This was the vision, wasn't it? When Dell Demps dealt Nerlens Noel, a potential front-court frontiersman who could cover the ground that Anthony Davis could not, and a 2014 first-round pick for Holiday, he thought he was getting an all-star point guard brimming with elite potential. Fast-forwarding years ahead, Holiday has shown glimpses of potential and flat-out talent, but $3-million-worth of injuries have handicapped the guard's effectiveness.
Get your wood ready for knocking, but Holiday is healthy once again. Holiday has not only averaged the best per-36 scoring mark of his life, but he has done so on a dysfunctional offense heavily reliant on unfavorable isolations in a season which injuries have still hampered his productivity.
And still, Holiday has emerged as a star, especially since seeing a rise in minutes, and his emergence is welcome news for a "run-and-gun," playoff alumnus that is 15th in points per game with an 11-26 record.
Now, with an elite perimeter defender and an all-star caliber point guard healthy again, this season could just turn around for the Pelicans (emphasis on could). And even if it does not, Holiday looks like the Pelicans' guard for the future as long as two conditions are met: 1. Alvin Gentry stays the head coach and 2. Holiday remains healthy.
With only four games so far played in the new year, here is what I have gleaned from the new, unrestrained Holiday.
Defense to Offense
It's hard to decide which is worse, a run-and-gun team that scores the 13th most fast-break points per game (12.2) and is 19th in offensive efficiency or the 28th worst defense in efficiency. You don't have to decide; both suck.
Fortunately, there's a happy solution to both problems. His name is Jrue Holiday.
While Holiday can't oust the defensive demons that haunt the Pelicans, he can single-handedly turn a four-point swing in important moments. In the three games that Holiday has played 30+ minutes, Holiday has robbed the bank nine times. Those include swipes on teams that usually are quite stingy in possession, such as the Clippers and the Mavericks, respectively 2nd and 3rd in fewest turnovers per game.
Although we've known for quite some time that Holiday is a great perimeter defender, the extent of that was displayed fully December 26 against the Rockets.
This defensive performance is as good as I've seen from anyone. That's the Jruth.— Isaac Constans (@IsaacConstans) December 27, 2015
Sorry to embed my own tweet, but watching such an offense-wrecker at their best is a work of art. Late in the fourth quarter, Holiday switched back and forth between Trevor Ariza to James Harden on the multiple possessions, ultimately concluding in steals and havoc for the Rockets. His pestering defense also resulted in direct transition buckets because of a boxer's reach that lets him poke it around a guard and retrieve the ball for an uncontested layup.
More importantly, Holiday has jumped the passing lanes or pressured the opposing point guard close to half court numerous times. Whether it was against Chris Paul, James Harden, JJ Barea, or some nobody, Holiday initiated open-court fast breaks with on-ball pressure time and time again. In close games, that individual contribution can be the difference, not to mention the dramatic improvements defensively on other possessions which might just result in missed shots or the neutralization of a team's most hazardous threat.
If you only watched the game against the Clippers, you might believe that Tyreke Evans is a sharpshooter, the way he was nailing deep midrange shots. You'd be wrong, however, as a larger sample size has provided ample proof of the contrary.
However, you could believe that about Holiday and you'd be right. Despite a couple of big misses against the Clippers, Holiday is a threat from outside. Just ask the Miami Heat. This year, he's shooting 40% from range and has a consistent pull-up game, as well, from 18 feet.
Defensively, Holiday brings that same versatility. Relentlessly hounding his man with the ball, Holiday is problematic for any guard. With his length and size, he can guard both guard positions adeptly, and with his quick feet, he rarely is whistled for a blocking foul or pinned behind the ball-handler. Rather, he usually is one step ahead and has the intangibles to jump routes and intercept the path of the ball, as discussed in the previous section.
That same size and length allows Holiday to crash the glass, as well. Against the Clippers, he posted 11 rebounds, tying the game high. In all facets of the game, Holiday is a major factor.
Holiday's assists are down this year, even if you go by per-36 numbers. While on the face of things, this looks to be bad for any point guard, there's a simple explanation: Holiday has been playing the 2, 81% of the time.
Don't for a second think that I haven't decried the substitution patterns, offensive half-court system, failure to break, senseless switching, and misuse of multiple players under the Gentry regime. But all of that's for another time and another article.
They (and myself) said it couldn't be done, putting Holiday and Evans on the same floor as each other. The first year seemed to prove that, as Evans dramatically improved when positioned at the point while Holiday was imbued with injury. Under Gentry, however, that duo is putting up the best splits for any two Pelicans, who outscore their opponents by 12.2 points per 100 possession with those two on the court.
And it comes in a way that I would have expected to have the opposite effect. Evans commands the point while Holiday assumes shooting guard responsibilities. Holiday runs off of off-ball screens very well for a natural point guard, and can reset the offense when necessary. Evans, meanwhile, gets the chance to duplicate the success of last year's lethal combination with Davis.
Flip it to defense, and Holiday can guard whoever is most dangerous. This allows Evans more leeway as he can be more than a little bit plodding defensively. And I think I might have succinctly touched on Holiday's indefatigable defense already.
Holiday still has been getting his shots up and has been a real weapon in the offense. While Davis has been hurt in some of those games, Holiday's shots are not necessarily at the expense of Davis. Ryan Anderson is a pretty good replacement in terms of shot-taking volume. Rather, they're self-created looks he can count on carrying over.
The point is, Holiday's talent is on full display for the first time in his Pelicans' career because of his fit and flexibility in a new system. It is unfortunate that it corresponds with low points in that of his teammates' play, but it would be unfair to skim over an such a big encouraging sign in a rather discouraging season.
We all might be back at work or school with the fireworks and festivities of winter breaks fading away, but don't mistake of saying that the Holiday season is over; it's just beginning.
*Knock on wood*
** For any of you who have noticed my absence, I've been super busy covering the Michigan State seasons across sports. Apologies for my prolonged gap in writing. The good news is that I have a promising lead provided by TBW editor David Fisher on who could be the Pelicans' valentine. I'll let you guess at who. In the meantime, stay clicked in on The Bird Writes and shoot me a follow @IsaacConstans.