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Jrue Holiday remains key to Pelicans’ success, problem is, he appears to be playing hurt

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The recent string of bad performances (and losses) by New Orleans correlate to the aftermath of one very specific turf toe injury. Thanks Russell Westbrook!

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans are in the midst of another death spiral down the NBA standings. The team has won just twice in the last 10 games, and with a 9-20 record overall, realistic postseason expectations are almost entirely extinct. Alvin Gentry must sense the same because he admitted to the media following Sunday’s loss that the team has only a narrow window remaining to turn around the season.

“We’ve got to figure it out. We’ve got to figure it out in a hurry. It’s not anything we’ve got a month to figure out. We’ve got to figure it out in the next week or so.”

With how poorly the Pelicans have looked the last two games, it seems as though the team is in need of a miracle. It’s impossible to dispute that, but I can name one thing that would seriously improve the odds of saving the sinking battleship in New Orleans: an assertive Jrue Holiday.

Since the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder — the contest where Holiday had reportedly suffered a turf toe injury — his numbers have dramatically fallen off a cliff.

Points/36 FG% 3FG% FGA/36 Assist% Usage%
Prior to OKC 21.1 47.7% 43.8% 17.5 39.0% 28.9%
OKC and after 13.4 36.4% 17.9% 13.8 28.6% 20.9%

From shot attempts to efficiency, everything is down across the board; however, I want to focus on the last three columns because it largely dismisses the possibility of just an ordinary cold-shooting slump. In his last six games played, Jrue has taken an obvious backseat in the offense. For instance, he has used a lower percentage of plays than Buddy Hield or Langston Galloway during this time frame.

Why?

I believe Jrue Holiday is playing hurt — whether he never fully healed from the initial injury or suffered some sort of setback but decided to play through it. Let’s have a look at a chart of his individual game usage percentages and please be sure to note the date of 12/4 because that marks the Oklahoma City game.

The chart displays a troubling downward trend. In 4 of the last 6 games in question, Holiday has failed to even surpass a 20% usage. Last season he posted a 28.9 usage percentage — identical to his first 8 games this season. That’s a stark difference from what we’ve seen since the OKC contest and a clear indication that something isn’t right with Holiday.

According to the Podiatry Network, there are three grades of toe turf injury categories. Grade 1 describes mild discomfort and only requires a few days of rest, but I think we can safely eliminate it from consideration as Holiday alluded to distinct discomfort well over a week later after returning against the Phoenix Suns.

Grade 2 toe turf injuries are considered moderate and usually involve a partial tear, requiring 1-2 weeks away from physical activity involving the foot. Grade 3 are the most severe, involving perhaps a rupture or full tear, and require athletes to be sidelined for around 4-6 weeks. And in a lot of these cases, surgery is required because an injury can fail to heal properly after appropriate care.

Holiday missed the bare minimum for a Grade 2 injury — 1 week — as he played against the Phoenix Suns precisely one week after sustaining his injury. Likely not helping the cause has been the amount of minutes he’s played since his return. Holiday is averaging 33 minutes a game since jumping back into the thick of things. That’s a substantial increase over the 27.5 minutes he was averaging prior to the Thunder game.

The New Orleans Pelicans franchise is desperate to save their season so it’s understandable the all hands on deck siren has sounded. But, please, don’t dismiss the idea that all the active players are able to give 100%. Whether Holiday has reaggravated the injury or it never fully healed, the team’s advanced statistics have coincided with his up and down performances.

Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Net Rating eFG%
Before Holiday's return (10/25-11/17) 97.4 104.3 -6.9 46.9%
Holiday prior to injury (11/18-12/3) 106.9 101.4 +5.5 53.0%
Holiday after injury (12/4-now) 98.7 107.6 -9.0 47.4%

Following the Pelicans latest loss to the Spurs on Sunday, I observed many jumping on the bandwagon that Jrue Holiday is an average point guard, at best in this league. Whether true or not, it’s troublesome to see a widespread failure to account for the facts: Jrue Holiday, who was steamrolling before, has struggled mightily since suffering a turf toe injury and none of the statistics indicate he’s operating at full capacity.

Consequently, this has put the Pelicans back in a position they found themselves prior to his initial return to the team — without another top performer next to Anthony Davis. Alvin Gentry knows this fact too well as he stated last April that you don’t win in this league without talent.

“No. 1, you’ve got to have good players. Don’t ever underestimate talent.”

Wondering how the Pelicans are going to fare over the next week or two? Watch Jrue Holiday carefully. If he’s still limping in the box scores, expect New Orleans to continue mimicking their cellar-dwelling ways.