Since Jrue Holiday’s arrival, plenty of questions have doggedly followed him throughout his time in New Orleans.
Is he a point guard?
Should teams consider him a core piece to build around?
Will he ever remain healthy and available through an entire NBA regular season schedule again?
And the biggest elephant in the room: Will his offense ever consistently rank above average?
Defense has never been a question for Holiday. His +1.18 DRPM was third best among all other point guards in the league last season. This year, he’s drawing the toughest wing assignments, ranging from Russell Westbrook to Kevin Durant. Despite this, he’s held foes to a 44.7 FG% when other players guarding the same opponents have given up a combined 45.8 FG%. Don’t scoff at the 1.2% difference in field goal percentage because only Anthony Davis, and in more questionable and smaller samples, Ian Clark and Rajon Rondo have fared better at limiting opponent shooting percentages.
No, Holiday’s issues have almost always stemmed from the other side of the ball. Through the first 14 games of this season, Holiday was averaging 14.1 points — an acceptable figure for many, but other statistical per game marks revealed he was far from comfortable on offense: 3.3 turnovers, a 22.6% three-point percentage and 12.9 field goal attempts.
I want to concentrate on this last figure for a moment as it proved to be the best indicator of his lack of confidence to begin the season. Not since his second year in the league has Holiday averaged less shot attempts per 36 minutes. More worrisome, he was absolutely vanishing towards the end of games. Despite averaging 9.3 minutes during fourth quarters — the second highest playing time on the team, Holiday attempted a team-low number of shots on a per minute basis in the last 12 minutes of games.
Of course, many didn’t need to see these numbers to know of Holiday’s offensive struggles to start the season. On social media, the vitriol began almost instantly. Following the signing of a $126 million dollar contract — that could climb to $150 million if all incentive conditions are met, expectations were shot out of a cannon overnight, and worse, countless doubted Holiday would ever remotely reach them.
The moment may be fleeting, but Jrue Holiday is balling right now, and whether it’s just sheer happenstance, Holiday’s offensive improvement has seemingly coincided with the return of Rajon Rondo.
|Jrue Holiday 10/17-11/12||13||14.2||6.6||3.4||13.0||3.8||22.0%||51.1%||102.6|
|Jrue Holiday 11/13-12/5||11||18.7||4.2||1.6||15.5||5.9||32.3%||56.5%||110.4|
It’s also important to note that at a time Rondo appears to be getting his legs (three consecutive double-doubles), Holiday is operating in his highest gear, too. Over the Pelicans last five games, Holiday is averaging 22.6 points per game, shooting 35.9% from three-point range and letting it fly from all over the court. His 22.6 points, 18.8 field goal attempts and 7.8 three-point attempts are higher than that of DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis over the same time frame.
Here’s a great example of his new found aggressiveness. Did you know Holiday in his first 524 career games never hit double digit attempts from beyond the arc once? Over his last four games, he’s had two 11 three-point attempt games. These type of numbers, my friends, signal a very willing shooting guard, yet Head Coach Alvin Gentry isn’t all that surprised.
“I said earlier that I thought when Rondo came back that Jrue’s game would really take off,” said Gentry after Tuesday’s practice. “I think you can see that it has.”
Among the highest scoring shooting guards in the league excluding DeMar DeRozan, Holiday’s five-game stretch compares favorably to the competition.
|Jrue Holiday 5-game stretch||22.6||4.4||4.8||2.4||18.8||7.8||35.9%|
In large portions of the loss to the Golden State Warriors, Jrue Holiday looked like the best player on the floor — not Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Durant and Cousins. Following that performance, many were quick to give the appropriate adulation, including Boogie a day later.
“Having Jrue playing the way he is — being aggressive — that’s the Jrue we need on a nightly basis,” said Cousins. “If he can play like that all night, I think he’s one of the best two-way players in the league. And he takes our team to a whole other level.”
This has been one of the familiar criticisms against Holiday in the past: the lack of consistency. Since coming over from Philly, he’s shown glimpses of being explosive and dominating ball games with his offense; consequently, it’s easy to just write this off to another hot streak.
While things may eventually follow the same script, please remember there is one thing different in New Orleans this time round. For the first time in his career, Holiday is playing next to one of the most highly revered NBA floor generals, and “Do” — the tag name of Rondo and sounds phonetically like the word dough — deserves a lot of the credit. Just listen to Holiday gush about Rondo making the game incredibly easy for seemingly the hundredth time this season.
The New Orleans Pelicans entered the season with a load of questions at shooting guard and Jrue Holiday was far from any guarantee of being able to fulfill the role despite his hefty price tag. Following the first month of the regular season, the experiment was headed down a dark path until seemingly Rajon Rondo returned to the lineup. Now, the Pelicans are being rewarded for doling out the second richest contract in franchise history, and if we’re fortunate, something close to Holiday’s current streak becomes the new norm and will always accompany all of his wonderful defensive contributions.