Isaiah Thomas says it was "only right" to choose #24 when he signed with the N.O. Pelicans last week -- explaining it's the perfect way to pay tribute to his mentor, Kobe Bryant.

32-year-old Thomas inked a 10-day contract with the Pels on Friday -- and got emotional when talking to the media Tuesday about his jersey number selection before making his debut with the team.

'Kobe was one of my very close mentors," Thomas said ... "And [choosing #24] was an opportunity to pay homage to one of the best players to ever play the game."

"Hopefully it works out and I could play like Kobe a little bit if I get in there."