Player Spotlight: Herbert Jones – Alabama

Note: This article was written before a major overhaul of the ratings system on the website. These numbers are out of date.

Alabama’s Herbert Jones is not a common household name in college basketball like Cassius Winston or Udoka Azuibuike, but he should be. Jones, who just finished his junior year, has the distinguished honor of being the top defensive player in the country, according to the ratings at EvanMiya. His stats don’t jump off the page (7.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.3 steals a game), but it was his massive defensive impact for his team when he was on the floor that lands him the top defensive spot, and in the top three in the nation for overall ratings. Jones initially entered his name into the NBA draft pool but has decided to stay for his senior year, which means that he’s in line for a monstrous year in 2020. 

Top 5 defenders in the nation

Let’s break down why Herbert Jones is valued so high in the national ratings. First, we will look at how he compared to other Alabama players, and then we will look at some national comparisons.

Team Comparison:

First, we have to point out that Alabama was not a great team in 2019-2020. They finished 16-15, and 9th in the SEC. Because of this, Herbert Jones’s team efficiency statistics, such as plus-minus, aren’t as good as the nation’s leaders in those statistics, purely because Alabama was never blowing other teams out. If we were to look at Jones’s individual box score statistics, along with his plus-minus, we would miss how significant his play was. 

SEC team ratings

What made Herbert Jones so brilliant was how drastically better Alabama performed when he was on the court, compared to their poor efficiency numbers without him. Because the algorithm can look at the strength of all players on the court for every possession, we can detect players who elevate or depress the team when they step on the court and quantify this effect on team performance. Though there were always five Alabama players on the court for every possession, the model is able to pick out how much added value one individual, Herbert Jones, brought to his team on every possession.

Now for a look at the main efficiency numbers, which can be found in the Team Breakdown Tool:

  • Herbert Jones’s Team Defensive Efficiency was so much better than the rest of his teammates. Alabama gave up 0.883 points per possession when Jones was on the court, while the rest of his teammates’ TDE’s ranged between 0.958 and 1.034. The gap between Jones and 2nd place Javian Davis was almost as much as the gap from 2nd to last place. 
  • His offensive efficiency numbers were really solid as well, as he was third for Alabama in Team Offensive Efficiency
  • Combining both of these efficiency metrics to get Team Offensive-Defensive Efficiency, which measures how many more points per possession Alabama scored compared to their opponents when a player was on the floor, Jones had a team efficiency of 0.151, which was a mile better than the rest of his teammates. 
    • To put this in perspective, lets compare Herbert Jones to John Petty, who averaged 14.5 points per game for Alabama and is considered a better NBA prospect than Jones right now. When John Petty was on the floor, the team had an efficiency margin of 0.016. This means that if Petty played a full 40 minute game (which could be roughly estimated as 70 possessions for both teams), Alabama would on average outscore their opponents by 1.1 points while Petty was on the floor. Now, Herbert Jones’ team efficiency margin was 0.151, which, if he played 40 minutes, would equate to outscoring the opponent’s by 10.6 points! This means that individually, Herbert Jones elevates his team’s performance by a 9.5 point margin in 40 minutes, compared to Petty. 
Alabama players, sorted by Team Offensive-Defensive Efficiency Margin

Here’s some other noteworthy Herbert Jones facts:

  • Jones was first in plus-minus by a long shot, with only Kira Lewis coming remotely close to him. 
  • When looking at the most effective pairs of teammates for Alabama, Herbert Jones is in all of the top six pairs. 
Top teammate pairs for Alabama
  • Every SINGLE teammate of Jones, when on the floor with him, had a team efficiency margin of at least 0.1 better than their individual averages, as seen by the Above/Below Average metric. 
A look at how every Alabama player performed with Herbert Jones

National Comparison:

The ultimate attribute of a great defensive player is that he elevates his team’s defensive performance every time he steps on the court. We’ve shown that Herbert Jones did this with great success for Alabama, but let’s see how he compares to other nationally recognized defenders. We’ve compared Herbert Jones with all four Naismith National Defensive Player of the Year finalists, as well as Udoka Azuibuike, who ranks as the 2nd best defender in the ratings. For each player, the chart below indicates the team’s defensive efficiency with that player on the floor, compared with the team’s overall average, to see how much better the team defends when that player is playing. We can translate this margin into a point value, if that player were to play for 40 minutes.

Comparing Herbert Jones with the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Finalists

Of the four Naismith finalists, Mark Vital had the biggest impact on his team’s defense when he was on the floor, with Baylor allowing 3.6 points less per 40 minutes with Vital on the court, compared to their team average. National Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Garrett only boosted his team’s defense by 1.5 points in 40 minutes.

Herbert Jones’s point margin is a whopping 7.1 points, which is almost exactly double the next best margin in the group from Mark Vital! He clearly belongs in the same conversation as these recognized defensive stoppers.

The main issue Herbert Jones faced this past season was getting into foul trouble, as he averaged 3.6 fouls a game and fouled out eight times. If he can learn to reduce the fouls while keeping up his all-nation defense, he would have an even better year. That might be easier for him if he has two healthy hands the whole year instead of just one like he did at points during 2019-2020.

While Jones’s high defensive rating might be a surprise to some, Alabama beat writer Dakota Cox felt like this was a fair evaluation. On Herbert Jones, she said “his most valuable asset is his versatility. He can switch screens from 1-4 and clamp down. He also has a ton of toughness. [Coach] Nate Oats has a hard hat mentality for the team, and Jones has gotten the most ‘hard hat points’.” 

Published by Evan Miyakawa

College basketball analytics at evanmiya.com

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