Bobby Jones, 6’9″ second-year man out of North Carolina. Best defensive forward in basketball. Shot 60.5% last year (only man other than Wilt Chamberlain ever over 60). Leading league again this season at 59% despite worst form and shortest range in history of mankind. Just never takes bad shot. Great leaper. Denver MVP, easy. Thrifty, devoted, straight arrow. Brown says that during pregame talks, while other players scratch, read, go to bathroom, Jones “stares at me and actually listens. He’s scary.” Bob Goldsholl, Nets TV announcer, says Jones is so clean that when he went to the movie Story of O, he walked out when he discovered it was not the life of Oscar Robertson.
Years Active: 1975 – 1986
Career Stats: 12.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.7 apg, 1.4 bpg, 1.5 spg, 55.8% FG, 76.6% FT
Accolades: NBA Sixth Man of the Year (1983), ABA All-Star (1976), 4x NBA All-Star (1977-78, 1981-82), All-ABA 2nd Team (1976), 2x ABA All-Defensive 1st Team (1975-76), 8x NBA All-Defensive 1st Team (1977-84), NBA All-Defensive 2nd Team (1985), All-ABA Rookie 1st Team (1975), 1983 NBA Champion (Sixers)
Bobby Jones: an average name for maybe the best defensive small forward of all-time. The only real competition for the honor is Scottie Pippen and Tom “Satch” Sanders. But during Jones’s playing days, he was certainly the best. Possessing a wiry, yet toned 6’9″ frame, Jones had the perfect height, length, speed and, above all, desire to frustrate and dominate his opponents.
He was near-perfect at every conceivable defensive measure: ball denial, man-to-man defense, weakside help, steals, blocks, interceptions, miraculous saves. Jones did all of this dirty grunt work with an air of nobility: “If I have to play defense by holding on, that’s when I quit. If I have to use an elbow to get position, then I’m going to have to settle for another position.”
Although he shined brightest on defense, Jones was a complete basketball player. A smart passer, he could quickly ignite a fastbreak with an outlet pass after one of his rebounds, blocks or steals. His jumper was taken straight out of the set shot 50s, but it worked. Most excitingly, he could jump out of the gym. It’s what made him such a skilled shot blocker, but it also allowed Bobby to finish on offense what he started on defense via a thunderous slam.
Drafted by the NBA’s Houston Rockets and the ABA’s Denver Nuggets, Jones opted for the ABA after graduating from the University of North Carolina. A man who was almost always at peace with himself, Jones rarely attempted a shot out of haste or to satisfy a selfish trigger finger. He took prudent, needed shots. Leading the ABA in FG% in his first two seasons (at 60% and 57%) testifies to that. His stat lines from those early days are the stuff of fantasy basketball dreams. Over his 1st four seasons (all with Denver split between the ABA and NBA), Jones averaged 15 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks and 58% shooting from the field.
Nuggets coach Larry Brown, yes that Larry Brown, deemed Jones “the best defensive player in the world” by his 2nd season. Teamed with Dan Issel and David Thompson in a high-octane frontcourt, the Nuggets reached the ABA Finals in 1976 where Jones was tasked with stopping Julius Erving, who was playing for the opposing Nets. Jones would be absolutely torched by the Doctor who averaged 37 points and 14 rebounds as the Nets won in 6 games. Sometimes great offense trumps great defense.
Jones and Erving would go from legendary ABA opponents to successful NBA teammates two years later as the Philadelphia 76ers traded superfluous scoring and turnover machine George McGinnis to Denver for Bobby. It was a much needed injection of positivity for Philly in the wake of the failed McGinnis-Erving pairing. Charles Barkley in 1986 noted the good vibes exuded by Jones: “If everyone in the world was like Bobby Jones, the world wouldn’t have any problems.”
The trade didn’t just change Bobby’s playing venue, it changed his role. Gone were his days of 30+ minutes and starting, he was now slotted as the 6th man behind Dr. J, Doug Collins, and, later, Andrew Toney. Jones’ demeanor and skills made him the perfect man for the job. Instead of griping about lost minutes, Jones decided to give a more intense performance in his slashed minutes. Unsurprisingly, he continued his stellar play as one of the NBA’s most clutch players. Hitting game-winners wasn’t his brand of clutch, though. Disrupting and denying the opposition a chance at doing that to Philly was his crunch time hallmark. And there were certainly many clutch, crunch and otherwise Maalox moments for Philadelphia during this era playing in 3 NBA Finals and 2 more Eastern Conference Finals.
The lone championship for the Sixers came in 1983 when Moses Malone arrived to lead Jones, Toney, Erving, and Maurice Cheeks to the Promised Land. For Jones though, 1983 wasn’t just the pinnacle of team success, he was recognized for his stellar bench play by winning the inaugural Sixth Man of the Year Award. Fitting for a Sixer. However, for the first time in his career he averaged less than 10 points and 25 minutes a game as Moses, rightfully, demanded a larger portion of the offense and Jones himself hit 31 years of age. Father Time would beckon Jones into retirement three years later in 1986.
Bobby’s streak of All-Defensive 1st Teams is unparalleled with 10 straight selections starting in his rookie season. He managed another All-Defensive 2nd Team appearance in 1985, before finally missing out in his last season. Despite his lofty total, Jones is the only one of 11 players with at least 6 All-Defensive 1st Team appearances who is either not in the Hall of Fame or soon-to-be (Duncan, Garnett, Kobe, and Gary Payton). On top of this, Jones averaged 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks for his career. Only teammate Julius Erving along with Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson have done that.
To consistently be in the company of Hall of Famers and yet not be one must be a frustrating feeling for anyone except, probably, Bobby Jones. The man’s devout Christianity has given him peace for decades so it’s unimaginable he would let this slight bother him much: “When I’m in there, I just play as hard as I can. In the Bible, it says we’re supposed to give 100 percent in whatever it is we do and that’s what I do.” Yep, sounds like a man who’s probably off somewhere focusing on some new endeavor instead of seething at slights.