An Eye Test Evaluation After a Handful of Games – Part 1

Published: November 16, 2019

Stats are all the rage these days, but this old man uses his eyes first, second, and third before even bothering to check out basketball reference. It is not that I do not see value in stats; Quite the contrary actually. I just don’t think stats have evolved enough yet to tell us a story. Instead, what I see, is that most people start with the conclusion and use the stats to fill in their supporting arguments.

Instead, I like to watch the games and understand that the results of each possession could easily have been different with one tiny variable being switched. And with over 200 possessions in an NBA game, there are tens of thousands of variables that drive individual and team stats, along with outcomes.

It is a long way of saying that the point of stats, when you really look at it, is an attempt to predict the future. They are supposed to be a reflection of what a player has already done, but they are used by most to project what he will do next. Or what he will do in this situation vs that. Do with these other 4 guys vs that lineup with those 4 guys. We think we can use stats for that purpose, but we are lying to ourselves because there are hundreds of variables will be different the next time, even if its the same exact lineup vs the exact 5 guys they were playing before. Heck, even throw in the same 3 refs.

What is consistent, however, is skill sets. Yes, guys improve moderately from time to time. Their shooting gets hot or cold for stretches, and opportunities increase or decrease to utilize those skill sets. But for the most part, the skill set is what it is and the eye test is all about seeing those skills and understanding whether they mesh with the teammates they share the court with, and with what the coach is asking them to do.

In this series, I want to examine 2-3 players per piece and break down who these guys have been so far this season. I also want to talk about their ideal role on a fully healthy Pelicans team (fantasy, I know) and how they are likely to fit long term. The good thing about this Pelicans team is that there is a lot of talent here, but that is also the challenge. Not to mention, the organization is bound to add even more talent in the near future with guys like Didi coming over and multiple draft picks at David Griffin’s disposal. With all that said, let’s take a look at a couple of the Pelicans hard working perimeter players.

Jrue Holiday

Up until the Clippers game, the numbers said there was reason to worry about Jrue, and so did the eye test. But for me, it was only one trait that I saw that was an issue and I have seen it before, so I wasn’t that worried. Jrue seems to start slow every year and we hear coaches cite his lack of aggressiveness, his overthinking, etc. But to me, it is even more basic than that – it all comes down to his handles. 

By the end of every season, his handles seem tight and he can get wherever he wants, leading to efficient scoring and solid playmaking. But like clockwork, at the beginning of every season, his dribble is disconnected and we see turnovers and/or him settling for outside shots too often. I would guess that he does that because he doesn’t have confidence that he can get into tight spaces without losing the ball. 

From what I see on Instagram (yes, this is somehow a source in 2019), he tends to focus on his body and his conditioning in the offseason. Sure, he does dribbling and shooting drills, but those are often alone or with some trainer who never even laced up sneakers for a Division III school. Then, he comes to training camp and competes against bad defensive players before playing sparingly in preseason, which is a glorified walkthrough. Before you know it, the regular season hits and Jrue is trying to control the ball in tight spaces against the biggest, longest armed, and most fluid athletes in the world. Turnovers and settling for bad shots come as a result until he gets his handle back, usually a month or so into the season. 

Defensively, he is as mesmerizing as ever on the ball. He anticipates as good as any guard in the league, while also having lightning quick hands that poke the ball free and cause deflections. What I would like to see more on this end is him helping on the boards. Let’s be honest, he isn’t going to get the ball in transition and make a spectacular play or push and kick to a corner shooter. That isn’t who Jrue is. He is more deliberate and methodical on offense, which is why you don’t see a bunch of transition buckets from him. So, if he isn’t going to get the ball on an outlet at half court and go full speed at the rim, then why not have him help on the boards? 

Guys like Redick and Hart can leak out because Hart will attack the rim and JJ will find a corner in transition to force the defense to make an impossible decision. Even Ingram and Zion can finish 1-on-2, so I could see them leaking out once in a while if they are defending on the perimeter. But Jrue should go to the free throw line every time the ball is in the air, and help out on the boards. 

How He Fits With a Healthy Pelicans Team

On a completely healthy Pelicans team, Jrue should be either the #1 or #2 option, depending on the matchups he and Ingram have on that night. He should approach the game in the exact opposite manner that Chris Paul would have in his Hornets/Pelicans days. Paul would often spend the first half setting up his bigs and wing shooters, before looking for his own in the 2ndhalf. Holiday, conversely, should look for his own in the first half – specifically by getting to the rim. As he begins to bend the defense, the passing lanes to bigs and perimeter players will open up and can allow him to become a playmaker more often in the second half. Jrue does not see the whole court like the elite point guards, but he can find the right guy when the lanes are open. 

At the end of games, Jrue should be on the court in every situation. The way most teams closing lineups are, he could probably switch 1-5 if the Pelicans chose to do that or he can take the opponents best player if they chose to isolate. Offensively, you need to put him on the court with shooting for him to thrive in those late moments. And if the guy can’t shoot, he better be an elite rim running threat that sucks in the defense so Jrue can hit his midrange or have clear lanes for drive and kick passes. A guy like Favors, for instance, shouldn’t be finishing with Jrue in most games once Zion comes back. Jrue-Ingram-Zion with two shooters makes the most sense, and if those two role plays are adequate in the final minutes, the Pelicans should win more close games down the stretch than they lose. 

How He Fits Long Term

Let’s get the age thing out of the way first. Yes, he is a decade older than Zion and 7 years older than Ingram, but he won’t exactly be washed up when those two are starting to hit their prime. I liken his future role, if he stays with the team, to that of Andre Iguodala as the Warriors started to ascend. The Warriors core of Klay, Steph, and Draymond were all in their early to mid 20s when the Warriors acquired Iguodala, who had played almost 20,000 more minutes than any of the guys in the Warriors core when they all came together. 

NBA history very rarely sees a bunch of 19-22 year old guys growing up together and then forming a dynasty when they all hit their mid 20s. You usually have a few core guys like that, but then you also have Robert Parish with a young Bird and McHale. Kareem with young Magic and Worthy, and on and on. Jrue could be that guy. The issue becomes his next contract. 

Jrue Holiday is a free agent in the summer of 2021 and will likely want one final 4 or 5 year contract. The issue will be that he will likely still be closer to prime Iguodala at that point than he will be role player Iguodala. But the Pelicans can’t pay him like a top tier player if the plan is for him to be a role player by year 2 or 3 of that contract. This is actually where having Jrue on your team hurts you in negotiations. Lets say his true market value for the next 4 years is $80 million. Well, if another team offers him that, it is appreciated because those teams paid him zero dollars the previous year. If the Pelicans offer that same exact contract, it is an insult, because it is a pay decrease for a guy who has given you so much the last few years. 

Look back at NBA history and find me a bunch of guys who take a pay decrease from their current teams while they are still playing well, and are happy about it. Al Horford got a bigger offer from the Hawks than the Celtics gave him, but since it wasn’t the absolute max for 5 years, he took it as an insult and left. The NBA is littered with cases like this. So, the Pelicans are likely to only keep Jrue if they over pay him for years 3, 4, and possibly 5 of his next contract. And remember, those will be years that Zion will be on his 2ndcontract, along with Ingram and possibly Ball, NAW, and Hayes. 

It would be hard to move Jrue this season, after all the things Griffin said about him this summer. But next June and July could be a time that makes sense if some team blows his doors off with a massive offer. If you don’t move Jrue, you risk either letting him go for nothing or overpaying him for what his future role will be. In my opinion, the Pelicans should work hard this summer to extend Jrue for 2-3 years beyond his current contract if possible. But if they can’t reach an agreement, they should take the best deal from what should be a large amount of suitors in July. It is likely to be a terrible free agent crop and Jrue could be the crown jewel for a contender looking to put themselves over the top next year. 

Josh Hart

For several reasons, Josh Hart is the most interesting guy to me on this roster. He is skilled, but limited in several areas. He is young, but has many veteran qualities. He has a high floor, but a low ceiling. And he fits the system, but is also at a position where the Pelicans are the most loaded and are likely to add even more next year (Didi and draft picks, as this class is perimeter heavy)

As for what my eyes have seen, Hart is a fine offensive player when a shot has been set up for him and he doesn’t fall too far to the left on his jumper. It is a bad habit that he has, that he tends to get away with more when he has a solid base and isn’t creating for himself. When he does try to create his own and then combines the lack of balance with his tendency to fall left and/or back, we see some of the worst shots of the season. He is lucky to hit rim in these situations. 

But when he can just catch and shoot or pump fake a guy closing hard and go straight to the rim, he can be effective. He also seems to be fearless in transition and can make simple plays for others if guys cut hard or move to an open lane for him on the perimeter. On defense, he is ideally suited to defend more methodical 2/3’s. I thought he was amazing on Harden, but explosive wings are not his forte. Power guards and even some thin power forwards are in Hart’s wheelhouse, and his rebounding is exactly what this team needs when they play small and run. 

The good thing about Hart is that even when he isn’t hitting his jumper, he can still impact the game. And that is necessary because he will always be streaky due to his mechanics. If I had to give him a ceiling, it would be Danny Green, but to do that he must cut out those 2-3 possessions per game where he tries to be more than he is. He has to fully accept his limitations, and that is hard for a 24 year old who was just underused in a major market to accept and do. But if he can eliminate those 2-3 possessions per game, you could have a championship level role player in Hart. 

How He Fits With a Healthy Pelicans Team

Against certain teams, I would consider starting Hart. When playing a team with a non explosive, elite power guard/wing, I would be tempted to give Hart the assignment in the first half to save Jrue. Remember, in my world, Jrue is being ultra aggressive offensively in the first half, so Hart would help to save his legs. Think, Houston or Dallas or Indiana. 

As for finishing, I think it is between he and JJ for one spot and it comes down to the oppositions #1 scorer. If he is a heavy pick and roll player who hunts bad matchups, you go with Hart over JJ. So again, those same teams I have above. But if you are in a close game with San Antonio, you go with JJ. Or if you are playing the Hawks, and neither JJ or Hart would be able to stay with Trae Young if they get matched up on them, you go with JJ. 

Against some smaller finishing units, there could be an argument to finish with both JJ and Hart, but that will be rare. There are probably 8-10 teams that you can make a legit case for Hart to start and/or finish against. Outside of that, he should be your 7thor 8thman and you need to make sure you have at least 2 playmakers better than him on the floor at all times to ensure he doesn’t try to do too much. 

How He Fits Long Term

Josh Hart is a role player. The tough part is that role players don’t usually get paid like role players when they are 25 or 26 and have 6000 minutes in the league. Instead, at least one team talks themselves into that guy being more than a role player in a different situation and overpays him. They are then disappointed, and that guy gets traded a few times over the course of that bad contract. Four years later, he gets properly paid as a role player at the age of 30 and the consensus becomes that he is now undervalued. It happens like clockwork. 

The question for Hart and the Pelicans is if they can pay him for what he actually is, as opposed to what one team might think he can be. History says the answer is probably no. If Hart continues playing well, he will think he deserves to be a no doubt starter, and at least one team will agree. And maybe they will be right, but with so many wings on this current team, combined with Didi coming over and draft classes that will be guard heavy over the next two years, Josh Hart would need to show that he is much better than other, cheaper options the Pelicans will have, and that is unlikely. 

This is the hard part of having so much youth on the roster. Young guys, if they show anything, get paid on their 2ndcontract. And for stars, you don’t mind paying that bill when it comes due. But guys like Hart are the tougher call. They are going to get an offer based on a projected future in a bigger role, but the Pelicans likely wont have a bigger role for him to grow into two years from now. In fact, there is a chance they could have even more talent on the perimeter than they have now. And if that is the case, Josh Hart would never be able to justify what his next contract is likely to be if he stays with the Pelicans. 

Josh Hart is a good role player, and history says that guys like that usually get one bad contract that cant be justified. They need to see for themselves that they aren’t more than a role player before they finally accept being a role player. And that is not a knock on Hart – he should think that he can be more than that. But like hundreds before him, he will be proven wrong before settling in and being content with who he is. The team that gives Hart his next contract will likely regret it, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t a good player. He is the exact player that would help the Pelicans over the next decade, but he will likely have to go sow his starter oats instead. 

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