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2014-15 Players Reviews: Jrue Holiday needs two good legs

If he could only stay healthy the Pelicans could have their starting point guard of now and the future.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Discussing Jrue Holiday the basketball player is an impossible exercise. Merely bringing up his name launches the typical sportswriter or blogger into a general manager fantasy of what the New Orleans Pelicans should have done rather than trade for Mr. Holiday. Invariably Holiday himself is no longer the focal point of the discussion; instead all the energy is used up on Dell Demps, Sam Hinkie, and the right way to build around a superstar.

I get it. Every writer can picture themselves somehow as the general manager. Critiquing such decisions is the lifeblood of the blogging community. Thousands of would-be decision makers create projections of the ceiling of every single player. It is a wonderful thought exercise, but none of that ultimately discusses Jrue Holiday the basketball player. The idea of Holiday is discussed; he is an inefficient offensive player who settles too often in the mid-range (a relic of his Doug Collins days for those who do their research) and cost too much to acquire. From there the piece talks about Nerlens Noel, Elfrid Payton, the salary cap, and Anthony Davis.

I'm here to discuss Jrue Holiday the basketball player. You've read all of those other discussions a number of different places by plenty of other bloggers. They all start in the same place (OKC model is the best) and end in the same place (New Orleans failed Anthony Davis by rushing). It is paint-by-the-numbers writing at this point. Rehashing Bill Simmons over and over again. If you, for whatever reason, need another course of that meal Google "Jrue Holiday trade" and feast on the smorgasbord. I hope you wore your elastic waistband pants.

Let's talk about Jrue Holiday, this year. How he played, what he did on the court, and how that compares to a number of his contemporaries at the point guard position.

Big Picture Numbers

To begin let's narrow down the field Holiday should be compared against. For this I'm going to focus on the second tier of young-ish point guards. Eric Bledsoe, Jeff Teague, Mike Conley, and Kyle Lowry. Everyone but Lowry is on their first "big" contract.

PER ORPM DRPM RPM Ortg DRtg 15-16 Salary
Jrue Holiday - 24 18.8 2.40 0.75 3.15 109 107 $10.6M
Eric Bledsoe - 25 18.4 1.59 1.86 3.45 107 106 $13.1M
Jeff Teague - 26 20.6 1.17 0.75 1.92 111 104 $8.0M
Mike Conley - 27 18.6 2.68 -0.55 2.13 110 104 $8.9M
Kyle Lowry - 28 19.3 2.55 1.27 3.82 110 107 $12.0M
FGA/100 FG% 3PTA/100 3P% FTA/100 FT% eFG% TS%
Jrue Holiday - 24 21.5 44.6% 5.4 37.8% 3.1 85.5% 49.3% 52.2%
Eric Bledsoe - 25 18.6 44.7% 4.8 32.4% 7.9 80.0% 48.9% 55.5%
Jeff Teague - 26 20.3 46.0% 4.7 34.3% 7.3 86.2% 50.0% 56.6%
Mike Conley - 27 20.7 44.6% 6.5 38.6% 5.8 85.9% 50.6% 55.8%
Kyle Lowry - 28 22.3 41.2% 8.4 33.8% 6.7 80.8% 47.6% 52.7%
TRB/100 AST/100 STL/100 BLK/100 AST/TOV PTS/100
Jrue Holiday - 24 5.4 11.0 2.5 0.9 3.01 23.9
Eric Bledsoe - 25 7.5 8.8 2.3 0.8 1.80 24.5
Jeff Teague - 26 4.2 11.8 2.9 0.7 2.50 26.7
Mike Conley - 27 4.9 8.8 2.1 0.3 2.40 26.0
Kyle Lowry - 28 7.0 10.1 2.3 0.3 2.73 26.6

Data from Basketball Reference and ESPN's RPM

There's a lot of good and some bad lurking here. Holiday is an effective passer with the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the bunch by a substantial margin. Holiday is an efficient scorer but could stand to draw fouls much more often and shoot a few more threes.

At this point in his career I don't think drawing more fouls will happen for Holiday. Like most Pelican guards he avoids rather than initiates contact. Issues with spacing and sight lines for officials, first noted by Eric Gordon himself at a Bourbon Street Shots watch party, remain. However, launching a few more threes I think is a reasonable expectation. AD's improved passing will help in that area.

Synergy Sports Data

The play type data here is not a be-all, end-all number. These only track possessions where Holiday (or the man Holiday was defending) either shot the ball or committed a turnover. It doesn't include assists, or blown rotations where Holiday (or any other player listed) covered for a teammates mistake. "Poss" is the number of possessions of each type while the first number is the points scored (or allowed) per possession.

Synergy - Offense P&R Poss Iso Poss Spot Up Poss
Jrue Holiday - 24 0.85 297 0.91 75 0.90 94
Eric Bledsoe - 25 0.84 500 0.84 171 0.93 207
Jeff Teague - 26 0.90 483 0.84 188 1.03 116
Mike Conley - 27 0.89 500 1.07 55 1.14 154
Kyle Lowry - 28 0.82 442 0.88 138 0.87 174
Synergy - Defense P&R Poss Iso Poss Spot Up Poss
Jrue Holiday - 24 0.83 267 0.83 63 0.86 146
Eric Bledsoe - 25 0.79 483 0.75 96 0.95 265
Jeff Teague - 26 0.70 317 0.80 65 1.06 205
Mike Conley - 27 0.87 379 0.87 78 0.88 220
Kyle Lowry - 28 0.81 302 0.74 57 0.86 249

Data from NBA Stats

Interesting numbers here. Holiday excels in isolation on offense yet struggled on defense. He's about average in the pick and roll on both sides of the ball. On spot up he was surprisingly poor on offense but one of the best on defense. Let's take a deeper dive on his performance in the pick and roll by using SportVU data to try to account for those potential assists.

SportVU Data

The focus here is on two offensive situations, drives and pull up jumpers. Both of these players largely occur as a result of a pick and roll. Unlike play type data from Synergy this also accounts for points created by assist off of drives. A pick and roll by Jrue that results in an assist to Ryan Anderson or Eric Gordon 3-pointer is not counted as a pick and roll possession for Holiday, it is a spot up opportunity for the shooter via play type. Team points on drives, thanks to SportVU, catches those drive and kick plays.

Drives/36 FG% Team Points per Drive Pull Ups/36 Pull Up eFG%
Jrue Holiday - 24 9.3 52.20% 1.29 6.6 44.80%
Eric Bledsoe - 25 9.7 47.70% 1.15 5.0 42.50%
Jeff Teague - 26 13.1 46.00% 1.10 4.3 42.70%
Mike Conley - 27 7.8 46.90% 1.16 5.3 45.80%
Kyle Lowry - 28 7.7 48.40% 1.26 7.2 41.60%

Data from NBA Stats

Again Holiday separates himself from the rest of the pack driving to the basket. 1.29 points per drive is not just good, it is elite. Comparable to much more celebrated guards like James Harden (1.34), Kyrie Irving (1.24), and Chris Paul (1.20). Harden, while not a "point guard" functions as the lead ball handler and the Houston drive and kick method is the gold standard throughout the league.

Holiday attempts pull up shots a little too often. If he could shave an attempt off that would be desirable. Remember here that a big reason why Holiday attempts so many is how opponents play pick and rolls involving Anthony Davis; completely terrified of the potential lob to AD diving to the basket. Holiday is relatively successful in this area compared to his peers, but cutting down on the volume would be preferable.

Jrue's Best Performance

We have to eliminate the Minnesota game in November to begin with; the final margin was 48 points and Holiday's 24 points (on 10 shots?!?) and 9 assists were just the tip of the spear demolishing the Timberwolves. Instead I will focus on the two games he played against the Oklahoma City Thunder, both Pelican victories. Holiday's individual stat lines in each are not terribly impressive.

16 points, 10 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocks, and 2 turnovers on December 2nd. 6-17 from the field is rough.

11 points, 15 assists, 1 rebounds, 4 steals, and 4 turnovers on December 21st. 4-12 from the field, again, a poor shooting night.

Why these games? Russell Westbrook scored 50 points with 15 assists, 11 rebounds, and 13 turnovers while carrying an eFG% of 35.1%. Two games without Holiday across from Westbrook? 93 points, 17 assists, 15 rebounds, 9 turnovers while posting an eFG% of 56.8%. The Pelicans do not beat the Thunder without Holiday's superb defense on this possession. (GIF thanks to Kumar)

Nagging Injury

No analysis of Holiday's season can gloss over his recurring right leg injury. On January 12th in Boston Jrue played just th first half. Afterwards the diagnosis changed on multiple occasions. First it was ankle inflammation and Holiday was day-to-day. Then, slowly, the reasoning became a stress reaction (precursor to a stress fracture) by January 21st.

Holiday sat out until the All-Star break but was expected to return soon after. Joel Meyers and David Wesley commented on his progress during broadcasts. However, Holiday suffered a setback just before his projected return to action.

Ultimately Holiday missed 42 regular season games and one playoff game. In his final three games back during the regular season Jrue was on a minutes restriction which continued to be in effect during the Pels first round series against the Golden State Warriors. The Pelicans continue to have concerns about the injury.

"I just want to get healthy," Holiday said. "It has been a couple of years since I've played a full season. I would like to go back right away to get that done (removal of screw in leg) and rest as soon as possible before starting rehabbing and preparing for the upcoming season. Last year was the first year that I hadn't finished the year, again I didn't want to do that two years in a row."

Will removing that screw solve the problem? Pelicans doctors continue to work with specialists Holiday is seeing in Los Angeles to try to pin down both the problem and the best course of action going forward. Until Holiday plays a season without his right leg bothering him it is a huge question mark. Not just for Jrue's future, but the Pelicans as well.

Preparing for the Future

The key here is getting Holiday on the court. Once he gets on the court he has done quite well for himself compared to other similar point guards as noted above. Outside of the truly elite players point guard is a position that takes time and repetitions. Despite that Holiday was 10th among point guards in RPM13th in PER, and 8th in four factor ratings. Oleh took a hard look at four factor ratings earlier in the season.

Only Anthony Davis (+5.1) had a greater on court net rating than Holiday's +3.5. It should be no surprise that Holiday and Davis on the court (+5.7) far outpaces any other Pelican pairing with at least 1,000 minutes together on the floor this season. As Dell Demps envisioned, when these two have taken the court together the results have been excellent.

Jrue Holiday is a fine basketball player and just completed his most efficient season in the NBA. His PER has increased for three consecutive seasons. His assist-to-turnover ratio, a meager 2.14 his last year in Philadelphia, has crept up to 3.01. Settling for long twos has been slashed from 22.4% of all shot attempts to 13.5%. Jrue's ability to finish in-between, from 3-10 feet, has gone from 32.2% to 43.8%. All this while increasing the number of 3-point shots he attempts from 19.2% to 25.3%. If you go down the list of concerns many had about Holiday before he arrived in the Crescent City he has steadily checked off the boxes.

There is, however, the one new question mark. Durability. One that no one even considered given his stellar track record before coming to New Orleans.

If. That is the final word on Jrue Holiday, both for this season and into the future. If Holiday stayed healthy, could the Pelicans have avoided Golden State in the first round? If Holiday gets healthy this summer, could New Orleans win 50+ games in 2015-16 and challenge for home court in the first round? If Jrue cannot get healthy, should the Pelicans try to cut their losses to open up cap space? If. If. If.

Jrue Holiday's season, the one where he was on the court, was a success. The problem is all the time he was in a suit instead. For the Pelicans the next step is to elevate into contender status. Answering the "if" surrounding Jrue Holiday's right leg must be answered.