Revisiting the Point: Untouchable

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Published: February 21, 2016

Well it wasn’t the most exciting trade deadline and a lot of Pelicans fans are disappointed about it. It seems the franchise stood pat, but in reality the Pelicans took a step forward down the road. At the very least we learned that this is the team New Orleans is going to finish the season with. From streams of tweets we learn some of what Front Offices are thinking. For instance, we found out that Jrue Holiday is considered basically untouchable by ours, and all inquires about him were being “rebuffed”. But this shouldn’t really be too surprising. The Front Office has always been really big on Holiday.

Three years ago in an attempt to get some talent around Anthony Davis, Dell Demps had to make some major roster moves to acquire two primary ball-handlers in Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans. To get Holiday, Dell had to give up 2 first round picks (#6 in ’13-’14 and #10 in ’14-’15), a pretty steep price. It is also important to note that Holiday was not on the market—that is, he was a guy who was not known to be available—and the Pelicans went after him anyway.

In Holiday’s last season in Philadelphia he was a 22-year-old who, in 38 minutes a night, averaged 19 points, 8.9 assists, and 4.2 rebounds while shooting over 45% and playing tough defense. Those numbers make 2 first-round picks seem like fair asking price, but that isn’t the whole story. Those were his numbers only before the 2012-13 All-Star Break. At some point during that season Holiday suffered a stress injury, and what’s worse, he was allowed to play with it. After the All-Star Break, he averaged 3 less points, over 2 less assists, and over 1 more turnover in 36 minutes, shooting under 40% from the field (rounding out a pretty big drop off in play). But Dell still saw a chance at his guy and took it.

Injury timeline as a Pelican:

Had his injury in Philadelphia been treated properly, or had the Pelicans known about it, he might not be in the spot he is today. That injury probably played a part in the stress fracture Holiday suffered his first season in New Orleans. He missed 48 games in 2013-14 and Philly had to pay $3million to the Pelicans because they didn’t disclose everything about his injury history.

However, being rushed back from his stress fracture played a part in his stress reaction in ’14-’15, which caused him to miss 42 games. It was good that he was being monitored and that they were able to catch the injury before it became a full-blown stress fracture, but this might have been prevented. If they did make that mistake in Holiday’s recovery last season, they have definitely learned from it. This season there is no way anyone could associate the word “rushed” with the approach to Holiday’s recovery.

“I’ve been around a lot of really good point guards the last three years – Steve Nash, Chris Paul and Steph Curry – but I think [Holiday] can be right in that category. When he’s healthy, he’s already proven he can be an All-Star guard. Our whole goal is just to keep him healthy. I think you’ll see a very good player there.”

– Alvin Gentry, Oct. 8th, 2015

Holiday has been brought back slowly this season, with every minute, every possession monitored by doctors, trainers, and coaches to make sure that he is both protected and allowed to grow. The commitment to play him based on what was determined to be best for his future health and NOT based on how he feels and NOT on whether the team “needs” more of him shows that his future is more important than the team’s present. By playing him in shorter spurts and encouraging him to play hard in the minutes he was getting, the team was able to both protect his leg and raise his confidence and comfort in running the system. This, so far, has worked wonderfully and resulted in a very productive Holiday, even as his minutes continue to rise (he’s getting over 30 minutes a night fairly regularly now).

Holiday's minutes

“I think it helped me mentally, for one, preparing mentally to feel good. Not to second guess myself if I’m making a cut or doing a move, especially when it comes to the point where I’m playing back-to-back and playing a lot of minutes. And physically, I do feel really good right now”

– Jrue Holiday

Jrue brings a lot to the court on both sides of the ball. His Offensive-rating is the highest on the team and 17th among guards to get 25+ minutes a night (ahead of a couple All-Stars). He and Ajinca are the only Pelicans to have a positive net-rating, meaning they are the only Pelican players this season who can say that when they play, the team outscores their opponent.

These kinds of stats are consistent with what the Pelicans have seen since acquiring him. In his 34 games in 2013-14, out of the main pieces on the team Holiday had the best Defensive-rating and 2nd best Offensive-rating (leading to the 2nd best net-rating on the team). Through those 34 games, he had the 16th best Ortg in the league among guards to get more than 25 minutes a game. In his 40 games in 2014-15, Holiday again had the 2nd best net-rating on the team. He had the best Ortg on the team, which was 16th in the league, again, among guards to get 25+ a night.

But this season is probably Holiday’s best season scoring as a pro. He is averaging over 20 points per 36 for the first time in his career. He now has over 20 or more points in his last 5 games, and 9 out of his last 12. In this stretch he is averaging 21.1-7.6-3.9 in 30+ mins a night. The only thing holding him back at the moment is a slump from 3pt range: In his first 26 games (before he ever broke the 30 minutes barrier) he shot 41.5% from deep on 3+ attempts; in the 22 games since he is shooting just 25.6% on almost 4 attempts a night.

But one of the most telling stats about Holiday is his Potential Assists. A “Potential Assist” is a pass to a teammate, who attempts a shot, and if made, would count as an assist. Holiday is averaging 5.7 assists in 26.4 minutes a game, but 10.8 potential assists. That is a very high rate. Not as high as super elite assistors CP3 or John Wall, or guys who only assist like Rondo or Rubio, but higher than Curry, Lillard, Lowry, Conley, and Bledsoe – side note – I think this has a lot to do with the fact that the Pelicans can’t hit corner 3’s to save their life. How many times has Holiday set up someone with an open look from the corner only for it to be a clanker? Answer: a lot.

“I still think that he’s got a big jump that he can make, I think he’s been very good on the offense, but I think he could be elite at it. It still takes a little bit of time, but I think he’s got a handle on it altogether.”

– Alvin Gentry

It is clear to see that he is really starting to thrive in the system and is completely capable of running it, and that is huge for this team going forward. Imagine if neither Holiday nor Evans looked capable of running this offense. This team would have nothing to show for its attempt at a quick build and not too many assets to address the most important position for a Gentry-led offense. At least now with Holiday the team knows they have two 2-way players in Davis/Holiday to start building around, and most importantly they know they have someone to run the offense. The FO can now focus on that “fit” issue that seemed to pop up so much this year, as well as that “second banana.”

This is the first time that Holiday has played in February as a Pelicans, and hopefully we can say the same for March. His continued progress is something for Pels’ fans to cheer for down the stretch. Around this time 2 years ago Anthony Davis developed a partnership with Tyreke Evans and went off on what Pelicans’ fans call “the stretch.” Well Holiday’s partnership with Anthony Davis is looking better every day: on a night where Davis put up 52 and 20 and Holiday 20 and 9, Jrue had 5 assists in the 4th Quarter of the Pels’ win, and all 5 went to Anthony Davis.

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