“Yeah, he’s everybody’s hero” -Ole Miss Head Coach Kermit Davis
This is what Kermit Davis told Alabama Head Coach Nate Oats prior to Alabama’s 103-78 win at Ole Miss in late February. This game was Herb’s fourth appearance after only missing 3 games to a fractured wrist suffered at LSU on January 29th. In those three games out, it showed just how important Herb Jones was to Alabama. Alabama struggled defensively against Arkansas where Mason Jones erupted for 30 points, couldn’t slow down Jordan Bowden of Tennessee in the second half, and struggled against the supporting cast of Georgia in an overtime win. It was obvious to all fans and those who regularly watch Alabama basketball how important Herb was to this team and how he covered up many of the flaws this team has on the defensive end. Herb is one of the league’s best when it comes to taking charges, staying in front of his man, and contesting shots. Even if he only has one hand.
A notable defensive performance Herb had after his injury was against Mississippi State where he was tasked with guarding the much larger Reggie Perry. Herb stepped up to the task. Perry scored 21 points that night in a win over Alabama, but only 3 of those points came against Herb Jones. 3 points for someone who has around 3 inches and nearly 40 pounds of an advantage over their primary defender. Herb had one block and two steals in this game as well. The only knock you can give Herb in this performance was fouling out. When you have to over help and get out of position due to other men getting beat and guarding someone much bigger than you, foul trouble can definitely be expected. Need another example? Sure. How about his second (and first full game) back from injury against LSU in Tuscaloosa. It is a must win game for the Tide who desperately need a big, signature win. Herb primarily guards Emmitt Williams, a strong, athletic specimen, to start the game. Williams is held to 13 points on 4-10 shooting with two turnovers and was held to 2 offensive rebounds. 4 of those points came from the free throw line. 5 of these points came with Herb as the primary defender before switching to guard Trendon Watford who had gone on a tear against the Alabama defense. He scored 6 points with Herb as his primary defender, 2 of which came from cuts where Herb was having to help off of him to save a teammate. Herb finishes the game with 2 blocks, a steal, and multiple deflections. The most impressive defensive aspect of this one-handed performance? Jones pulled down 12 defensive rebounds with his lone hand. Between hauling in all of these rebounds against LSU, bringing in 7 defensive boards against South Carolina, and many other high defensive rebounding games to add to his defensive repertoire of locking down opposing players and forcing turnovers, he has gained a reputation of not only one of the top defenders in the conference, but in the country. One thing is evident about Jones, he has left an impact on the SEC this year with not only his defensive ability, but with his character and perseverance. This led to South Carolina Head Coach Frank Martin’s comments on Jones following the 90-86 win for Alabama:
“He’s an unbelievable competitor. He plays the game the right way [...] I want Malik Kotsar to call Herb Jones to see how he could get nine rebounds with a cast on his wrist.”
“I agree with Kira on Herb! How about Isaac Okoro or Samir Doughty?” -Bruce Pearl on twitter responding to Kira Lewis’ reaction to Herb Jones being left off the Naismith National Defensive Player of the Year Top 10 list.
Herb Jones has earned the respect of every coach in the country for his play. Any coach will tell you he is one of the top defenders in not only the SEC, but in college basketball. Bruce brings up a good point about one of his main competitors for this award in Isaac Okoro, though. I believe the three top players in competition with Jones for this award would be Ashton Hagans of Kentucky, Yves Pons of Tennessee, Mason Jones of Arkansas, and Isaac Okoro of Auburn. This is not me saying no one else is worthy of this award, these are just the four players I believe are the best defenders in the conference and are most deserving of this award. Per Synergy, only two of these players rank in the top 15 in points allowed per possession. Those two players are Herb Jones and Mason Jones. Mason Jones is allowing 0.593 points per possession and Herb Jones is allowing 0.63 points per possession. Isaac Okoro is the next closest of these listed competitors ranked 49th in the SEC in this statistic allowing 0.745 points per possession. Followed by Yves Pons allowing 0.769 points per possession and Ashton Hagans who falls outside of the top 100 at 0.881. Mason Jones is holding opponents to 28.3% from the field, similar to Herb Jones to is holding opponents to 27.7%. Isaac Okoro is holding opponents to 36.6%, Yves Pons is holding opponents to 33.5%, and Ashton Hagans is holding opponents 41.1%. Mason Jones has a 19% turnover rate which is just higher than Herb Jones who sits at 17.4%. In turnover rate, Isaac Okoro sits at 10.2%, Yves Pons sits at 10.7%, and Ashton Hagans sits at 16.2%. Finally, when it comes to allowed scoring rate, Mason Jones sits at 27.5% which is almost identical but just lower than Herb Jones who sits at 27.7%. Isaac Okoro sits at 33.2% in this statistic, Yves Pons at almost an identical rate at 33.3%, and Ashton Hagans at 37.1%.
Per KenPom, through March 6, Yves Pons has the highest block percentage of these players at 7.7% which is ranked 56th in the nation. In this same stat, Isaac Okoro sits at 3.1% and Herb Jones sits at 2.6%, and Mason Jones sits at 0.7%. With Ashton Hagans being a point guard, it isn’t very fair to include him in a block rate conversation. These two players have an edge on Herb when it comes to block rate, but steal percentage is where they fall behind Jones as well as the other metrics discussed. Hagans leads the group at 3.4% which is 84th in the nation, Mason Jones is at 2.6%, Isaac Okoro sits at 1.7%, and Yves Pons sits at 0.8%. Herb Jones has a steal percentage of 2.5% which sits barely behind Mason Jones. In defensive rebound percentage, Mason Jones is at 16.6%, Yves Pons sits at 12%, Isaac Okoro sits at 8.9%, and Ashton Hagans, a point guard, sits at an impressive 11.7%. Herb Jones, to no surprise, leads this category between these four competitors at 17.1%.
I believe the case is clear for who should be defensive player of the year. The man who has arguably the biggest impact on his team’s defense. The man who opposing coaches have applauded all season long, especially now that he’s fighting through adversity. The young man who has become an SEC fan favorite regardless of the team colors your heart bleeds. The choice is not up to me, but up to the SEC— and its obvious that one defensive anchor in particular deserves this honor.
Herb Jones. Defensive Player of the Year.
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