Jrue Holiday and the Turnover Problem

Published: September 30, 2013

Jrue Holiday isn’t an advanced statistician’s dream player.  Scoring, rebounding, stealing – these are all areas in which he’s only performed at an average level over the full course of a season.  (If you take his season last year before Doug Collins threw the whole team under the bus, he looks fantastic, but as a whole season?  Meh.)  Yet swimming in the midst of all that mediocrity is a standout turd:  Last season’s 17.3% turnover percentage.   Though less than what Vasquez produced last season, it is still a far cry from the gold standard of 10-11% that the premier point guards in the league produce.  For Jrue to provide what the Pelicans need (a strong defensive point guard that can get the ball safely to the slew of scoring guards and forwards) he’s going to have to clean that number up.  Happily, Jrue has posted better numbers the previous two seasons – and the season before last had a better-than-average 13.2% turnover rate.

To see what I should be worrying about, I went to the NBA stats tool and watched all 292(!) turnovers Holiday committed last season. Amongst a slew of pretty standard miscues, there were a slew of ugly pick and roll related turnovers.  Since the P&R is a bread and butter play, the Pelicans will struggle with a point guard who is poor at it.  Per Synergy Sports, Jrue Holiday turned the ball over on 18.9% of the 639 plays in which he served as the Pick and Roll Ball-handler.  To put that rate into perspective, Chris Paul and Tony Parker served as the grand masters of the Pick and Roll last year, posting turnover rates of 14 and 14.1% respectively.  Russell Westbrook posted a 17.5%.  Rajon Rondo posted a 20.3%, Deron Williams 23.7% and Grievis Vasquez a 21.5%.  So in the greater scheme, it’s somewhat mediocre, but here’s why I’m certain Holiday will improve upon it:

Philly sucked last year in the pick and roll.  Here’s a sample high pick and roll against OKC.


Lavoy Allen is setting the screen and both Ibaka and Westbrook jump out on Holiday.  Allen slips and the Sixers now should have an advantage on the right hand side of the floor – two guys with only Durant to guard them.   See:


The problem is this is where things break down for the Sixers.  Ideally Thaddeus would flare to the corner- but he can’t shoot, so he cuts.  That should mean Lavoy Allen flares for a mid-range shot(which he’s not good at), but as you can see above, he’s moving towards the hoop.  The result is a confused sequence where essentially Allen and Young sandwich Durant, then Allen flares out for an open shot like this:


Unfortunately, Durant knows Allen is no threat – so without having to make any snap decisions, he stays close to Thaddeus.  Kevin Martin cheats off of non-shooter Evan Turner in the top corner, and when Jrue tries to get a pass into Thaddeus Young, the ball is tipped away and turnover occurs.  (Side note:  I watched more than 100 pick and rolls.  Lavoy’s mistaken dive to the basket was the most aggressive dive to the basket I saw in any of them.  Philly never dove hard to the basket – and unless Hawes was involved, never flared for threes.  They always slipped to the dumb zone and took 20-footers.  Why does Doug Collins keep getting coaching jobs?)

Let’s keep going and show another of Philly’s favorite plays:  The PnR re-screen.

4Jrue waits here for Hawes to set the pick. (Holiday is a huge guard guys, look at this screenshot!)


Hawes slips the pick quickly, presumably to flare.  This leaves Jrue with both defenders, while Hawes and Allen only have Luke Babbitt to defend them.  Advantage Sixers!  But guess what?  The Sixers abhore spacing, so Hawes(00) doesn’t flare out.  Instead, he parks himself at midrange, and Allen(50) rolls to the basket, likes this:


If Hawes was Ryan Anderson, he’d be standing in front of the ref – or even further in the corner at this point, waiting for the skip pass to force Babbitt decide whether to run out on him or stay on Allen under the basket.  But the Sixers have a better idea!  Let’s Re-Screen!


Yes.  This is the same play.  Hawes comes back up and sets another screen, giving the defense three seconds to re-adjust.  Now there are four defenders around Jrue and Hawes!  Nic Batum (following), Hickson (jumping the screen to force him away from the edge) and Babbitt and Lillard all within a few steps!  But wait, there’s more!


Hawes half-heartedly cuts to the basket instead of flaring for a wide open jumper/three, providing, essentially, a fifth body to interfere with Holiday’s space.   Left with a single option, Holiday tries a shovel pass to Allen, Lillard tips it, it goes of Allen’s leg, turnover.

No Spacing.  I saw this re-screen play dozens of times, and always with Hawes, which really confused me because Hawes remains the only big man on the Sixers capable of hitting a jumpshot.  Why limit him to a space clogger and re-screener when your team is made up of non-shooting space cloggers? (Yet Doug Collins still got a job interview this summer!)

As illustrated, the Sixers had a lot of bad pick and rolls last year, and it should come of no surprise that Philly was ranked 28th in scoring per possession when the “roll” man took a shot off a pick and roll.  It’s also why I’m confident Holiday will finish his first season in New Orleans with a turnover rate closer to his previous year – when he had veteran Elton Brand, Nocioni and Vucevic teaming up with Hawes and Young to set those picks.  At least that gave him four guys who could hit a jump shot.

Last season, with a more turnover prone Grievis Vasquez running the show, the Pelicans roll men finished 9th in the league behind strong performances from Anthony Davis, Jason Smith, Robin Lopez and Ryan Anderson.  Though Lopez’s departure will probably impact this negatively,  Davis, Smith and Anderson are still major Pick and Roll talents compared to Hawes, Young and Allen.

So that bodes well for the Pelicans.

Note: Watching these turnovers did highlight one other thing – Holiday can lose focus when the score goes lopsided for or against(more often) his team.  Repeatedly I watched him toss lazy perimeter passes that begged to be stolen, looked down, and sure enough, there was a fifteen point difference in the score.  There was a game against the Knicks – and later one against the Hawks, where Holiday wracked up 8-turnover stinkers because his team was already being wrecked, and he had checked out.  This worries me a bit.



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