An incredibly mystifying year came to a head Tuesday night for Jrue Holiday. In front of thousands of screaming fans eager to see the Pelicans pull out a vibrant victory over the Nuggets in the home finale, the New Orleans guard simply mishandled his dribble, committing an unthinkable over-and-back violation with 18.2 seconds remaining in a one-possession game.
Mere seconds later, Holiday had a chance to redeem himself, yet another turnover ensued when he tried to force a pass to DeMarcus Cousins.
Gary Harris with the game winner...the game winning steal, that is. Nuggets win in NOLA. pic.twitter.com/DGGnYOD4RE— Nate Timmons (@NateTimmonsCSG) April 5, 2017
To say the least, this past year has been one full of surprises for Jrue and oftentimes not of the good variety. Within the span of one doctor’s consultation, the Holiday’s went from a jubilant expecting couple to one fraught with anguish and worry over the health of Lauren and their unborn child. Once they thankfully cleared a lot of the major hurdles, Jrue was immediately thrust back into the NBA fray. He had appeared ready, but was he though from both from a physical and mental standpoint?
Many correlate Jrue’s return three weeks into the start of the season with he and his family being in an acceptable place — possessing a solid frame of mind, but in hindsight, I believe that was anything but the case. Considering all the oddities witnessed over the last five months, common sense should dictate this is not the same Jrue Holiday of years past.
I vividly recall David Wesley reciting a firsthand account of Holiday’s utter lack of confidence shooting three-pointers back in December on the air. In February, Jrue averaged 4.9 turnovers a game, easily the worst month of his career. For the season, Holiday, who has never posted a FT% lower than 81% in a New Orleans uniform, is sporting a free throw percentage barely eclipsing 70%.
Look closely at the two plays above again. The first was an unforced error without any hint of ball pressure and it was followed by a pass without a good look to see if there was an open passing lane to Cousins. This isn’t indicative of just bad point guard play; it’s a display of missing basketball skills by a renowned ball handler and playmaker who has accumulated over 16,000 minutes at the highest level.
Think back to last season for a moment. Holiday played really well, particularly after a number of his restrictions were lifted following New Year’s Eve. He was right on the cusp of top 10 point guard status in the league. Consequently, it’s laughable so many have convienantly cast aside Holiday’s career accomplishments, including how strongly Jrue finished last season before a freakish eye injury stuck him back on the sidelines.
In case you’re not aware, sports athletes deal with nearly an infinite amount of performance-related stress. The demands to do well are through the roof; surrounding voices can switch from accolade to criticism at the drop of a hat. The media can be unrelenting, waiting to speak to the nightly offender as soon as they step out of the shower. Public scrutiny is even harsher — ever follow sporting events live on twitter?
And on top of all this, throw in some additional pertinent facts: Holiday is playing for a new contract, he is still considered a novice in fatherhood, and he has a wife alongside who isn’t free and clear of the woods yet.
Why was Lauren’s eye bandaged less than a month ago at the Pelicans Toast for the Coast event? I don’t want to presume anything, but it seems she is still clearly on the road to recovery.
All of these things together have to affect Holiday on the court to some degree. No way is his concentration and preparation the same as last year. Plus, I fear with all the stories that have showcased his compassionate side, his personality is apt to take things harder and worry more than the average person.
Need I remind you, an athlete’s psyche is tremendously fragile — no wonder there have been countless of cases who have cracked under the pressure. Ever hear of Rick Ankiel suddenly being unable to throw strikes and thereby needing to become a baseball outfielder? Or David Duval, once the number one rated golfer on the planet who managed to overtake the good Tiger Woods, leave the sport prematurely? How about Nick Anderson never being the same player after missing key free throws in Game 1 of the 1995 Finals? Seriously, he was a 40% free throw shooter the following regular season after the debacle!
I’m not suggesting Holiday is prime for some meltdown, but rather trying to demonstrate how his overloaded plate has shown obvious cracks this season and that is the most plausible explanation for all the inexplicable failures. However, instead of contemplating cause and effect thoroughly, many have decided to write epitaphs, fearing what they’ve seen this season is going to be the norm for the rest of his career.
Maybe Jrue Holiday winds up damaged goods — I’m willing to bet big money on the answer, “hell, no” — but I truly don’t care at the moment. By all appearances, it looks like he’s still out there trying to juggle life with six balls in the air. He sought to apologize to teammates for the agonizing loss to the Nuggets upon entering the locker room, but thankfully Anthony Davis and the rest of the group had none of that.
The entire organization has been and remains firmly planted in Jrue’s corner... you should be too.