In Need of a Holiday

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Published: October 5, 2016

The Pelicans’ Media Day was peppered with optimistic talk of the day-to-day process of improving the right way and the impact of blue-collar workers (which Alvin Gentry had to clarify as a positive term). But not too deep beneath the surface talk of promising new additions lies a pretty clear picture of what to expect: not too much. Again, the plagued franchise’s main issue rests with the players not on the court but on the injury/absent report.

Of potential new starting point guard Tim Frazier, Dell Demps had this to say:

We’re also excited to see Tim Frazier. You know he shot the ball actually well last year, and he gave us good minutes. He’s been playing very well in our offseason programs.

Frazier shot over 45% from the field and over 40% from 3 in his 16 games for the Pels last season, an unexpectedly large jump from his 33.3% from the field and 17.6% from 3 in Portland. But he isn’t the first cast-away guard to have initial success in New Orleans, Pels fans have heard this story before. Norris Cole was shooting career lows in Miami before putting up career highs for the Pels. Of course, he regressed (and then some) this past season. Quincy Pondexter is another guard who was brought in and performed wonderfully in a short stint but hasn’t made any impact since (not on account of poor play tho). Even if Frazier is able to break the trend, the Pelicans’ will still struggle often enough without the starting point guard they gave up so much to acquire.

The Pelicans’ 2015-16 season was a calamity so crushing to witness that many affiliated with it have attempted to erase it from memory, burying it deep in the folds of their collective subconscious. A season so bad it was deemed as having zero positive takeaways. The offseason moves were aimed at erasing some of the more embarrassing qualities of last year’s team, and through 2 preseason games the revamped roster has displayed just how different the team can be this coming season. But the Pelicans are still missing something. Something that, believe it or not, they can take from last season.

What shouldn’t be forgotten from that season is the promising play of Jrue Holiday. The former All-star made the games watchable, at least during the minutes he was on the court. When he was, the Pelicans were actually “OK”: his Net-rating of -0.3 indicates that when he played the Pels were very close to keeping pace with their opponents (if you followed the Pels last season, that was the best we could hope for). His was the highest Net-rating on the team, but what happened when Holiday was off the court is even more telling. The team’s Net-rating of -7.4 without him was the lowest among players to get significant minutes. His availability literally had the biggest impact on the team’s play.

Even if it was just a small glimpse at what could be, the first 4 games back from the All-star break were something to watch. Over that 4 game stretch, the duo of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday gave us over 54 combined points a night. In the 3 wins they were putting up 63. It is only a small picture, but it is a promising perspective on what could be this coming season.

Let’s take a look at the best night of the group, the Detroit game. Davis’ 59 points that evening stand as the most any Pistons’ opponent has ever scored in the Palace. But what was most encouraging was what took place in the 4th Quarter, where 11 of Davis’ 19 points were assisted by Jrue Holiday, 13 if we are counting FTs. The 2-man game worked to perfection as Holiday set Davis up again, and again, and again. (you can see all of Davis’ highlights here)

The entire night Holiday was looking to get Davis the ball. Here Holiday sees Davis’ man Drummond backing off and gets him the ball early in the shot clock (and clears out a little pocket of space for the Brow to pull up unopposed). These little bits of recognition by Holiday are extremely beneficial to Davis, something he hasn’t gotten with other guards on the Pelicans’ roster.

Here is what makes Davis such a great PnR partner. The exact same play with different results. Anderson’s man is cheating very far off him to crowd Davis but it makes no difference. If you give him enough space to pop, he can hit from anywhere on the court and shoot over any defender. If you give him a lane to the basket, well, just get out of the way. Davis not converting this alley-oop over 3 Pistons is the most disappointing thing about his evening.

Then there is the off-ball movement. As you can see in these plays, Holiday is well aware of where Davis is at all times. As soon as Davis gets some space, Holiday takes the easy assist. The thing I like about some of these highlights is that Holiday doesn’t just feed Davis the ball, he is actively looking for ways to score and helps create space for Davis to attack. Because the Brow is a threat from everywhere on the court, Holiday just has to be patient and deliver the ball on time.

Davis is amazing, that is all there is to say. It is crazy that I can take this many examples from just 1 quarter of 1 game to look at. But so far he’s been at his best next to Holiday, and that has never been more evident than this past season:

[table id=103 /]

Davis with Holiday works well for any number of reasons, but I want to focus on how Holiday’s offensive game benefits and compliments Davis’. Through researching all the new additions, watching summer league and now 2 preseason games, I can confidently say the team will do a better job of moving the ball, and in turn, keeping Davis involved this season, but Jrue Holiday will add another dimension to this team. He can put pressure on the opposing defense like no one else currently available, and it starts with drives to the rim.

This is where Holiday really excels. He drove to the rim as much as anyone in the league last season, and most of the guys in front of him are only there because they played more minutes a night. When he got there he was a very efficient finisher, one of the top 10 guards at finishing at the basket in fact, and better than Kemba Walker, Dwayne Wade, James Harden, Mike Conley, DeMar DeRozan, John Wall, and Russell Westbrook.

He is one of, if not the, biggest and longest point guards in the league, and he uses that size to his advantage pretty often:

(full highlights here)

What really pushed his scoring up last season was a career year drawing fouls. He drew fouls on 23.1% of his FG attempts, 5% higher than his career average. Now, this is nothing to write home about, but it is a big improvement on previous years. 23.1% FTr is at least a respectable rate. Langston Galloway, Tim Frazier, E’Twaun Moore, Buddy Hield, Lance Stephenson, none of these guys can get into the teeth of the defense and make plays like Holiday can.

Because he is such a threat to get to the rim, defenses have to give him their attention. If it is too much attention, Davis feasts. At times defenses will go under screens to contain Holiday, and if that happens (or if defenders leave him to contain Davis rolling), he is not afraid to step back and pull up:

This is the area Holiday can really improve on going forward. He took more 3’s than he has ever taken this past season, which should be no surprise. 27.7% of all his FGAs were 3’s, a 5% boost from his career average. Holiday is a capable shooter and has always had a pretty good pull up game, however he struggled to find his shot, especially from deep, where he hit a career low 33.6% of his attempts.

[table id=100 /]

Get those shooting numbers back to what he normally puts up and we are talking a real Allstar level companion for Davis. Unfortunately, It has taken 3 seasons for Holiday and Davis to accumulate 1½ season’s worth of minutes, but at least the results so far are promising.

[table id=102 /]

With added shooting and ball movement around a Holiday/Davis PnR the offense could see a big resurgence after finishing in the bottom half of the league last season. But without Holiday there is no other guard/wing who can really put pressure on and grab the attention of the defense, at least not to the level Holiday does. Without him the the Pelicans will struggle to score consistently, but with him they could have one of the league’s best pg/pf combos.

His first season with Alvin Gentry he averaged over 2 more points per game than his first 2 seasons as a Pelicans in 4 less minutes a night. He also posted the highest TS% of his career because of the increase in Free Throws and 3pt attempts. He started the ’15-’16 season almost as poorly as the team: through the end of November the Pelicans were 4-13 and Holiday was shooting career lows from all over the court. From then on however, Holiday really settled in. Here are his numbers compared to some All-star and fringe All-star guards around his age.

[table id=101 /]

It is hard to project how much he can improve as he comes into the prime of his career when the main question for him has just been can he get on the court. Last preseason Alvin Gentry told us that he believed Holiday still had a “big jump” he could make in his game, and he hasn’t been proven wrong. Gentry has the reputation of a “point guard guru,” and the Pelicans need him to live up to it. He’s worked with Steve Nash, Chris Paul, and Stephen Curry, and has had huge success with all three. It will be interesting to see what he is able to do with Jrue in his 2nd year in the system.

The hope is that the roster changes will help Holiday and Davis’ numbers make more of an impact on wins. Take for example the Pelicans’ game against the Charlotte Hornets on March 9th, just a couple weeks after the Detroit game. Davis and Holiday combined for a performance almost equally impressive. Holiday put up a career 38 points, which was only out-done by Davis’ 40, however the Pelicans lost 122-113. Two games where Holiday and Davis could do whatever they wanted offensively, but the difference came down to the defense (giving up 39 points in the 1st Quarter to Charlotte is hard to overcome). The new additions to the roster will ideally prevent some of those all-too-common breakdowns.

Holiday’s return, whenever that is, will bring both the offense and defense of this team to a much higher level. I can’t wait to see it.

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