How’s Your (Jrue) Holiday Been?

Published: December 4, 2013

Of all the offseason changes the New Orleans Pelicans went through the one I was most excited about was acquisition of Jrue Holiday. Dell Demps gave up a lot to bring in the 23 year-old All-Star point guard. I thought he’d make an immediate impact on defense with his strength and ability to press the opposing ball handler. Offensively, I figured he’d surpass the output of Vasquez from last season while helping the Pelicans kick their scoring up a gear.

Holiday is having a solid season thus far, however I don’t feel he’s quite lived up to the expectations I had for him—which, admittedly, were probably too high. So, I figured as we near the quarter mark of the season, now would be a good time to try and evaluate his impact on the team, where he ranks in the league as a point guard and see what all this tells us about the Pelicans’ offense.

First, we should start with the obvious: his assist numbers. Holiday currently ranks 6th in total assists, 8th in assists per game with 8.0 and 9th in assist percentage with 36.5. He’s not touching Chris Paul’s 12.1 assists per game but if Holiday averages just one more per game, he’d jump up to 3rd in the league. All things considered that’s an outstanding ranking.

Those stats look nice but to really see how Holiday is performing we need to look deeper. I looked at the NBA player tracking stats page to get a much better idea of how efficient Holiday is as a point guard. The new SportVU cameras track Assist Opportunities. So, is Holiday making the most of the opportunities presented to him? I sorted the page by assists per game and put the top 25 players into a spread sheet. I then divided their assists per game by their assist opportunities per game.

Note: There are flaws with this way being used to measure a point guard’s efficiency but I think it gives a decent look at how they are performing; it’s reasonable to assume that a player with a high percentage of converted assists is making smart passes.

Of the top 25 players ranked by assists per game, Holiday is actually converting 57.55% of his opportunities into assists. To put that in perspective Holiday ranks 3rd out of those 25 players. Only Andre Iguodala and Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors rank ahead of him. Holiday is even 1% higher than Chris Paul.

This all looks great, but then why does Holiday have the second worst offensive rating on the team of anyone who had played significant minutes when nearly 60% of the offense runs through him in some capacity (his assist rate of 36.5% plus his 23.2 usage percent)?

The answer to that question is a little more complicated. The first area is that, in their half court offense, the Pelicans’ shot selection hasn’t exactly been the most efficient. I am by no means screaming about the team’s shot chart, mid/long range jumpers are an essential part of an offense, and a team can’t just shoot from the rim or 3-point range, however the team does rely on long 2’s more than they should. Part of this is because the Pelicans have looked for the roll man on the pick and roll less than they did last season.

Last season and this, the Pelicans run the pick and roll 25% of the time on offense. This year the play ends with the ball handler 18.1% of the time and the roll man 6.8%. Last year the breakdown was 16% ball handler and 9% roll man. The Pelicans’ ball handlers are not passing inside as much on the pick and roll. A big reason for this is the replacement of Jason Smith for Robin Lopez in the starting lineup; Smith is more of a pick and pop big man than a post player and isn’t always rolling to the basket.

That stat is a post for another day but it’s fairly disappointing considering how devastating Anthony Davis is as a roll man. On the year he is scoring 1.35 points per play as the roll man which ranks him first in the league according to My Synergy Sports.

Holiday's shot chart

Holiday’s shot chart

Holiday himself is also very much to blame for the low offensive rating when he is on the court and the team’s poor shot selection. 32.2% of Holiday’s attempts are coming from mid-range. Holiday looks to shoot rather than attack the rim coming off the screen in the pick and roll. Compared to last year Holiday is taking 4% less of his shots inside. For a guard who can get to and finish at the rim as well as Holiday does, you’d like that previous sentence to be the opposite.

Another area is shot clock usage. Holiday is taking 35% of his shots after only 0-10 seconds have expired on the shot clock. That’s 6% more than Vasquez from a year ago. Some of that is in transition but the majority is coming from him taking pull up jumpers early in the shot clock. When Holiday looks to shoot he does so too early in the shot clock. Rather than probing and breaking down the defense off the pick and roll, Holiday is content to shoot from mid-range. This in general leads to inefficient offense.

One of the explanations for all of this is that at the start of the season it didn’t appear Holiday had a large amount of trust with his teammates. That thought is validated from the data I mentioned earlier. Of those 25 players I looked at with the SportsVU data, Holiday ranks 10th in assist opportunities per game with 13.9. It’d be easy to say that he’s shooting too much and those opportunities occur less frequently, but Holiday is taking 2.6 less shots per game and his assist numbers are exactly the same as last year. His teammates simply haven’t been getting open for good looks at times.

This area will undoubtedly improve. As the chemistry and trust develops expect more passes and fewer jump shots. This is something we’ve even seen over the past handful of games where it looks like Holiday is really starting feel his role out with the team. Also, a healthy Ryan Anderson makes a world of difference. Expect Holiday’s turnover problem not to disappear but at least drop some as the chemistry develops.

While it seems to be a bit of a mixed bad when it comes to Holiday the good news is almost all areas he is improving or has the potential to improve. That’s a pretty scary thought considering Holiday ranks in the top third of point guards in the league right now. With Anthony Davis out for 4 to 6 weeks the Pelicans shot at being represented in the All-Star game took a huge blow. But if he keeps up him improving level of play Holiday just might be the one representing the home team in February.


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