Jrue Holiday has always possessed the ability and skills to put himself into the conversation among the NBA elite. Despite a shortened 2015, advanced analysis claimed the Pelicans had an enviable point guard of the future. Two-way players are and will remain the rage and few projected better than the Jruth.
Yet, the majority of outlets and fans demanded further proof before they would be ready to anoint him as one of the best players at his position. This was a fair stipulation, though, because potential needs to be realized through minutes played as accompanying production follows suit. Having a valuable player spend most of his time on the sidelines does nothing to help a team win games.
The numbers and eyes have it
Well, Holiday provided ample evidence in 2016, both from multiple eye-test evaluations and a statistical perspective. After missing a combined 90 games in his first two years in New Orleans, he appeared in 65 games and a total of 1831 minutes. Holiday finished with a PER of 19.7, good for an 11th place finish among NBA starting point guards. ESPN's Real Plus-Minus ranked him 12th, although he was held back by a somewhat questionable -0.88 DRPM. (Patty Mills finished ahead of Holiday in defensive rankings. Seriously?)
Had Holiday not been under a minutes restriction, he likely would have cracked the 20-point barrier. His per 36 minutes data sparkled: 21.4 points, 7.7 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 1.7 threes and 1.7 steals. Only five other players in the league could lay claim to equal or stronger numbers: Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Chris Paul and Reggie Jackson.
The highlights were both numerous and appetizing. As the season progressed and the restrictions lessened, Holiday started separating himself from the pack. Against the Houston Rockets, Holiday went toe-to-toe with Harden, and then a few days later, helped propel the Pelicans to victory versus the Brooklyn Nets with this buzzer beater.
Alvin Gentry, in the midst of watching Holiday blossom -- a necessary step for New Orleans desired pace-and-space offense and defense -- was effusive in his praise.
"I think he's been very good at (the offense), but I think he could be elite at it. It still takes a little bit of time, but I think he's got a handle on it altogether... When he's locked in, he can guard anyone."
Immediately following those remarks, Holiday's per 36 minute numbers over his final 28 games increased to 23.5 points, 8.0 assists and 1.9 steals. Against the Charlotte Hornets, Holiday smashed their top-10 ranked defense, posting a career-best 38 points. (The 3/9/2016 game also saw Davis add 40 points.)
Batman needs his Robin
In a vacuum, we've established Jrue Holiday is very good, but the most important litmus test is Anthony Davis. The New Orleans franchise player is one of the best in the league; however, we've learned he can't do it alone... Not yet anyways. When the coaching staff attempted to force feed him the ball at the start of the season, Davis couldn't handle the load and the offense sputtered (New Orleans failed to surpass the century mark in 8 of their first 11 games).
Once the offense reverted back to revolving around the team's playmakers, guess which point guard emerged as Davis' likely preference? (Have a look at how Davis performed with each of the Pelicans main ball handlers while the other two sat on the bench.)
When comparing the above data with this season's 55.3 TS%, 1.14 PPP and 1.11 PPS, Davis' efficiency obviously went through the roof while paired with Holiday. Additionally, Davis didn't need to command the ball as much, but when he did have possession, he wasn't as reliant on another to score points. The best of both worlds for a player who doesn't see himself as one of the NBA's biggest volume scorers?
Dodging another major injury
All through the season, the attention was on Holiday's right leg; however, in the final minute of the Pelicans matchup with the New York Knicks, a Kristaps Porzingis elbow changed that thinking in a blink of an eye. Jrue inadvertently ran into the hardest point of the rookie's appendage head first, and his bloody eye swelled shut almost immediately.
The next day the dismal news was announced: Holiday had suffered an orbital eye fracture and needed surgery. Thankfully, he is expected to recover fully in 2 months time, well in advance of the next training camp.
By most metrics, Jrue Holiday had a very successful season; he was one of the few Pelicans to improve their play from the previous year. His free throw rate doubled from last year and his 4.1 attempts marked a career best. He simultaneously took the highest percentage of attempts around the rim (29.0%) and the lowest percentage of the worst shot in basketball, between sixteen feet out to the three point line (12.1%) in his seventh season.
The biggest area of concern was probably his long range perimeter shot, as a 33.6 3FG% was easily the worst of his career. However upon closer examination, much of these struggles originated from a certain part of the floor.
This graph, courtesy of Todd Schneider's efforts, displays Holiday shot distribution. The warmer the color, the better. Or if you're more inclined, below is his numerical breakdown.
The efficiencies on his left and right corner three ball attempts were abysmal, but Holiday was relatively close to league averages elsewhere. Regardless, I'm sure he'd be the first one to say he doesn't consider himself to be a mediocre shooter and would probably vow improvements in his shot would be forthcoming this offseason.
A summer where the entire focus isn't on the rehabilitation of his leg? Sign me up!