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Jrue Holiday at the Quarter Pole

So far so good for the Pelicans point guard.

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Comparing Jrue Holiday to his contemporaries is important. We all "know" that Holiday is a tier below the elite point guards, of which there are many. Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, and John Wall all comprise the elite point guards in this league. Derrick Rose, if healthy, is on that list too. With already seven eight spots spoken for it is natural to say that Holiday's worth is inflated due to his positioning when ranking starting point guards throughout the league. Hogwash.

It is true that the point guard position is insanely deep. That hardly discounts the value of Jrue Holiday; if anything it increases his value. Holiday is a defense first point guard. In the Western Conference alone the meat grinder of facing Parker, Paul, Curry, Westbrook, and Lillard that fact cannot be discounted.

When Curry and Paul go off the comment section lights up. Holiday is not worth what the Pelicans paid for him. Wall and Westbrook went a combined 11-34 for 32 points with 14 assists and 10 turnovers the previous week. Holiday's possible impact is immediately discounted despite his obvious reputation before he even arrived in the Crescent City.

When asked to name the best on-ball defender in the NBA, none other than Andre Iguodala didn’t hesitate with an answer.

"Jrue Holiday," Iguodala said of his former Sixers teammate last month.

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Stat Dump

In order to compare Holiday's performance to his peers I collected a variety of stats on starting point guards 27 years old and younger. This eliminates Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo, Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic. Furthermore, the seven (eight including Rose) elite point guards listed above are not included. What we're left with is the "average" point guards.

Darren Collison 27 19.1 4.04 54.4% 12.4 16.5 6.6 2.83 44.83% 11.8
Mike Conley 27 20.6 4.30 57.8% 13.9 18.6 7.0 2.93 43.81% 10.8
Ty Lawson 27 18.2 1.70 50.8% 12.8 15.7 10.0 3.45 47.85% 7.9
Jeff Teague 26 22.2 1.57 60.7% 14.0 20.1 8.2 2.33 42.60% 9.7
Brandon Jennings 25 17.5 1.46 51.5% 14.4 17.0 7.5 2.73 51.06% 9.4
Eric Bledsoe 25 19.1 2.64 57.2% 13.1 17.9 6.8 1.89 44.95% 10.9
Kemba Walker 24 14.9 0.40 45.1% 14.5 14.7 5.7 3.70 45.35% 13.2
Jrue Holiday 24 18.0 2.57 51.8% 14.5 16.2 7.0 3.57 42.25% 11.9
Michael Carter-Williams 23 13.5 -1.72 44.8% 17.0 17.6 8.0 1.66 44.00% 10.4
Trey Burke 22 12.6 -2.51 45.6% 13.1 12.7 6.7 3.41 49.77% 11.6

Statistics from Basketball Reference, ESPN, and NBA Savant

You may notice they are listed by age. Yes, Kemba Walker, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Jennings, Jeff Teague, Ty Lawson, Mike Conley, and Darren Collison are all older than Holiday. Two things jump out to me. First, Holiday is the best defender. He defends more shots than anyone other than Kemba and he holds opponents to the lowest field goal percentage. Second, Holiday takes excellent care of the ball.

Future Projection

The best comparison for where I expect Holiday's game will go is Mike Conley. Both are (were in Conley's case) defense first point guards who ideally function as adept caretakers of the offense at this age, 24 years old. Both were also acquired (retained in Conley's case) in a way that garnered vociferous condemnation from writers. Let's take a peek at one specific reaction to Conley's five year, $45 Million extension in 2010.

In the long history of terrible moves by the Memphis Grizzlies, mark my words, this one will reign supreme...

Advanced stats don't look much better. Conley has never posted a +15 PER, the benchmark of an average player in the league. Conley is only 23, but it would require a monumental improvement in several categories for him to reach the point of actually deserving this kind of contract...

But the real problem with this contract?

The damage it does to the future.

Stop me if any of this sound familiar, vis a vis Dell Demps trading for Jrue Holiday. The advanced stats don't look good. His PER is hovering below average. He's only 23 but it is going to take a monumental improvement for Conley to begin to deserve this deal. It damages the future.

At the time the contract was signed the Grizzlies had missed the playoffs for four consecutive seasons. Since then Memphis has made the playoffs for four consecutive seasons and Conley has seen his PER slowly but steadily creep upward. This season could be his second in a row above 20.

Let's take a look at Conley's production at 23 and 24. This age corresponds exactly with Jrue's age in his first two seasons in New Orleans.

Age PER TS% FGA/36 PP/36 AST/36 AST/TO
Jrue Holiday 23 17.1 52.1% 14.3 15.3 8.4 2.55
Mike Conley 23 15.9 50.5% 11.9 13.9 6.6 3.00
Jrue Holiday 24 18.0 51.8% 14.5 16.2 7.0 3.57
Mike Conley 24 16.8 52.3% 11.3 13.0 6.7 3.23

You are reading that right. Holiday is currently well ahead of the pace of improvement set by Mike Conley at the same age.

You can, if you'd like, read Moore's mea culpa two years later in an interview with Conley himself. National sports folks are paid to have opinions that move the needle; attracting listeners or readers. They are, fundamentally, not paid to be correct. When you read any of the various opinions against the Jrue Holiday trade, citing the same logic as Moore did against the Conley extension, remember the purpose.

Improvements This Year

Holiday has made a number of important improvements to his game this season. First off, he's dramatically decreased his turnover rate. Last season he averaged 4.8 turnovers per 100 possessions; that number is down to 2.8. How has he accomplished this? Fewer lost balls. Last season he had 30 lost ball turnovers in 1143 minutes. This year he has just five in 643 minutes. Massive decrease.

Jrue Holiday 2014-15 Shot Selection | FindTheBest

Second, he has changed his shot selection. For three consecutive seasons roughly 22% of his shots were long twos, 16 feet and further according to Basketball Reference. This season that number is down to 14.3%. Where is Holiday re-appropriating those attempts? Behind the arc where threes increased from 19.2% of his attempts (2011-14) to 24.7%. Despite shooting a career low behind the arc his true shooting percentage and PER are both up compared to career numbers.

Why is his three point shooting down? One might point to him taking more pull up threes than last year. Except that is incorrect. Last season 68.8% of Holiday's threes were of the pull up variety. That is down this season to 54.7% with a corresponding increase in catch and shoot attempts. Jrue simply is not making open shots so far. Last year he hit 42.4% of open threes. This season that number is 37.7%.

I expect that over time those statistics will rectify themselves. The process (getting open shots, preferably open catch and shoot opportunities) is good; the results continue to lag behind. Holiday is a 37.3% three point shooter on all attempts; including shots well defended and heaves at the end of quarters. That he is shooting 37.7% on open shots without a defender within four feet feels like an anomaly.

Other than "make more shots" I personally have no complaints about Holiday's performance through 19 games. If anything he is exceeding expectations considering he started the season at less than 100%.

Let's hear your first quarter reactions to Holiday in the comments.