How To Re-Insert Jrue Holiday Into the Pelicans Rotation

Published: March 30, 2015

First things first, Jrue Holiday potentially coming back this season is great news. You can argue that it is hard to re-insert a major piece back into a rotation, and that if doing so costs the Pelicans even one game, that could be it for their playoff hopes. And while that is possibly true, the fact is that whether the Pelicans make the playoffs or not this season pales in comparison to the importance of whether or not Jrue Holiday will get over this injury that has plagued him the last two years. If Holiday is 100% and ready to go, then we all should be on cloud nine, and he needs to get as much real NBA action as possible this last month so that he can go into the offseason with no fears that his body can hold up in the most grueling of situations.

I understand the concerns on the other side. The idea that if there is “nothing of real value” to play for, that Holiday should just shut it down and be 100% to start next season. But let me address each of these issues separately. First, what do people mean when they say that certain games matter while others do not? Why does a game that has no impact on whether a team makes the playoffs not matter? Let’s say that the Pelicans are essentially eliminated from the playoff hunt with 6 games left to go and Holiday is cleared by doctors; Why shouldn’t he play in those games? Some will say that they don’t matter, to which I respond – If the goal is to evaluate the team moving forward and to build continuity among its core, then every single second they can play together in an NBA game matters. Others will say that he shouldn’t play because he could re-injure himself. Well, that could happen in any game. That can happen in game one of next year. If he was more susceptible to an injury in those games than he would be at another time, then he wouldn’t be cleared. So it is a moot point.

With that out of the way, and the assumption built in that if Holiday is cleared to go it is because he is 100%, let’s talk about how Monty Williams should go about putting Jrue Holiday back in to the rotation. To do that, we need to examine a couple of things including the current rotation and the possibilities when Holiday returns.

Current Rotations

In close games where nobody is in foul trouble, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans have each been playing 36-40 minutes, with Norris Cole getting 15-20 and a 4th guard for 6-10 minutes in some scenarios where the Pels play small. Monty usually takes Gordon out first and let’s Tyreke play with Cole, then has Gordon play with Cole in the second quarter while Tyreke rests. In a relatively small sample size, the Tyreke/Cole backcourt is FAR more effective than the Gordon/Cole backcourt. In 253 minutes, the Cole/Gordon backcourt is outscored 93-90.9 per 48 minutes. Meanwhile, the Tyreke/Cole backcourt has played 191 minutes and outscores opponents 100.8-92.5 per 48 minutes. Both units shoot similar percentages. The difference? Tyreke and Cole turn the ball over 4 fewer times per 48 minutes than Gordon and Cole do. Also, Gordon goes from an elite 3-pt shooter without Cole (46.8%) to a bad one with him (34.1%).

Bringing Holiday off the Bench

Jrue Holiday has not come off the bench since his rookie season, but in all likelihood, he will probably be asked to for his first game or two back as he gets the rust off. But should the Pelicans consider making this a permanent thing? Tyreke has looked good as the starting point guard since Jrue went down, putting up 16.7 points, 7.8 assists, and 5 rebounds per game on 45.2% shooting from the field and the Pelicans are 20-14 in that stretch with Evans as the starter. Gordon has also seen an increase in his 3-point shooting percentage since Holiday went down, though that could be purely by coincidence. Most of the minutes that Gordon played with Holiday were before his injury, when he was straight up terrible in the beginning of the season. Overall, Gordon’s per minute stats are about the same with Holiday on as opposed to off, with one major exception – Gordon’s steals per minute go way up when Holiday is on the floor. You can probably assume that this is due in large part to the pressure Holiday puts on opposing ball handlers.

Anthony Davis is the guy most effected by Jrue Holiday being on the floor. Most of his statistics stay relatively the same with Holiday as opposed to without, save for two big exceptions. He averages about the same number of points, but he is far more efficient with Holiday, shooting 57.9% with him on the floor as opposed to 50.7% with him off. Also, AD’s steal percentage goes up nearly 50% with Holiday on the floor. In fact, the Pelicans increase their steal percentage by 23% as a whole in the minutes Holiday is on the court as opposed to off. This combined with a 13% decrease in turnover percentage for the Pels when Holiday is on the court, and you can see why they were dominating the turnover battle early in the season. Not so much since Holiday has been gone.

For all the reasons listed above, it is hard to advocate bringing Holiday off the bench once he is 100% and ready to go. He steadies the offense, gets AD good shots, brings the defense to another level, and maximizes possessions. So, if Holiday is a sure-fire starter, then the question becomes which current starter should go to the bench?

Evans or Gordon With Holiday?

This is the tougher question to answer. On one hand, units with Tyreke and Jrue on them have been devastating when they have been on the court together these last two years. On the other hand, Gordon provides more spacing in units when Asik is on the court and Tyreke can be a true difference maker off the bench. First, let’s start with Tyreke and Holiday. They have been on the court for 1,429 minutes over the last two seasons and the Pelicans outscore opponents by over 6 points per 100 possessions in that time. Holiday plays off ball more and his FG% skyrockets because of that (47% with Evans on, 41% with Evans off).

Meanwhile, Holiday’s numbers plummeted last year whenever Gordon was on the floor. But this season, they have evened out, and remember, Jrue didn’t even really get to play with the “good” Eric Gordon this year. Most of the time when Jrue and Eric were on the floor this season, Tyreke was with them too so it is harder to separate the data, but last season Jrue played a lot with Gordon and without Evans, and he was simply far less aggressive. He deferred to Gordon a lot, but now that Gordon has essentially rebranded himself as a spot up shooter, that shouldn’t be as big of an issue.

While the numbers seem to support Evans starting with Jrue, they also support the idea of Tyreke coming off the bench. It is a small sample size (as is the sample size we have of Gordon coming off the bench), but Tyreke was magnificent coming off the bench this season before Jrue went down. In an effort to shake things up a bit, Monty decided to bring Tyreke off the bench in early January, and you need to look no further than the January 9th game against Memphis to see the devastating force Tyreke can be when he comes off the bench fresh and is told to attack. He put up 21, 9, and 5 that night with just one turnover in 33 minutes and completely changed the game. He came off the bench with 4:45 left in the first and immediately assisted on a 3 by Holiday, then scored 10 of the Pels next 14 points. He led the Pels with 9 points in the 2nd quarter and 8 in the fourth as they beat the Grizzlies 106-95 that night.

His usage rate was 29.2% coming off the bench, but he was more efficient than ever (.568 TS%) and he helped that second unit control the glass with 8 rebounds per game off the bench in just under 34 minutes. Gordon might be able to do 85% of what Tyreke does offensively coming off the bench, but he won’t be able to help out on the glass, and if Ryan Anderson comes back as well, that is where they will need as much help as they can possibly get. So, here is the dilemma: The best partner for Jrue is Tyreke Evans. But the best guy to come of the bench is, also, Tyreke Evans. We can’t clone him. He can only be used in one of these roles, so what should Monty choose?


Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon should start. Tyreke should be on the floor with Jrue at the end of games, and Gordon can earn his way on the floor too if he is having one of his hot shooting nights. If not, then Pondexter or maybe even Cole can get that final spot depending on the matchup and who is hot that day. The Cole/Tyreke duo can absolutely destroy opposing teams in stretches, with both of those guys coming in fresh and pushing the pace for 3-6 minutes at a time. The key is also getting Jrue some time with Evans, even though they won’t be starting together. To accomplish all of this, maybe Monty can bring Gordon out early in the first and allow Tyreke to get into the flow slowly by playing with Jrue. Then, Holiday comes out for Cole around the three-minute mark and Cole/Tyreke wreck havoc. To start the second quarter, you have Gordon and Tyreke before Jrue replaces Tyreke around the seven minute mark. Then, at the 3 or 4 minute mark Tyreke comes back in for Gordon or Pondexter to finish off the half. The second half can play out mostly the same with Monty adjusting for the hot hand. That would give about 32-34 minutes per game to both Jrue and Tyreke, 28-30 to Gordon, and 8-12 to Norris Cole, with guys getting more or less depending on hot hand and match ups.

Regardless, having Jrue Holiday returning would be a huge upgrade for this team, and getting this injury behind him would be a huge step forward for this franchise. He makes our franchise player more efficient and lifts up his units on both sides of the court. The defense has been improving without him due to the additions of Cunningham, Pondexter, and Cole, along with the team simply getting more familiar with the system. They have essentially become a middle level defensive team over the last two months, and it is not unreasonable to assume they could become a top-ten defense with Holiday. Combine that with what he adds to the offensive end, and maybe people will be saying that the Pelicans, not the Thunder, are the most dangerous 8th seed they have ever seen entering the playoffs.


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