For a successive season when Jrue Holiday is commonly involved in a conversation, it is accompanied by the words, "what if..." Since coming to New Orleans, his right leg has robbed him of thousands of minutes of playing time. Out of 162 games, he is on pace to play in 71 of them, easily less than half the allotted schedule.
If a deep playoff run and perhaps a championship is in the fold, all the Pelicans major contributors have to be present and accounted for. At this point, there has to be at least a few in management who have begun to realistically question whether Holiday can be relied upon down the road. As I outlined last month, his right tibia is proving to be more problematic than the common fracture and it's not a given anymore he'll be able to put it completely behind him.
Kevin published a wonderful piece yesterday detailing what the Pelicans could receive in return from a variety of deals, examining his worth across the entire value spectrum. It's a good read and most of his targets are logical and the trades well-contrived. If I'm a person with a say in the important matters of the organization, trading Jrue has to at least be on the table -- Anthony Davis wearing a New Orleans jersey demands it.
However, as Kevin mentioned, evaluating Holiday's value is difficult to decipher due to injury. I agree that a propensity for wearing suits during games should reduce a player's value, but for the sake of answering what if, let's ignore the health factor for the remainder of the piece to gauge just what the Pelicans may have in Jrue Holiday.
Everyone loves stats -- numbers are the easiest way to make comparisons between players. However, in this day in age, there are just so many to choose from and many times they are used in the wrong context. Worse, many are enamored only with individual production. Conversely, I've always been a fan of analytics that take winning into consideration. At the end of the day, is it more important that a player's line look flashy or that his production directly contributes to improving his team's chances for a victory?
Over 10 years ago, Dean Oliver started the trend by releasing the Four Factors. Essentially, he claimed the following four components of the game decided wins and losses: shooting efficiency, turnovers, rebounding and free throws. As evidenced by a quick trip over to the Pelicans 2014-15 home page at Basketball Reference or examining team comparison statistics at NBA stats, they are still commonly used today.
Most that have followed in his footsteps have somewhat changed the importance to be attributed to each category (ie. stating shooting should be worth more than the 40% weighting Oliver first deemed appropriate), but the framework remains largely the same. Recently, though, there has been an exciting new development: several have made use of the regularized adjusted plus-minus (RPM) framework to measure the impact on each of the four components of Oliver's factors instead of the traditional scoring efficiency differential. One such new contributor is Layne Vashro over at Nylon Calculus and he released his version to the public earlier this month.
The goal of these ratings is to capture individual contributions to each of the four factors: shooting efficiency, free-throw rate, turnovers, and rebounding. I do this using a combination of on/off and play-by-play data.
Players’ ratings are given in a percentile format, such that a score of .99 means the player helps the team in that particular aspect of the game more than 99% of NBA players across the past 14 seasons, while a score of .001 means he is one of the worst in that area.
I recommend reading the rest of his explanation over at Nylon Calculus and also checking out Ian Levy's work of breaking down Renaldo Balkman using this new data for a solid example.
Barring injury, there is no debate to the Pelicans point guard of the future
Let's now turn our attention to Vashro's current 2014-15 leaderboard.
3 of the top 5 players (Curry, Harden and James) are probably the favorites to win this season's Most Valuable Player Award. The following names on the list are having very fine seasons: Paul, Leonard, Lowry and Cousins.
Coming in 8th is the biggest shocker on the list, Robert Covington. However, if you delve into his numbers, it makes sense. He's a prolific three point shooter, a good rebounder for his position and an absolute thief. For instance, despite his subpar individual field goal percentage, his ability to space the floor better than any of his teammates is vital to the Sixers offense. (As a side note, looking at these figures, it's not a surprise the Sixers traded away K.J. McDaniels. As to where both are very good defensive players, one is heads above the other from an offensive perspective.)
Next, we come to 9th place and another surprise: the oft-maligned Jrue Holiday. Before this season, many evaluators had continually harped on his usually average-looking PER or a true shooting percentage that begged for help. For example, just earlier this month, the Washington Post claimed Holiday has not looked like an All-Star since his 2012-13 campaign in Philadelphia due to a drop in usage. Time and again, people overlook the big picture.
Offensively, Holiday places as the 14th most important player in the league to his team based on the four factors. As I'm sure you've already noticed, the list is devoid of big men -- indeed, Holiday is the 8th point guard. The reason for this is because ball handlers typically have the biggest influence on offenses. They handle the ball for the longest periods, are responsible for getting the ball to their teammates timely and correctly, and yet, must still pose as a viable threat on that end of the floor. (As you'll notice, exceptions exist. Kyle Korver's incredible shooting ability has him on this list despite his other underwhelming traits.)
The axiom that the point guard may be the most important position on the floor appears true, especially on the scoring side of the floor. Obviously, long gone are the days pass-first point guards (think Kendall Marshall) are highly sought after. Just how important has Holiday been to the Pelicans 10-top offense?
It's hard to fathom how anyone could sit this far above Anthony Davis, but remember, the four factors do not rely on a player's individual production. Thus, even though AD's true shooting percentage (60.2%) is nearly 14% higher than Holiday's (51.9%), the four factors, based on all the on/off and play-by-play data, find Jrue's presence has been more important to the Pelicans overall shooting efficiency.
Defensively, though, is where Holiday separates himself from the glut of point guards that sit atop the overall leaderboard. His.753 rating means his existence on the defensive end has a greater impact than 75% of the rest of the NBA. Considering big men normally populate the defensive leaderboards, that's eye-popping. He is miles better than Westbrook (.448), Lillard (.256) Curry (.558) and Wall (.560). He's comfortably been more influential than either Lowry (.655) or Bledsoe (.674). As you've probably guessed, only one point guard can compete with Jrue's defensive impact: Chris Paul (.730). (In case you were wondering, the only starting point guards in the league who have been more important defensively to their teams than Holiday are George Hill (.868) and Ricky Rubio (.914).)
When glancing at the Pelicans defensive four factors, what stands out to you? I find the most interesting statistic is how invaluable Holiday is in the turnover department.
Sure enough, Holiday sits among the league leaders in this category. When one is among names like Tony Allen, Corey Brewer, Iman Shumpert, Trevor Ariza and Chris Paul, it's fair to say the list seems legit. As it's well known, causing turnovers not only leads to defensive stops but also a transition game. A 4 or 5 point swing is common occurrence, and oftentimes, they can be game-changers.
Stick with the Jruth
Dell Demps gave up a lot to land Jrue Holiday. Over the last month or so, Nerlens Noel has been one of the hottest topics as his play has been much improved since the start of the season. Accordingly, it has Sixer fans rightfully excited.
However, I hope it doesn't completely overlook the budding impact of Holiday. His lack of playing time has obscured his ceiling, so many have soured on him to the point of advocating that Tyreke Evans should be team's future point guard. I'm here to tell you to not make that misinformed mistake as Holiday's upper echelon potential is worth waiting out that troublesome tibia. In line with the Four Factor Ratings, Holiday is a spectacular gem that is worth keeping through the bleakest of times.