What’s a Point God to a nonbeliever? Going into last night’s Game 4 against the New Orleans Pelicans, a 118-103 New Orleans win, Chris Paul had already put together a pair of impressive fourth-quarter performances to help the Phoenix Suns go up 2-1. It looks like that may not happen again this series though as the Pelicans’ plan looks like it’s working after evening the Series 2-2.
A pair of rookies in Jose Alvarado and Herb Jones held Paul to just four points on eight shots last night. Alvarado, the 6-foot guard whose pressure is as annoying as it is effective, picks him up full court. Then in the half court, the much taller and longer 6-foot-7 Jones switches onto him. It’s a plan that at least for a game worked to absolute perfection as Paul was visibly frustrated on multiple occasions.
Jones pretty blatantly bumped Paul while “boxing out” for a rebound, a play that caused a lot of Twitter to call him a dirty player, but Paul actually bumped into Jones out of frustration right before that. When Jones intercepted an inbounds pass in the backcourt and drove in for a layup, Paul smacked him across the face in a non-basketball play that was deemed a Flagrant 1 but easily could’ve been an ejection.
Grand Theft Alvarado forced an 8-second violation on Paul and got one of his patented steals where he hides in the corner while the other team is bringing it up the court, runs at them from behind, I imagine making fighter jet noises to himself the whole time, and steals the ball. Paul saw it coming in Game 1, but Alvarado kept at it and it paid off. It was a play that ironically ended with a Herb Jones layup.
Jones was the 35th pick in last year’s draft and Alvarado went undrafted. These weren’t generational prospects, but two guys who weren’t drafted in the first round. It’s both incredibly improbable that two rookies could shut down debatably one of the top five point guards ever, and also somewhat obvious in hindsight.
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Last year, Jones at Alabama, was the SEC Player of the Year and SEC Defensive Player of the Year. Alvarado was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year at Georgia Tech. Maybe we shouldn’t be so shocked that they’re good at defense. Maybe that’s indicative of flaws in the way draft prospects are evaluated. “Upside” seems to be the only thing teams are concerned with come draft time and actual accomplishments and a track record of winning don’t seem to matter that much.
And this isn’t a holier than thou, “I saw it coming the whole time” stance. If you had asked me about a year ago who your team should take in the draft, I wouldn’t have said “Oh there’s this guy from an engineering school who’s the same height as me who’s going to be a menace.”
Even in hindsight I can kind of understand how Alvarado fell as far as he did considering that he’s undersized and not a super athlete, but how on Earth did Jones fall to the second round. He wasn’t just a skilled guy who played four years in college who lacked the athleticism to be good in the NBA. I didn’t watch the combine but surely some NBA scout must have seen that he can apparently jump to the moon as shown by him blocking three pointers from Mikal Bridges and Cameron Payne. “A young Kawhi Leonard on defense? No, thank you.”
The best moment of the night for Jones came when he was on the floor and Paul offered a hand to help him up. Jones just shook his head, not saying a word, and waited for a teammate. Playing defense is ultimately about desire, and these two definitely have that.