The Pelicans have some more players in #NBARank. The 81-90 group contains some pretty good players. Rookie Jahlil Okafor looks to be the next low-post threat in the league, Robin Lopez will have the daunting task of fixing New York’s defense and if the Celtics are going to live up to their preseason expectations, Marcus Smart, who came in at number 85 on the list, will have to take that leap as a sophomore.
Oh, and we have TWO Pelicans on this list. Let’s talk about them.
88 -- Jrue Holiday
Holiday comes in at 88, and it’s tough to rank him. After excellent health in his four seasons in Philadelphia, Holiday came to New Orleans and injuries have been the main storyline surrounding his Pelicans career. In two years, Holiday played 74 games, due to various leg injuries. In the offseason, the Pelicans got a small amount of compensation, after it came out that Philadelphia didn’t disclose all of Holiday’s injuries.
*A take, probably hot, and I never do this, but the league messed that up. I would’ve fined them and rewarded New Orleans a 2016 first round pick, while taking one away from Philadelphia.
Over his last two seasons, Holiday looked good when he played. The two-way point guard is a rarity in today’s league. Chris Paul, Stephen Curry (took that defensive step last season), John Wall, Eric Bledsoe and Kyle Lowry when motivated. It’s a tightly-knit bunch. At the height of his powers, Holiday is in that group.
In every season of his career, Holiday has hit at least 36 percent from beyond the arc. He finished with four seasons with at least six assists per game. Despite all of the injuries, Holiday finished with the 10th best real plus-minus (RPM), including the 13th best offensive real plus-minus (ORPM). The only thing Holiday doesn’t do is get to the free throw line, but being ability to orchestrate an offense while providing a consistent three-point threat covers up for that.
To me, I’ve been on the fence about New Orleans taking a leap and Holiday is the main reason why. If he was healthy, and I’m talking no restrictions, 30+ minutes per game, I think New Orleans could jump into the top four of the West. In an odd way, he’s almost everything that they need - a long, wing player who can space the floor and provide an offensive plus and defensive boost. With Holiday restricted until Christmas, I’ve been expecting NOP to take a step forward, but not the step they probably should take.
I’m hoping for excellent health from Jrue, because NOP needs it, the fans should have it and Jrue is good for basketball. The Pelicans being back and great is good for basketball.
87 -- Tyreke Evans
I was big on moving Evans throughout my first year here, and I have to apologize. Evans was amazing last season and as Holiday went down with injuries, it was Evans who assumed the role as the team’s second best player. I fell into the group that didn’t like the one thing he couldn’t do (shoot), rather than what he brought to the table (slashing, moving the ball).
It was a great season for Evans - 16.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 6.6 assists - but what made it special was his ability to attack the rim. Evans finished last season with 940 drives, leading the league last season and created 539 points on said drives, third in the league last year. His size and frame made him unstoppable at attacking the rim and even with so-so results (44.0% on the drives), Evans thrived on finding the open teammate - Anthony Davis - and the results were great.
Defensively, Evans isn’t good nor bad. He’s an average defender, whether he’s up against point guards or larger wings. He can create steals (2.0 steal percentage) but that’s about it. Evans would best be described as "non-descript" as a defender, which isn’t bad, but isn’t good. HIs -0.65 Defensive real plus-minus (DPRM) can be overlooked because he finished with the sixth-highest OPRM among shooting guards with 3.80.
Overall, there will be times for Evans to be New Orleans’ second best player again this year. With Holiday playing about 10 minutes a game early, Evans will once again be asked to operate the point guard position - something new Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry supports. Evans will have another 15-5-5 season and continue to attack the rim with reckless abandon. And me? I will merely ignore the threes and respect the slashing.