Jrue Holiday was an All-Star just three years ago. He was averaging 19.0 points, 9.0 assists, and 4.3 rebounds for a Philadelphia 76ers team just outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture. An 18.8 PER was good enough for the second reserve guard spot beside Kyrie Irving.
In a press release celebrating his selection, the Sixers managing owner called Holiday "one of the cornerstones of our franchise and also one of the NBA's bright young stars." Near the bottom of that same release Philadelphia noted that Holiday had started 185 of 190 possible games since the beginning of the 2010-11 season. Not only was Holiday good and young, he was also extremely durable.
Just six months later, the Sixers traded away Holiday for the draft rights to Nerlens Noel and the New Orleans Pelicans 2014 Draft Pick. Holiday would miss most of the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons dealing with a stress fracture in his right leg. This summer the Sixers were fined $3 million by the league for failing to disclose that Holiday had suffered (and played through) the same injury his last year in Philadelphia.
Holiday began the season under a minutes restriction. Oleh reported that Dell Demps told season ticket holders that minute restrictions remain even now. Joel Meyers confirmed as much Monday night during the broadcast of the Minnesota Timberwolves game.
Joel Meyers dropping some knowledge on the broadcast. pic.twitter.com/1ntRHQS8xd— David Fisher (@usnfish) February 9, 2016
Holiday's production reaches All-Star levels once again
There is good news to report, though. Holiday has performed better than his 2013 All-Star campaign so far this year despite a very slow start to the season. Let's take a look at per possession production and compare it to his numbers until the All-Star Break in 2013. The Sixers played at a much slower pace (93.47) than the Pelicans (98.50) with Holiday at the controls so comparing per minute production would make his NOLA performance look a little too good.
Name a concern about Holiday before he arrived in New Orleans and it has improved this season compared to his previous best stretch of his career. Shooting is more efficient. He's getting to the free throw line more often, taking more threes, and cutting down on mid range attempts. His PER ticks up thanks in part to a reduction in turnovers along with improved shot selection.
Now, for the bad news.
Uncharted territory approaching
Those injury concerns linger. The ongoing minutes restrictions are severe enough that Alvin Gentry has assigned an assistant coach to manage Holiday's workload. Gentry explained in the post game interview after emerging victorious in Minnesota:
"I have an assistant that takes him out, regardless if I want to take him out or not," Gentry said. "I had to assign a guy to do that because it would be hard for me to do, it really is. Especially when he's playing at the level that he is and the game is still teetering either way, it's just hard to take him out. So I did assign a guy to say he's got to come out and send a sub in, even without my permission."
We can dig deeper to see just how close Holiday is to the breaking point reached in the last two seasons. Teetering on the edge is an accurate description.
Since January 1st Holiday has averaged 2.14 miles traveled per game as his minutes have increased to just below 30 per game on average. Two games remain until the All-Star break meaning Jrue could cross 90 miles traveled in the next two days along with a similar number of minutes. Holiday was concerned with pushing over the hump in the middle of January as the calendar itself posed a bit of a reasonable psychological barrier.
"I have eight more days, I think it was Jan. 12 that I stopped playing last year," Holiday said after Monday's practice. "I'm trying to play past January. I'm trying to play throughout the season, so that's definitely a goal that I'm about to reach hopefully."
Calendar accomplished, but the trail traveled still has a ways to go before I am going to be certain Holiday's troubles are behind him. Joel Meyers saying Holiday will be (generally) under 30 minutes for the rest of the season gives me some hope the organization is finally taking the long view on an injury after botching both Quincy Pondexter and Tyreke Evans.
Thankfully, the All-Star Break could not be more ideally placed. Just as Holiday crosses the mileage and minutes threshold reached in previous years, the Pelicans will have an entire week off and then two more weeks of the schedule before their next back-to-back on March 2nd and 3rd.
This isn't the finish line; just a checkpoint on a long journey to reaching his impossibly high ceiling. Jrue Holiday was an All-Star. He still might be one again if he can get and stay healthy. Wonder who the best candidate for Robin is around the league beside Anthony Davis as Batman? He's already in a Pelicans uniform.