Boogie and the Brow. Fire and Ice. Beasts of Bourbon. Whatever you call it, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, two of the guys averaging a 20-10 in the league, are now teammates in New Orleans. Where, though, does Jrue Holiday fit into the equation?
Since the nuclear Boogie trade, the trajectory of the Pelicans has shifted massively. New Orleans has changed from survival, delaying-the-almost-inevitable-departure-of-Anthony-Davis-in-2020 (whether in free agency or trade), to championship mode. That’s an incredible step for a franchise that has experienced a single playoff appearance (as an 8th seed at that) in four years since drafting Anthony Davis and made a complete 180 in personnel during the last off-season, trading offensive-minded players for defensive ones.
With the trade deadline in the rearview mirror and Boogie getting acclimated as a Pelican, the road to a championship team, once an impossible task, is beginning to take shape.
New Orleans has Davis and Cousins, two clear superstars. Both of them have carried franchises on their wide shoulders to almost relevance, yet practically never enough to earn a playoff seed individually. Together, they’ll form what is clearly two-third’s of the typical “Big 3” NBA setup. In just three games together, that has become apparent as each one has produced big numbers: AD with a monster 35/10/1/1 (pts/rebs/blks/stls) and Boogie with a 23/13/5/3/1 (pts/rebs/asts/blks/stls).
But Jrue — once considered a potential Robin to AD’s Batman but now relegated to “Alfred” status — has struggled.
Since the DeMarcus Cousins trade, Jrue Holiday's 3-game average:— Oleh Kosel (@Redhopeful) February 27, 2017
This production is a far cry from what he posted in 13 games prior to the All-Star break when he averaged 21.8 points (63.1% TS), 5.2 rebounds, 8.4 assists (4.2 TOs) and 2 3PM. Jrue was looking more aggressive and seemed to finally embrace his role as the secondary scorer (after years of accepting a tertiary role, and sometimes lesser, behind Tyreke Evans) on a Pelicans’ team that was bereft of consistent points producers.
The addition of Boogie’s 37.6% usage rate would shake up any roster, but while most saw AD having to adjust the most in sharing the same real estate with his Kentucky friend, Holiday has been forced to carry the biggest burden: trying to keep both All-Star bigs happily involved while still needing to find the time to get his. With his struggles and impending free agency, people are aptly starting to ask: is Jrue good enough to be the third leg of a Bayou Big 3?
Let’s see if we can answer that question.
Bayou Big 3
I decided to look into four aggregate stats -- RPM (from ESPN), WS/48, BPM and VORP (from Basketball Reference) — to compare the Pelicans trio to other Big 3s that played or are still playing together.
|NOP||Anthony Davis||DeMarcus Cousins||Jrue Holiday|
|CLE||LeBron James||Kyrie Irving||Kevin Love|
|GSW||Stephen Curry||Draymond Green||Klay Thompson|
|LAC||Chris Paul||Blake Griffin||DeAndre Jordan|
|MEM||Marc Gasol||Mike Conley||Zach Randolph|
|OKC||Kevin Durant||Russell Westbrook||Serge Ibaka|
|TOR||Kyle Lowry||DeMar DeRozan||Jonas Valanciunas|
These are the most known and successful Big 3’s in recent history. I decided to not include others (Heatles, Boston’s Big 3, any previous Spurs combination) because those teams played in a FAR different era than we have right now and I wanted to add RPM as the 4th catch-all statistics (which was available only up to 2013-14).
All of them have a clear hierarchy, even OKC’s former Big 3, and let’s make one thing clear: the New Orleans Pelicans are still AD’s team. Now, reviewing the aggregate statistics:
RPM: A plus/minus statistic that accounts (by linear regression) for teammates and opponents adjusting for a priori (i.e. past performance). What this means is that outlier performances are pulled to a certain average for each player. If say Player A only had an RPM of +2 before, then suddenly had a +7 RPM, that will be pulled down.
WS/48: Win Shares is a box score metric that uses box score stats (points, rebounds, assists, etc.) to calculate the value of a player based on his box score stats. It is then adjusted for the league average points per possession.
BPM and VORP: These two are heavily tied together. BPM is another box score metric that uses derived box score statistics (TS%, USG%, TRB%, etc.). It then uses regression to find a weight for each statistic, as it relates to team efficiency. BPM is the summation of these weights by the statistics of the player.
VORP is mostly a rating; the statistic doesn’t give you a lot of ideas about how much it actually impacts or adds to a team (in terms of win). VORP uses BPM to get how many “wins” a certain player gives his team, relative to a replacement level player.
With all that said, where does the AD-Boogie-Jrue trifecta rank? Please note the order of the statistics in the article serve a purpose — they are ranked by importance.
This is the average RPM for all players involved over the last four years. As you can see, the Pelicans trio stacks up really well with other Big 3s. However, Davis — who’s long been assumed as part on the same echelon of the top stars like James, Curry, Paul, Durant — doesn’t appear to be of the elite variety.
The problem here I believe is twofold. One, Davis has had to contend with numerous minor injuries over the years. Nothing serious really (except maybe for the fact that he’s played through a damn shoulder injury over a big chunk of his rookie contract), but all the little dings add up at the end of the day. Second, there’s a case to be made that AD has perhaps been coasting at times during the past two years because of motivational reasons. I’ll address that later, but the more important question is: where does Holiday rank?
As you can see, Holiday (2.48) ranks well within the ranks of the Big 3. He has a higher average RPM than Kyrie Irving, Zach Randolph, Serge Ibaka, DeMar DeRozan and Jose Valanciunas and compares quite favorably with Klay Thompson (3.05).
This is where Holiday suddenly finds himself lacking. As we all know, Holiday’s impact has never been as high as his peers in the box score, where a career average of 14/4/6 pales in comparison to guys like Love (18/11/2), Thompson (19/3/2) and ZBo (17/9/2). Ibaka is the closest one (12/7/2.4 blocks).
The thing to understand here is that Ibaka and Holiday have usually made the most difference on the defensive end, an area where box score statistics usually fail to fully account for their impact. At least RPM tries to account for defense. For instance, the D-RPM of Holiday (1.53) and Ibaka (1.28) rank 2nd and 3rd among third triumvirate players behind Jordan (1.68).
BPM and VORP
As you can see in the first chart, the Big 3 — and specifically Holiday — ranks really well. Holiday’s BPM (1.84) ranks favorably with Love (2.04) and Thompson (1.2). The reason why his VORP is a little lower (and Davis’) is because this statistic takes minutes into account. Holiday has missed a lot of time to injury during his career in New Orleans, thus likely affecting his VORP scores.
Let’s talk about potential
I came into this with an open mind -- just as you should. Holiday is a frustrating player to support at times so it’s completely understandable to have doubts. He’s great one night and plain awful the next, particularly on offense. His defense is his saving grace as he’s amazing and consistent (most of the time) on that end of the floor.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure Jrue could be part of the Big 3, but after examining the statistics, I am now fully confident in his place on the team moving forward.
Another thing: Davis and Cousins have both been on terrible teams. They’ve certainly not been blessed with the most talented teammates, but I’ve long suspected inconsistent effort levels are also been to blame for overall statistics. Hey, young guys being surrounded by losing year after year is a combination prone to questionable results.
I can say this with more confidence about Davis since I’ve watched so many of his games where AD just dominates teams, defenders and coaches helpless to his will. And then there have been days when he settles for jumpers, doesn’t fight for rebounds and seems absent on defense. Writers have suspected this about Cousins — especially on D — but I haven’t watched enough Kings games to actually say that with any confidence.
So, if this new era in New Orleans represents a new lease on life and motivation becomes less problematic — winning can cure a lot of ills — what is the potential of a Cousins-Davis-Holiday triumvirate? To measure this, I decided to single out the highest individual RPM seasons posted by my selected players above and compare them.
Um, can you say wow? This is the part of the article where you’re allowed to get really excited because the Pelicans trio stacks up amazingly well! It’s on par with the bigger trifectas from the Cavaliers, Clippers and Thunder. Additionally, Davis (+7.88 RPM back in 2014/15) himself ranks favorably well with other top tier talents like LeBron (+9.48 back in 2015/16), Curry (+9.5 back in 2014/15) and Chris Paul (+9.38 this year).
This means the Pelicans supposed Big 3 of Davis, Cousins and Holiday should be able to hang with the best of them. New Orleans should be able to achieve a 50+ win season behind an “okay” cast, but it could be more if everything were to fall into place (the rest of the roster soon compliments the main core; the coaching, front office and players all get in sync; etc.).
Is Jrue Holiday a strong enough player to be part of a Big 3?
Unequivocally, yes. As the third cog in the wheel, Holiday measures up well, but don’t mistake this to mean he would be worth a maximum contract this summer. That’s a different question I’m afraid for a different time.