Season in Review: Jrue Holiday

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Published: May 18, 2015

It’s disheartening to once again give Jrue Holiday an “Incomplete,” as he missed more games than he played this year for the second season in a row. Next year, the third year in his four year deal, Holiday won’t be graded as an “Incomplete”. Playing or not, he is what he is, next year.

Offense

In so many ways, Holiday teased New Orleans with another great season. Unlike Ryan Anderson, who needs to be hitting threes and running down the court for easy looks in transition, or Tyreke Evans who needs to be getting a good burst to get into the key, Holiday has a positive effect on every game, on both sides of the floor whether he is having a “good” game or not. Holiday averaged 6.9 assists per a game this year, which would have ranked tenth in the league, right between James Harden and Kyle Lowry. Holiday’s issues with turnovers in Philadelphia didn’t transfer to New Orleans, where this season he only averaged 2.3 per game. His 3.01 Ast/To ratio is a sign of a good point guard. And on a team that at times struggled to hit from beyond the arc, Holiday’s 37.8% shooting from deep range is a nice touch. Holiday also averaged the exact same percentage on threes both via catch and shoot and off the bounce, a tough and impressive feat that displays the versatility of which he could attack the defense.

A Point Guard

After Tyreke Evans took over the starting point guard duties due to Holiday’s injuries, many contemplated whether Evans is better as the starting point guard. While Evans is a playmaker, Holiday is a point guard. Evans had too many possessions last year where he dribbled the ball for 10 seconds without making a move, letting the defense stay set and not forcing them into an action. That time crippled an offense that wouldn’t get enough ball movement going for it afterwards. Holiday, despite not getting much time with Dante Cunningham, Quincy Pondexter, Norris Cole or Eric Gordon 2.0, passed more (54.1 to 52.1), and got more from his passes despite playing less time. Holiday saw slight advantages in points created per 48 minutes off of Assists (22.6-22.4) and secondary assists (1-.8).

At the same time, watching how he made players better, or the game easier for them, is crucial. It is most apparent with Anthony Davis, who took more shots off of Holiday passes, and shot better off of Holiday passes. Holiday averaged 2.8 assists per game just to Davis, while Evans had 2.1. More telling, Davis shot 57.8% from the field after receiving a Holiday pass, to just 49.6% from the field after an Evans pass. Holiday’s ability to make Davis better alone is critical.

Holiday also gives the team more options as a high pick and roll player. While Evans has an elite ability to get into the paint at will, his inability to nail 3s or even midrange jumpers off the bounce allows teams to sink on him when playing defense. The Golden State Warriors did this to Evans all series long in the playoffs. Especially if Asik is setting the pick, neither player has any range that the team feared, so the Warriors were able to allow both players to drop. With Holiday, the situation is different, because he is so good at shooting off the bounce. This season, Holiday shot 46.9% from dead center threes, the kind of threat that forces a team to scramble on its pick and roll defense and allows Holiday to attack the paint or pass to a more open man early in the possession.

Holiday Shot Chart

Defense

Holiday has been noted as one of the best defensive point guards in the league for quite some time, and the numbers back that up. Holiday averaged 1.6 steals per game this season, which would have placed him in the top-20, tied with LeBron James, Eric Bledsoe and Kyle Lowry.  Not only that, but head coach Monty Williams had Holiday covering not only point guards, but shooting guards and small forwards as well, since he shared the starting lineup with the likes of Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, and Luke Babbitt on the wings. Holiday even tried to body-up LeBron James in the Pelicans first matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers this year. Having better wing defenders such as Pondexter and Cunningham (and even Cole) available this year will hopefully allow Holiday to concentrate on defending just the point guard. Ideally, a defensive system will also be in place that allows Holiday to take advantage of his upper body strength and wingspan when disrupting the opposing point guard’s play.

The pairing of Holiday with Norris Cole in the point guard rotation can make opposing point guard’s nights extremely difficult. Both players can hound the point guard and change the offense’s point of attack. Even in his limited time on the floor in the Golden State Warriors series, Holiday held the Warriors players he was covering to 35% shooting from the field, a 13.3% decrease from their average this playoffs. Against the best backcourt in the NBA, that is huge.

On/Off Court

You can see what Holiday means to the team just by looking at the team’s stats when he is on the court as opposed to when he is off the court. When Holiday is on the court, the Pelicans had their highest OffRtg at 108.8. Holiday led the team to their highest True Shooting Percentage at 55.2% as well. The Pelicans had their fastest Pace with Holiday on the court (as far as rotation players go) with a Pace of 95.51. The team also had their fewest amount of possessions result in turnovers with Holiday, as the team had a Turnover Percentage of 13% (tied with Ryan Anderson). On defense, the team averaged 7.8 steals per game when he was on the floor, the highest among any rotation player for the team (the team averaged 6.7 steals per game.) With Holiday on the floor, the Pelicans had their second best Net Rating (3.5), trailing only Anthony Davis as far as rotation players go.

One of the best lineups the Pelicans had all season, was the Holiday-Gordon-Evans-Davis-Omer Asik lineup that outscored opponents by 9.8 points (the Pelicans most used lineup, replaced Holiday for Pondexter, and outscored opponents by 5.1 points.) If you replaced Asik with Anderson, the Pelicans outscored opponents by 4.1 points per game. Two of the most efficient and sustainable lineups for the Pelicans involved Holiday helming the offense.

Outlook

This is the make or break season for Holiday. While it is unfortunate how his first two seasons have played out, even an unlucky break next year would cause the trade and his campaign as a Pelican to be labeled as a failure. Holiday was the first domino after Davis for how this team was built, with Evans coming on the heels of that move.

Holiday has teased New Orleans with his play. He has shot well from deep, both off the catch and off the bounce. His defense has been great and based off every available quote and (and from the look of it), he is a team leader. He finished this campaign with his highest PER of his career (18.8), and limited his turnovers. All the numbers point to the team being better when Holiday is on the floor. Even during his return, you would see Holiday trying to fit in, and even cutting off the ball was making the right reads in order to bend the defense. Against the Warriors, there was one play in Game 3 where Holiday cut into the paint, received the ball, then sent the ball to the corner for the an open 3. Plays and reads like that are all too important in today’s NBA. They are the mark of a smart player, and someone who can be a key piece to a championship team. Now, New Orleans just has to see him do it for a full season.

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