but without the ability to score consistently, he was deemed too risky, and fell into the second round. The New Orleans Pelicans had gotten an in-depth look at Herb, and were hoping this scenario would play out. Scooping him up with the 35th pick, the program was excited to grab a player they had considered a first round talent throughout the whole process. Once he was on the team, the coaching staff realized instantly they had found a gem.

[Kendrick Perkins tweet]

"That guy ain't no rookie," teammate and fellow rookie Jose Alvarado would comment in April, but Willie Green and the rest of the team knew that from the first few practices. All season, Herb would play an increasing number of minutes, even earning a starting role. From November on, he would be given the toughest defensive assignments, because even as a rookie New Orleans had the most confidence in him to get the job done. Locking up the likes of LeBron James, Dejounte Murray and Chris Paul, Herb garnered national attention. His intensity, savvy, and hard work stood out just watching him on television. NBA analysts, fans, and players alike called for him to be named 1st team All-Defense, rookie status be damned. Rookie of the Year projections were given out, listing Herb as a top 5 candidate, with many calling for him to win it. His defensive instincts amazed all who watched him play, including current NBA defensive powerhouse Draymond Green.

[Draymond tweet]

 

All of this might have seemed unlikely, but Herb Jones has always been that level of player. His desire to perform to the absolute best of his ability, and to constantly upgrade his abilities, has been the case since his first practices as a freshman at Alabama. It was evident in high school, with him winning Alabama 4A Player of the Year. He has always strived to excel, and when he got to the Pelicans, he did just that. He worked tirelessly with coaches on his shooting, down to his form and footwork. He turned in two-a-day workouts and film studies. The result was earning a starting role early on as a rookie because he could now hold his own offensively at the next level.

 

In fact, he improved from his college numbers in many categories. His shooting percentage rose to 47.6, and his three-point percentage to 33.7. He averaged more points (9.5) than in all but his final season at Alabama. Jones improved his shooting percentage on drives to the basket by over 10%, a massive leap. His motor and terrific play gave energy to a Pelicans team that exploded down the stretch, making the playoffs when many thought they'd be one of the worst teams in the league without Zion Williamson.

Thanks to the play of players like Herb, Brandon Ingram, C.J. McCollum, and Jonas Valanciunas, they now look like one of the scariest teams in the league with a healthy Zion Williamson next season. Also rejoining the Pelicans next season is former Tide star Kira Lewis Jr., who missed this past season with a torn ACL. With pieces falling into place, namely the emergence of Herb Jones as a potential future All-Star talent, the future is very bright for a New Orleans team that has not had much to celebrate in recent years.

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