Herb Jones

Pelicans Notes: Offseason, Jones, Murphy, Alvarado, Zion

When the Pelicans got off to a 1-12 start this season, it looked like the team was headed for another lottery finish and some difficult offseason questions. Instead, New Orleans managed to turn things around, earned a playoff berth via the play-in tournament, and gave the NBA-best Suns all they could handle in the first round of the playoffs.

“To get to the playoffs, we continued to believe in ourselves. Continued to get better, believing in this organization,” Brandon Ingram said after Thursday’s Game 6 loss, according to Will Guillory of The Athletic. “New coach. New players. Figuring it out so fast. You don’t think about it in the moment because we just lost, but we definitely came a long way from the beginning of the season.”

As Guillory writes, the first-round loss to Phoenix was a tough one, given how competitive the Pelicans made the series (they were outscored by a total margin of 668-659 across six games). But after laying a strong foundation of young talent, the franchise looks poised to remain competitive and continue improving in the coming years.

There are still some pressing offseason questions facing the Pelicans, with both Zion Williamson and Jaxson Hayes eligible for rookie scale extensions, but all of the team’s young players are under contract for 2022/23, Guillory notes. And while there has been plenty of speculation about Williamson’s long-term commitment to New Orleans, the team couldn’t have done much more this spring to make him want to be part of the future.

Here’s more on the Pelicans:

  • The Pelicans wouldn’t have gotten as far as they did this season without the contributions they received from a trio of unheralded rookies, according to Andrew Lopez of ESPN, who spotlights Herbert Jones, Trey Murphy, and Jose Alvarado. Jones emerged as a legitimate All-Defensive candidate, Murphy knocked down 38.2% of his three-point attempts, and Alvarado provided energy and hustle plays off the bench. All three players are under contract for multiple years going forward.
  • In his Pelicans offseason preview, ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Insider link) examines the big decision the team must make on a potential Williamson extension and points out that veterans like CJ McCollum and Larry Nance Jr. will be extension-eligible this summer as well.
  • Yossi Gozlan of HoopsHype also looks ahead to the Williamson contract negotiations and the other key roster decisions facing the Pelicans this summer. As Gozlan writes, New Orleans doesn’t have much breathing room below the projected luxury tax line, which will affect the club’s ability to make full use of its mid-level exception.

Southwest Notes: McCollum, Pelicans, Spurs, Rockets

The Pelicans still have to win one more game in Los Angeles on Friday night in order to secure a playoff spot, but veteran guard CJ McCollum expressed confidence after New Orleans’ first play-in win over San Antonio on Wednesday that the team is pointed in the right direction in both the short- and long-term.

“This is the start of something special, for sure,” McCollum said, according to Andrew Lopez of ESPN. “You see the energy. Feel the energy. My mother is in town; I have some family in town. When we go out to eat, you can feel the city is excited about basketball, as they should [be]. There’s a lot of talent here. We’re playing the game the right way. It’s going to be a lot of winning in our future.”

If the Pelicans can clinch the No. 8 seed, they’d be significant underdogs against the NBA-best Suns, with Zion Williamson still not expected to be available, so their playoff run could be brief. Still, McCollum is optimistic about what the future holds, according to Lopez, who writes that the 30-year-old says he plans to visit Williamson and other teammates at their houses this offseason to get to know them better.

“I think that’s how you build chemistry,” McCollum said. “That’s how you build cohesiveness.”

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • Herbert Jones may not get any Rookie of the Year votes, but the first-year Pelicans forward helped spark a defensive turnaround in New Orleans this season, writes Christian Clark of NOLA.com.
  • In his latest Substack article, Marc Stein says his best read on the Spurs‘ coaching situation is that Celtics assistant Will Hardy – who was formerly an assistant in San Antonio – could be at the front of the line to succeed Gregg Popovich if the longtime Spurs coach decides to step down this offseason.
  • After being named the G League MVP for 2021/22, Rockets two-way player Trevelin Queen also took home the Finals MVP award, averaging 34.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG, and 3.5 APG on 56.1% shooting in a pair of Rio Grande Valley Vipers victories over the Delaware Blue Coats. Danielle Lerner of The Houston Chronicle takes a closer look at Queen’s path to the NBA and explores what’s next for him. “I got emotional (signing a two-way contract earlier this season) because I’ve been waiting my whole life, but I just know there’s more work to do,” Queen said. “I know I can do more than the two-way, so I just want to let them know.”
  • In a mailbag for The Athletic, Kelly Iko answers readers’ questions about the Rockets‘ long-term view of a Jalen Green/Kevin Porter Jr. backcourt, the prospects Houston should target with Brooklyn’s first-round pick, and which free agents might be of interest to the team.

Pelicans Notes: McCollum, Rookies, Ceiling, Alvarado, Benson

The 2021/22 season has been the most difficult of CJ McCollum‘s nine-year career, but he has excelled since being traded to the Pelicans, according to Alex Kennedy of BasketballNews.com.

As Kennedy details, McCollum had only played under one coach and one general manager in his first eight seasons, but the Blazers “mutually agreed” to part ways with Terry Stotts and the rest of his staff last June, then fired president of basketball operations Neil Olshey in early December after a misconduct investigation. A day after Olshey was dismissed, McCollum suffered a collapsed lung.

McCollum also became a father for the first time in January when COVID cases were spiking, dealt with trade rumors for a few months prior to being dealt to New Orleans, and then had a bout of COVID-19 earlier this month. Despite the chaotic circumstances, McCollum has averaged a stellar 25.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 1.2 steals on .501/.384/.720 shooting through 19 games with his new club.

I’m excited, man. I’m thankful to be here,” McCollum said. “I’ve said it a thousand times, but I like what we’re building here, I like the way we’re playing, I like the way we’re executing, and the sky’s the limit for us.”

At 32-43, the Pelicans are currently the No. 9 seed in the West, holding a half-game lead over the No. 10 Lakers (31-43) and a one-game lead over the No. 11 Spurs (31-44).

Here’s more on the Pelicans:

  • The rookie trio of Herbert Jones, Jose Alvarado and Trey Murphy could go down as one of the best in franchise history, writes William Guillory of The Athletic. Jones and Alvarado have been rotation regulars and defensive stalwarts throughout the season, while Murphy has been up-and-down. He had one of his best games of the season during the team’s win over the Lakers on Sunday, scoring 21 points on 7-12 shooting in 25 minutes. “It’s almost like night and day, honestly. Just getting comfortable, getting a lot of reps and just trusting the process,” Murphy said, per Guillory. “Going into the season, if I’m being realistic, I had a lot of expectations for myself, especially with summer league and preseason. Just staying even through all that stuff, through the lows, that’s the best way to do it.”
  • Christian Clark, Scott Kushner and Rod Walker of NOLA.com explore the team’s ceiling for this season following Sunday’s 116-108 victory over the Lakers.
  • Center Jonas Valanciunas said Alvarado earned his new promotion, Clark tweets. “Very happy. He deserved it. He’s been working hard. Maybe at times, he’s been acting like a vet. But he deserved it.” Alvarado was promoted to a four-year, standard deal on Monday after playing the entire season on a two-way contract.
  • In a separate article for NOLA.com, Clark writes that owner Gayle Benson was recently asked about the possibility of building a new arena for the Pelicans, but was non-committal in her reply. “You know, that’s in the future, we’re trying to look for now,” Benson said. “We’re talking about it, but we’ve been talking about it. Hopefully, at the right time we’ll make that decision.” Clark notes the team’s lease for the Smoothie King Center expires June 30, 2024, but the Pelicans can exercise a five-year option to remain in the arena at any point prior to the expiration date.

And-Ones: Molinar, All-Defense, Most Influential Players, Collison

Mississippi State guard Iverson Molinar announced on Twitter today that he is declaring for the 2022 NBA draft while maintaining his NCAA eligibility.

Molinar, who recently completed his junior season with the Bulldogs, led the team in both points (17.5) and assists (3.6) per game in 2021/22. He also chipped in 3.1 RPG and 1.2 SPG in 34 appearances (34.1 MPG).

Although he showed the ability to hit outside shots during his first two college seasons (.419 3PT%), Molinar’s three-point percentage dropped to just 25.2% this season. Still, ESPN ranks him at the No. 64 player on its big board for 2022, so he has a chance to be a second-rounder if he keeps his name in the draft.

Here are a few more odds and ends from across the basketball world:

  • Using a series of new advanced metrics, Kirk Goldsberry of ESPN.com (Insider link) identifies the top candidates for the NBA’s All-Defensive teams for 2021/22. Goldsberry’s list includes a pair of Celtics (Marcus Smart and Robert Williams), two recent Defensive Players of the Year (Rudy Gobert and Giannis Antetokounmpo), and a rookie (Herb Jones), among others.
  • Michael Scotto of HoopsHype polled 52 current and former NBA players, asking them to name the five most influential players in league history. Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, and Magic Johnson were the leading vote-getters, according to Scotto, who also shared the rest of the top 10 and outlined which other players received votes.
  • As expected, the South Bay Lakers have officially added veteran guard Darren Collison to their roster (Twitter link). A report earlier this week indicated that Collison was joining Los Angeles’ G League affiliate.

Pelicans Notes: McCollum, Jones, MLE, Murphy

CJ McCollum has given the Pelicans a consistent scoring presence since being acquired at last month’s trade deadline, but his value to the team goes far beyond that, writes Christian Clark of NOLA.com. With Zion Williamson unavailable all season and Brandon Ingram battling a strained hamstring, McCollum has taken over the offense since arriving in New Orleans, averaging 26.1 points and 6.7 assists in 16 games.

“He’s been fantastic,” coach Willie Green said. “His ability to score is at a high level. And I love the fact that he’s conscious about making sure he’s getting his teammates involved.”

McCollum has also brought a much-needed dose of veteran leadership to the Pelicans. Clark cites the example of McCollum’s statement during All-Star Weekend that he hadn’t talked directly with Williamson. They connected a few days later, and Williamson recently rejoined the team after spending two months working out on his own.

“You earn your vocal leadership,” McCollum said. “It starts with your preparation. It starts with your approach. And slowly, I integrate my voice when it’s necessary. But I never wanted to be the guy whose voice is heard all the time. I think it gets drowned out. I speak when I need to.”

There’s more from New Orleans:

  • Herb Jones took advantage of the Pelicans’ early-season miseries to establish himself as a bright spot for the future, writes Damian Burchardt of The Ringer. Williamson’s absence created an opportunity for the rookie power forward, and he showed he could handle the NBA right away, especially on defense. “I found my way on the defensive end,” he said. “I’ve always been taught that your defense follows you everywhere.”
  • The only downside to acquiring McCollum is that he limits the Pelicans’ financial options moving forward, John Hollinger of The Athletic points out in a conversation about the team with William Guillory. McCollum’s $33.3MM salary next season means New Orleans is currently unable to use its full mid-level exception this summer without going over the tax threshold for 2022/23. The team already has 13 players under contract for next season and is about $7MM away from the expected tax line.
  • Jones and two-way player Jose Alvarado have made the Pelicans’ 2021 rookie class the best since head of basketball operations David Griffin arrived in New Orleans, but first-round pick Trey Murphy hasn’t been as successful, Hollinger adds in the same piece. As one of the older prospects in the draft, Murphy was supposed to provide immediate help, but he has played in just 52 games and is averaging 4.6 PPG in 13.1 minutes per night.

Western Notes: Giddey, Westbrook, Williamson, Jones

Thunder rookie Josh Giddey will miss at least two more weeks due to hip soreness, head coach Mark Daigneault said, according to Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman (Twitter link). Giddey has missed the team’s last four games, but Daigneault still hopes the 19-year-old can return at some point this season.

“We’re trying to balance development but also being cautious and being wise… We’re learn a lot more in a couple weeks here,” he said, as relayed by Clemente Almanza of OKC Thunder Wire (Twitter link). “See how he responds with the treatment he’s getting now.”

In 54 games this season, Giddey has averaged 12.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.4 assists, shooting 41.9% from the floor and 26.3% from deep. Oklahoma City is 20-43 and will likely give more playing time to Tre Mann, Theo Maledon and others in his absence.

Here are some other notes from the Western Conference:

  • In his latest article for Substack, Marc Stein cites one league source who believes it’s “impossible” that the Lakers bring back Russell Westbrook next season due to current tension levels. Los Angeles ranks ninth in the Western Conference (27-35) and has lost eight of its last 10 games. Westbrook has averaged 18.1 points per game on 43.3% shooting from the floor, which is slightly below his career average.
  • Pelicans star Zion Williamson will rejoin the team when it returns from its road trip next week, Andrew Lopez of ESPN tweets. New Orleans will play Denver on Sunday and Memphis on Tuesday. Williamson is progressing to full-weight bearing activities and his future timetable remains unclear.
  • Despite being a rookie, Pelicans forward Herbert Jones already appears to be one of the NBA’s best defenders, Christian Clark of NOLA.com opines. Jones’ defense was a major reason why Jazz star Donovan Mitchell scored just 14 points on 5-for-18 shooting on Friday, with the Pelicans winning by 34. “Herb, you just expect it from him almost,” head coach Willie Green said. “That’s what he does. He doesn’t say much. He just goes out and does his work. What he’s doing, we don’t take for granted. It’s hard to guard the best player every single night.”

Trade Rumors: Pelicans, Bulls, Poeltl, Grant, Nets

The Pelicans, who have been described as trade deadline buyers, are making an effort to fortify their core, Marc Stein reports at Substack.com. In addition to Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson, New Orleans views Jonas Valanciunas and Herbert Jones as part of that core, according to Stein, so those players appear to be off limits in trade talks.

While the Pelicans are apparently unwilling to move Valanciunas or Jones, they do have other players who would appeal to trade partners. Most notably, Stein suggests that forward Josh Hart, who is in the midst of a career year, could be on the move this week. Multiple previous reports have indicated Hart may be a trade candidate.

Here are a few more trade rumors from around the NBA:

  • The Bulls made an offer for center Jakob Poeltl that was centered around a first-round pick, but they were rebuffed by the Spurs, according to Stein. Chicago has already traded away two of its own future first-round selections – including one to San Antonio – so the pick in the offer for Poeltl may have been Portland’s 2022 first-rounder, which is top-14 protected and appears unlikely to convey this year.
  • In his preview of the Pistons‘ trade-deadline week, James L. Edwards III of The Athletic says the Wizards, Kings, and Trail Blazers are the teams that have exhibited the most interest in Jerami Grant. Sources tell Edwards that the Nets have also “poked around,” but are a longer shot to acquire the forward.
  • Within his look at the James Harden and Ben Simmons situations, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer reports that the Nets have been looking for more shooting on the wing. That makes sense, given that Joe Harris‘ status for the second half and postseason remains up in the air. O’Connor also echoes some of the same points made in a series of other Harden/Simmons reports this morning, including reiterating that the Sixers aren’t willing to entertain trading Tyrese Maxey this week.

Western Notes: Wiggins, Haliburton, Gordon, Wood, Jones

Even with Klay Thompson returning from his two-season absence last month, the Warriors still want first-time All-Star Andrew Wiggins to be aggressive, Ali Thanawalla of NBC Sports Bay Area writes. Wiggins is averaging 18.2 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game, shooting 49% from the floor.

“Klay’s got this very big … aura about him when he’s on the court and he just finds a way to make his presence felt,” teammate Andre Iguodala said. “And Wiggs is a little more shy. So we had to remind Wiggs we still need you to go out and be on attack. And he’s done a great job of doing that.”

Wiggins’ play is a key reason why the Warriors are 40-13 this season. Golden State is currently on an eight-game win streak, working to stay afloat as Draymond Green rehabs a lower back injury.

There’s more out of the Western Conference:

  • Kings guard Tyrese Haliburton finished with 17 assists on Saturday, becoming the youngest player in franchise history (21 years old) to do so, Jason Anderson of the Sacramento Bee notes. Haliburton only recorded four turnovers and also pitched in 13 points. The Kings beat the Thunder 113-103.
  • Rockets veterans Christian Wood and Eric Gordon are blocking out the trade rumors ahead of Thursday’s deadline, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle writes. Wood and Gordon have been mentioned as possible trade candidates for the Rockets, who own the worst record in the West at 15-37. Wood is due $13.7MM this season, while Gordon will make $18.2MM.
  • Pelicans rookie Herbert Jones broke down film on some of his steals with Christian Clark of NOLA.com. Jones, the No. 35 pick in 2021, has become one of the league’s bright young defenders. He’s averaging 1.5 steals in 29.8 minutes per game this season.

Southwest Notes: Jones, Zion, Tillie, Sengun

Pelicans forward Herb Jones has been one of the surprises of this year’s rookie class, and veteran guard Garrett Temple got an early tip about his new teammate, writes Christian Clark of NOLA.com. Mark Bartelstein of Priority Sports serves as the agent for both players, and Temple said Bartelstein was raving about Jones shortly after he was selected with the 35th pick.

Jones has exceeded expectations for a second-rounder, starting 23 of the 32 games he has played and averaging 8.0 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.0 blocks per night. He was named Defensive Player of the Year in the SEC last season, but there were questions about whether he could provide enough offense to succeed in the NBA. He has been working to develop his jump shot and is connecting at 36.6% from three-point range on 1.3 attempts per game.

“I’ve gotten to know Herb as a person,” Temple said. “He’s the epitome of a great teammate, a great person. He’s someone you want on your team. He’s going to be in the league for a very, very long time.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • There’s an assumption that the Pelicans will offer Zion Williamson a maximum extension this summer, but John Hollinger of The Athletic questions whether that’s wise considering Williamson’s injury history. The third-year forward has only played 85 total games and continues to recover from offseason foot surgery. Hollinger suggests an offer similar to Joel Embiid‘s contract, which protects the team if he can’t play a minimum number of games.
  • The Grizzlies used their room exception to sign Killian Tillie to a two-year contract, tweets Chris Herrington of The Daily Memphian. The former two-way player will become a restricted free agent after the 2022/23 season.
  • Rockets rookie center Alperen Sengun may face an extended absence after spraining his right ankle in Friday’s game, according to Mark Berman of Fox 26 in Houston (Twitter link). “It’s not day-to-day,” coach Stephen Silas said. “It’s probably about a week and then we’ll see.”

Southwest Notes: Morant, Doncic, Williamson, Jones

Grizzlies star Ja Morant is making progress in his rehab from a left knee sprain, but his timeline for a return still hasn’t changed, according to Evan Barnes of the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Morant suffered the injury against the Hawks on November 26.

“He’s been responding really well to the treatments, the lift sessions that he’s had and we’re sprinkling in just small doses of on-court work just to make sure his knee’s moving and seeing how he’s responding day to day,” head coach Taylor Jenkins said.

As we previously relayed, Jenkins said Morant would miss multiple weeks. Prior to injuring his knee, the 22-year-old was averaging a career-high 24.1 points per game in 19 contests. Memphis has still managed to win all three of its games without him, including a record 73-point victory over Oklahoma City on Thursday.

Here are some other notes from the Southwest Division:

  • Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic (left ankle soreness) will miss Saturday’s contest against the Grizzlies, the team announced on social media (Twitter link). Joining him will be Kristaps Porzingis (left knee contusion) and Willie Cauley-Stein (personal reasons). Dallas is just 4-6 in its last 10 games.
  • Andrew Lopez of ESPN examines whether the return of Zion Williamson can stabilize the Pelicans‘ season. Williamson (foot surgery rehab) has yet to play this season, leading to New Orleans accruing the third-worst record in the West at 7-18. In 61 games last season, he averaged 27 points, 7.2 rebounds and 33.2 minutes on 61% shooting.
  • Pelicans second-round pick Herb Jones has become one of the league’s best young defenders, William Guillory of The Athletic opines. Jones was drafted by New Orleans in July after spending four seasons at Alabama. “To be great on defense, you have to really want it,” he explained. “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.”