I know in a recent podcast that there was not a lot of love for Jrue being thrown out there, but I have always liked the guy. I was elated when we got him instead of the high effort, low athleticism Vasquez. Ashame that he was another one of those traded/signed for long-term-injury casualty guys we seem to find. I think his defense is above average and his offense can be when he puts his mind to it. I really think he has more of a scorer's mentality and has struggled at times to balance being a distributor. The biggest thing I have always respected about Jrue is the smooth-operator style of offense he employs. Looks like he is just slithering on up to the goal, but somehow gets there and the shot off. I hope we keep him and his numbers in this area improve. Not to stir this up, but given the personnel on the first and second teams, I wonder what the numbers would have looked like for Jrue as the PG for the second team with Galloway and Moore, Jones, and now Motiejunas, a group of guys who have a greater scorers mentality/ability than Asik/Ajinca, Hill, Cunningham, as well as to freeing him up a bit from the give-it-to-Davis-offense.
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The Pelicans’ Offense With Jrue Holiday
*all numbers presented do not include the most recent game against the New York Knicks
Defense, defense, defense. That is all that was talked about in the offseason, and for good reason. Last season the Pelicans had the 28th ranked defense with a rating of 107.3. It was abysmal. The thinking was that if the Pels could find enough defensive oriented players to improve to league average, Anthony Davis could carry an average-to-below-average offense. You could at least be competitive that way, and since Davis arrived in New Orleans the team has never had a “bad” offense. The strategy has had some success, as the Pels currently have a top 10 defensive rating this season, but the team severely underestimated how much the offense would drop off letting players like Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson walk out the door and not replacing them. The Pelicans are currently tied with the Brooklyn Nets (who have the worst record in the league) for the 27th ranked offense.
There is a lot wrong with the offense, but one of the most surprising aspects of the team’s failures is that since starting PG Jrue Holiday returned to the team on the 18th of November, the offense has been 7.1 points per 100 possessions better with him on the bench than on the court.
That is a big difference, and Holiday has now logged 717 minutes in 23 games this season, which isn’t so small a sample size anymore. Looking at where the team struggles with him vs without him, two big categories for offensive efficiency stand out: 3’s and Free’s.
The Pelicans are shooting more FTs when Holiday is out there, which is good to see. Jrue is their best guard at drawing fouls (the guards are woefully poor in this area btw) and is actually sitting at a career high FTr of .236 (that is, the number of FTs/FGA). But the Pels are shooting much worse from the line while he is out there. Anthony Davis accounts for about 40% of all the Pelicans’ FTAs, and he is shooting 73.2% (104/142) from the line in the 626 minutes he has played with Holiday, but then he is shooting 86.3% (63/73) in the 302 minutes without him. Kinda bizarre, but nothing to be overly concerned about. It is, however, affecting Holiday’s On/Off numbers
The Pelicans are taking less 3’s and shooting ~5% worse on them with Holiday, which is a pretty big difference. Going down the list, all 3 of Dante Cunningham, Solomon Hill, and E’Twaun Moore shoot noticeably worse from beyond the arc with Holiday than without him. Cunningham has the biggest difference, shooting 21.1% with Holiday and 55.6% without. Again, bizarre numbers. Hill is 32.6% with and 39.3% without. Moore is 37.5% with and 41.9% without. Now, both Langston Galloway and Buddy Hield do shoot better from deep with Jrue out there: Galloway 42.2% vs 36.7%, Hield 46.7% vs 42.9%. But overall, looking at shot charts, Pelicans’ struggle both above the break and from the right corner with Holiday:
Above the break, Holiday (34.7% on the season) has completely replaced Tim Frazier (40.6% on the season) as the main point. But what about the right corner? The main culprit seems to be E’Twaun Moore, who is 0/7 from the right since Holiday’s return. However, the attempts are so low that it all seems to be white noise. The line up data seems to suggest this, as the majority of Hliday’s most used lineups have fine offensive numbers. Hield, Moore, Galloway, and Cunningham are all above-average 3pt shooters this season (going by 3PT%), and Holiday himself is up close to average, so hopefully they can start picking it up (*Monday’s win over Knicks is an encouraging sign, Pels overall shot 12/27 from 3 that night, 44.4%).
But just hitting 3’s and FTs at a more acceptable rate does not account for everything. I would put the rest on Holiday himself. He was 22nd in the entire league in ORPM (2.57) last year and posted a career high PER (19.7). You could look at last year as an outlier, but this year he is 121st in ORPM (-0.15), which would be his worst since RPM was introduced, and his PER of 16.1 would be his worst since 2011-12. His overall FG% is at a career low. He is shooting his worst % within 3ft of the rim since 2011-12. The first 6 years of his career he was a 37.6% shooter from deep, but over this and last season he is only at 34.0%.
He was averaging over 17 points his first 7 games back this season before picking up a toe injury, with three 20+ point games in those 7. Since returning from that injury he is averaging under 14 points and has three 20+ point games in 14 games. However, by all indications he is healthy.
Last season we saw an aggressive, attacking Holiday. He was taking 18.4 shots per 36 minutes, this season he is down to 14.9. Now, that number is right around where he was his first two seasons in New Orleans, but there were many more offensive options those years. He needs to be more aggressive on the offensive end for the Pelicans’ to have an effective offense. Throughout his career he hasn’t always been that guy, we’ve only seen glimpses of it, but he is certainly capable of more than we are seeing right now. Holiday, and the team, would hugely benefit from another aggressive scorer, and likely that answer isn’t on the roster. Buddy Hield could develop into more of a volume scorer, but that growth will take time.
“The Process” could be affecting Holiday as well. For those who haven’t been following, one of the goals of the season for the Pels has been to “get Davis his” and make sure last season’s atrocity of missing All-NBA never happens again. Davis is undisputedly #1 in the pecking order, that is just the way it has to be. The frequency with which Holiday is passing the ball to Davis (29.5% of his passes) is well above previous seasons. Holiday may be deferring too much. Here he is passing up an open lay up to force a drop off to Davis:
Indecision around attacking, shooting, and passing would undoubtedly affect his offensive efficiency. Hopefully as the season goes on he can get more comfortable on the court.
There is no reason to suspect Holiday won’t break out of his offensive slump at some point this season. The questions become when and will it be enough? Even with a more aggressive Holiday, the Pelicans need someone else who can do more with the ball inside the arc. Tyreke Evans remains on a minutes restriction, and whether he’ll have a positive impact what the Pels are trying to do on offense is dubious at best. Hield and Galloway are both purely jump shooters. Hill and Cunningham’s new nickname “the corner bros” is fitting as both are incredibly low usage players. Moore can do some things with the ball, but he is far from what the Pels need. Some notes on the Pelicans’ lack of players who can do things with the ball:
- The Pelicans rank 22nd in Points-per-Play for Pick and Roll Ball Handlers, while also being 13th in how frequently they run the play.
- They are 16th in drives/game, and do shoot well on their drives, ranking 7th in FG%. However, they rank just 25th in passing out of drives to the rim, meaning their drives do not initiate ball movement (lack of playmakers). Their Ast% of 7.8 out of drives ranks 20th.
- They rank 25th in points in the paint per game, and 23rd in paint-FG%.
- They do not cut to the basket very often or effectively either, as the team ranks 21st in frequency of cuts and 26th in Points-per-Cut.
There were rumors earlier in the season of the Pelicans’ interest in Will Barton, a scoring guard on a more-than-reasonable contract. With more recent rumors of the Pels pulling out of the Paul Millsap sweepstakes because of the price tag, it seems the team knows it needs to be able to add that scoring punch. Whether they can find it or not remains a big question mark going forward.