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Jrue Holiday: A Talent Wasted?

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How we measure players is setting up one Pelican in particular for "failure".

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Individual players are still ranked largely on their ability to produce individual stats. Sadly, those stats (back of the trading card stats) rarely tell the story of the quality of impact a player has; instead they measure the quantity. Making matters worse, those stats are always manufactured in terms of per game - not per minute actually played or possessions played. There are avenues to find this more detailed and relevant information; but old media bias toward these old statistical measures remain.

NOLA.com continues to be a poster child for this reliance on old, less useful data. Take a look at their preview for tonight's game; every stat from the preseason is expressed in terms of "per game". Never mind during the preseason players played significantly fewer minutes than normal.

This continued focus on per game statistics will warp perceptions of Jrue Holiday this season. The trade will be looked at locally as more of a failure as the games are played as an unsophisticated focus on archaic stats is the hallmark of old media reporting. Meanwhile Nerlens Noel; playing an uptempo style in Philadelphia with more possessions to use and more opportunities to use them thanks to a roster bereft of actual NBA talent, will rack up counting stats at a breakneck pace. Prepare yourselves.

Relationships Matter

Jrue Holiday is expected to start tonight beside Eric Gordon. Holiday started beside Gordon for 31 of 34 games last season before succumbing to a stress fracture. Sadly, Jrue's best game as a Pelican came in one of those games Gordon missed thanks to a bruised hip (hat tip to Damian Lillard's "defense"). The numbers you are about to look at say that was no coincidence.

Below I complied Jrue's statistical performance with the other four members of the Finishing Five. Included are the team Offensive and Defensive Ratings as well as the Net Rating (pulled from NBA.com) and Jrue's effective field goal percentage (eFG%) as well as per minute production paired with each from NBAWowy!.

Jrue Holiday Stats On the Court With

MIN ORtg DRtg Net Rtg eFG% PTS/36 AST/36 REB/36 3PA/36
Eric Gordon 894 106.4 107.1 -0.7 46.4% 13.7 8.3 4.1 2.2
Tyreke Evans 429 112.6 107.5 5.1 51.7% 17.3 7.9 4.5 2.7
Anthony Davis 752 107.4 103.3 4.1 45.4% 14.0 8.8 4.3 2.0
Ryan Anderson 595 113.9 109.2 4.7 52.1% 16.8 9.5 4.9 2.7

That Eric Gordon line really jumps off the page doesn't it? I want to note that of the 752 minutes Holiday played with Anthony Davis, 576 also included Gordon. Before we all jump off a bridge and assume that Davis cannot pair with Holiday let's remove Gordon from the equation.

Jrue Holiday with Anthony Davis - Eric Gordon on the bench

MIN ORtg DRtg Net Rtg eFG% PTS/36 AST/36 REB/36 3PA/36
176 111.0 89.6 21.4 47.9% 20.0 9.0 5.1 2.3

I think it is pretty fair to say we have isolated the problem; don't you agree? Eric Gordon's presence acts like a deadweight around Jrue's production and efficiency on the court. Much of that can be attributed to the slow start before Ryan Anderson was healthy. Holiday and Gordon never really clicked as a pairing; preferring to alternate whose "turn" it was rather than function as a multi-dimensional attack. For more, check out some moving pictures of Davis and Holiday working really well together. Highlights below from the previously mentioned December 30th win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

The numbers with Tyreke tell a much different story. While the ball was not in Holiday's hands as much (evidenced by the lower assist volume) Jrue was more aggressive looking for his shot, attempting over one field goal more per 36 minutes. Holiday was also more efficient scoring 1.16 points per shot with Tyreke versus 1.05 per shot when paired with Gordon.

Initially I was against the idea of grouping Gordon with the reserve unit, as Monty mentioned toward the end of the preseason. That was largely due to what I thought Tyreke Evans could accomplish as the primary creator for the second unit. However, diving into just how negatively Gordon effects Jrue Holiday I am not so sure. Monty Williams might be onto something here.

Only So Many Possessions

The Pelicans continue to play at a plodding pace. New Orleans was 28th in pace during the preseason. "We're gonna play fast," has become such a staple of training camp talk it is joined by "put on 15 pounds of muscle" in the standard fodder bin. Monty Williams prefers to run a more buttoned up style, this leads to fewer possessions. Fewer possessions limit the availability for shot attempts up and down the roster.

Adding to this for Jrue's pursuit of requisite counting stats; Anthony Davis is the undisputed star of this team and the NBA itself going forward. AD is going to get his shots and touches per game and those potential possessions are going to come from someone else's plate.

Holiday appears most comfortable taking a backseat to others. Willing to cede opportunities to Eric Gordon last season it should not be a surprise that Jrue's usage will likely decline again this season. While that blows a hole in the argument against Holiday, Gordon, and Evans being unable to share the basketball it adds ammunition to the "Holiday is overpaid/Dell Demps spent too many assets to acquire him" trope.

Shot Selection Must Improve

There are four years of NBA data that tells us Jrue Holiday likes the mid-range shot. In each of the past four seasons the share of shots taken between 16 feet and the three point line have increased. Unfortunately the effectiveness of these shots has declined as Holiday has increased their utilization.

Shots 16 Feet to Three Point Line

FGM FGA FG% %FG
2010-11 87 186 46.77% 18.62%
2011-12 77 179 43.02% 21.46%
2012-13 110 289 38.06% 22.43%
2013-14 44 103 42.72% 22.69%

Much more worrying still, Holiday appears to be increasing shots from the mid-range area at the direct expense of taking three point shots.

3PT 3PTA eFG% %FG
2010-11 81 222 54.73% 22.22%
2011-12 65 171 57.02% 20.50%
2012-13 91 247 55.26% 19.18%
2013-14 30 77 58.44% 16.96%

Byron Scott would probably offer all of the assets the Lakers have to acquire such a backward thinking NBA player. Going back to the lineups, there is some hope to find. Jrue Holiday not only increased his field goal attempts when paired with Tyreke Evans instead of Eric Gordon; he also increased the share of those shots which came behind the arc. Holiday's true shooting percentage has wobbled around 50% for the past four seasons (52.5%, 49.6%, 49.6%, 50.5%) despite being progressively less efficient in his shot selection. Correcting those choices should improve his effectiveness.

Defense Difficult to Quantify

The final point here about Jrue Holiday will continue to be relatively under the radar; he plays excellent defense and sets the tone up top. We can link to advanced statistics like ESPN's Real Plus-Minus and shout from the mountain tops that defense matters. It still is not an easily digestible statistic like the counting stats the casual fan appreciates; points/assists/rebounds/steals/blocks per game, field goal percentage, and the like.

Fortunately for the Pelicans Omer Asik has arrived and with it an expected improve on defense. However, in terms of Jrue Holiday it will be another case of being overlooked. Should the Pelicans improve dramatically on their 25th ranked defense the credit will be heaped upon Asik's arrival and the maturation of superstar Anthony Davis. Never mind that New Orleans posted a 106.4 Defensive Rating before Holiday went down and a 107.9 Defensive Rating after he left the lineup.

Future Forecast

Holiday is a relatively inefficient offensive player who is an elite defender. The market for that player has been set; they are not nearly as in demand as an offensive talent with marginal defensive abilities. The combination of Holiday's penchant for mid-range shots, hesitancy when on the court with Eric Gordon, and the lack of definitive defensive metrics all work against opinion of Jrue as a valuable basketball player. His current contract and the trade which brought him here are just the cherry on top of the overvalued sundae.

Could Holiday thrive in a different system? Is going from Doug Collins to Monty Williams stunting his potential? These are reasonable questions to ask. How much better Holiday would be under a more progressive coaching staff that would harp on shot selection and efficiency?

A capable basketball talent still growing into his prime appears on the cusp of an underwhelming season. Not due to his talent but his environment - and our inability to accurately quantify his contributions.

Statistics from NBA.com/stats, NBAWowy.com, and Basketball Reference.