I’ve not been comfortable with Jrue Holiday as the lead guard on this team for quite a while, but I am slowly beginning to change my tune.
With much of his Pelican’s tenure spent on the inactive list, it was hard to really know if Holiday could be a true building block. Once Jrue returned from his early season absence, we saw flashes of brilliance mixed with moments of what the hell from him on the offensive end — he was the most divisive player on the roster.
Oleh Kosel made a case for Jrue being an underappreciated offensive player earlier this month and it made me rethink some of my eyeball-tested opinions that were formulated while watching him do his work. Whether Oleh’s argument has persuaded you or not — there is no denying that Jrue is an absolute terror on the defensive side of the ball. Check out this highlight reel compiled by Shamit Dua (@FearTheBrown on Twitter) to see just how crucial Holiday’s skills on that end are to GameSharking Darren Erman’s switching scheme:
Jrue has been chastised for not being an above average playmaker at the one — getting hit with that “combo guard” label that is a boon for a two but an albatross for a guy manning the one for most of his career. Personally, I think he’s a better passer than he’s often given credit for, but I also think general manager Dell Demps initially built this team with a vision: he viewed Holiday and Tyreke Evans as dual point guards that would oft play together. Unfortunately, injuries and Eric Gordon’s contract likely got in the way.
Still, we saw the dual point guard look in the twilight of this past season as Jrue shared the back court and handling duties with Tim Frazier. I like Frazier, but I thought this was a bit of a waste. With Jrue and DMC on the court, the Pelicans had enough playmaking. Frazier gave the Pelicans almost nothing on the defensive end and his scoring really took a dive going against starting caliber guards. This isn’t to say that I dislike the idea of pairing Holiday with another combo or a traditional point guard — it’s just that Tim Frazier wasn’t the right fit.
Despite previous nay-saying, I don’t believe Jrue should be mixed in with the ashes of the Evans, Gordon and Ryan Anderson era any longer. Holiday should be part of the fully combusted, engulfed in flames, majestically risen phoenix-like giant three-headed Pelican, rebuilt to go deep into the playoffs with a more skilled version of the Memphis Grizzlies’ “Grit and Grind” defense and toughness first mantra.
However, first things first, Holiday’s role needs to be drastically changed. Once Cousins was added to this roster and Tim Frazier was elevated to primary ball handler, Holiday was marginalized as a spot up shooter. Jrue is not Eric Gordon. He averaged less points per possession in spot-up situations than Frazier, Anthony Davis and Solomon Hill!
And in the previous season, he was just as ineffective. Standing around and waiting to catch-and-shoot isn’t in his arsenal so let’s stop trying to go to that well. I want Jrue sharing ball handling duties with Cousins, but I also want him to have opportunities to operate as the primary scoring threat. With so much attention being paid to the “Fire and Ice” tandem, this should be easier than ever.
These scoring opportunities can come in numerous ways. Holiday can pull up off of the dribble, either in transition or off of a dead ball inbound. Teams will surely sag back to protect the rim off of a typical after bucket inbound play and likely have Holiday’s man filling a passing lane in hopes of keeping the ball away from Davis and Cousins. This should provide Jrue with an opening for some uncontested pull-up threes off of the dribble. As Oleh noted in another piece — Holiday is a very solid shooter off of the dribble with a 46.8% EFG percentage and a rather respectable 37.8% conversion rate from deep when shooting off of the dribble. With Jrue being off of the ball for a large portion of the Boogie era, this comfort zone was taken from him like when your ex starts showing up to the restaurants you introduced them to with dates.
Another thing I’d like to see comes from Monty Williams playbook. Monty would sometimes run a double pick-and-roll that was rather effective. Holiday could come off of a Cousins’ screen where Boogie should pop out followed immediately by a second screen from Davis where Davis would trail Holiday to the rim. This opens up a potential open jumper for Cousins, a trailing alley-oop or dunk off of a pass for Davis, a layup for Holiday or a put-back for Davis off of a Holiday miss — and possibly even an open corner three from Dante, should his opponent collapse into the action.
There are several wrinkles that can be thrown into the offense to maximize Holiday’s offensive skills and effectiveness, but to be fair Jrue did post career highs in true shooting and field goal percentages despite the newly raised concerns over his effectiveness as a scorer that have many of us pondering his value to the team going forward. Also, if you look at Jrue’s numbers when driving or cutting, you can see that he is very effective when attacking — this had been one of my greatest points of contention with Holiday.
With Cousins operating at the elbow, Holiday should be directed to run off of a Davis or Cunningham screen and dive to the rim where Boogie can hit him in stride for an easy conversion. Getting Holiday to attack downhill with the ball should also be a mandate this off season — ingrain aggression into his DNA during training camp and it will unlock his scoring as well as open up opportunities for those playing with him. Also, put the ball in Holiday’s hands when Cousins is on the bench. As I’ve stated previously, I hope to not see many minutes where Davis and Cousins are off of the court at the same time, but if those exist Holiday should be on the court getting his as the primary option.
Now, is Holiday worth what Dell is likely to end up paying him? I’m not sure, but what I do know there isn’t really any other way to maximize the Davis/Cousins’ pairing than to bring Holiday back — without incredible lottery luck — because of his defense, his abilities on the offensive end and his perhaps unselfishness to a fault that will allow him to accept turning a great deal of the playmaking over to DeMarcus Cousins. Dell’s history of the overpay and re-upping on sunken costs may not be such a bad thing when it comes to keeping Holiday right here in New Orleans.
Tomorrow, the final part of this series will examine the free agents that should be in the Pelicans crosshairs in building around AD, Boogie and Jrue.