Jrue Holiday: Minutes, Coming off the Bench, and Running with AD

Published: February 25, 2016

Earlier today, Justin Verrier, the new ESPN staff writer for the New Orleans Pelicans, released an article all about Jrue Holiday, his chemistry with Anthony Davis, and his recent performance. Not only did that dominate Hoops timelines, but Tom Haberstroh also featured the Pelicans and the magical pairing of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday for his one BIG number segment. For maybe the first time this season, the twitter buzz around the Pelicans was pretty positive.

Here’s what Justin and Haberstroh have picked up on; Jrue Holiday is really good. He’s also the prototypical player that Gentry wants in his system and next to AD. He has great size, which allows him to be versatile, and he is developing a level of familiarity with Gentry’s free flowing offensive system. In short, for all of you asking who will be the Robin to Davis’ Batman, the answer seems to be a healthy and dynamic Jrue Holiday.

Of course, this public proclamation of Jrue’s abilities and his chemistry with Davis lead to yet another discussion of one simple question, why is Jrue Holiday still coming off the bench? Perhaps, that question should be proceeded by another. That is, why do we care if Jrue Holiday comes of the bench?

Most reasonable minds can agree that starting a basketball game is largely superficial. Who finishes games, how rotations are opitimzed, and so on are all more important than who is starting, right? So why do we care?  There seem to be two legitimate arguments as to why it is important:

  • The players starting ahead of Jrue aren’t good.
  • Jrue being on the bench limits his time with AD, which limits their chemistry and growth. 

The first point is really only an issue if the starters get more minutes than Jrue. That is, they aren’t only starting over, but they are also taking minutes from Jrue. Take a look at his minutes over the last two months or so. He is getting starter level minutes, despite not starting. The fact that our other guards aren’t good isn’t likely to be solved by starting Jrue without giving him more minutes. The other guards will still have to play, and they will still be below average when they do.

The other point is an interesting and important one. Due to injuries, minutes restrictions, and missed games, Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis have only logged a little over 2,700 regular season minutes together. For comparison, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green already have over 1,641 minutes this season, and last year, those two logged over 2,100 minutes together.

So Davis and Holiday have some catching up to do, and Jrue starting games off on the bench could be a concern. Davis starts the games and gets a good bit of run (~36 MPG), while Jrue watches. Obviously, none of this matters if when Jrue is subbed in, AD stays on the floor. Again, for comparison, around 90% of Steph Curry’s minutes this year have had him on the floor with Green. So what percentage of Jrue’s minutes have been shared with Anthony Davis? Well, Mason Ginsberg did the work for us,

As the playoffs have become more out of reach, AD and Jrue are sharing the floor more. That seems fair and reasonable as building for the near future is more important than the immediate success that staggering them may bring. In other words, it looks like Gentry is aware that both of these guys need to share the floor.

Still, this doesn’t seem to solve every problem. Shouldn’t coaches keep it simple and just start their best players? Well, Gentry had two responses to that refrain in Justin’s piece. First, great players, like Kevin McHale, have come off the bench before, and it worked. Fair enough. But Kevin McHale was riding the bench for one of the best teams of all time, right? Well, right, but more importantly, McHale was known to have a huge team first personality. So I honestly don’t think he cared about starting, whereas most NBA players, and surely some Pelicans, do care about starting. I think Jrue probably has a similar team first mentality.

Gentry’s second point seems to be the more significant one. The Pelicans have had one of the most volatile years imaginable. There has been little to no consistency. Keeping Jrue where he is keeps things consistent. It makes the rotations simple, while also allowing Gentry some flexibility. You may disagree that this continuity is useful or valuable, but Gentry and Jrue both seem to value it, especially given the circumstances they have faced this season.

At the end of the day, the most important point made about Holiday is that he is playing really well. Since January 1st, he is averaging 18.4 points, 7.2 assists and 4.0 rebounds, and he is doing it in about 30 minutes per game. Really, that should be the headline. Forget the bench stuff or the minute restriction stuff. One of our franchise cornerstones is healthy and playing incredibly well. There’s your takeaway.

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