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Jrue Holiday swallowing souls of NBA’s best scorers, could be on pace for Defensive Player of the Year Award

The Jrue-Jitsu is real and it’s spectacular!

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

The last guard to win the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award was Gary Payton, way back in 1996, when the Seattle Supersonics were a dominant team annually while New Orleans was still over six years away from hosting the Hornets/Pelicans franchise.

Fast forward to today and Jrue Holiday is making a strong bid for his candidacy early here in the 2018-19 season to end the long-standing drought which has exclusively praised forwards and centers for the last 22 years.

Coming off a campaign where he was named to the All-NBA First Defensive Team, Holiday is no longer flying under the radar. Opponents are aware of what awaits when facing the Pelicans, especially if you’re considered a number one option on the wing — yet no one with similar size has remotely patented how to circumvent the Jrue-Jitsu. Holiday has superbly handled some of the toughest assignments in the league thus far on the young schedule. Here’s a list of all opponents he has guarded for a minimum of 20 possessions in a game.

Assignment Possessions Field Goal Makes Field Goal Attempts FG% Turnovers
Devin Booker 51 3 9 33.3% 3
Zach Lavine 38 4 12 33.3% 1
Paul George 36 1 8 12.5% 1
Russell Westbrook 28 1 3 33.3% 6
DeMar DeRozan 67 8 20 40.0% 2
Kevin Durant 66 5 11 54.5% 1
Gary Harris 24 3 10 30.0% 0
Joe Ingles 22 0 4 0.0% 0
Donovan Mitchell 24 3 4 75.0% 0
Caris LeVert 42 4 15 26.7% 1
Tobias Harris 27 1 4 25.0% 0
Lou Williams 23 1 7 14.3% 2
Total 448 34 107 31.8% 17

Note: There was no data listed for the Pelicans-Kings contest from October 19th and Holiday didn’t guard any particular player for more than 20 possessions in the November 1st matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Of course, Kevin Durant, who stands around seven feet tall and is arguably the single best offensive weapon in the league, found success against Holiday, but as for the rest of the group, they’ve largely struggled and the names read like a who’s who list. Seven of the top 20 scorers currently in the league — including DeMar DeRozan, Paul George and Russell Westbrook — have combined to shoot a paltry 31.8% from the field!

As fun as all of the misses have been, please note though not only the meager field goal percentages but the smaller than usual amount of shot attempts and the resulting number of turnovers versus made baskets. On average, teams make about 3 field goals for every turnover they commit so the 1:2 ratio posted by Holiday is really outstanding.

A longtime priority for defenses is to force role players to do more than they’re accustomed to out on the floor. The thinking is, get the ball out of the hands of stars and primary decision-makers and the odds of an opponent finding success drop substantially. However, if that doesn’t work, Jrue Holiday makes for a fantastic fallback option — much to the chagrin of Zach LaVine and Devin Booker in recent days.

“I think Zach LaVine is a heck of a player,” said Alvin Gentry after the Pelicans 107-98 win over the Bulls. “He can get his own shot. He’s as athletic as they come. I thought Jrue (Holiday) did an outstanding job on him. I really did. I don’t know how many baskets he actually scored with Jrue guarding him, but I know he made it very difficult for him.”

“Jrue (Holiday) was sensational on (Devin) Booker and you are not going to guard him any better than that,” said Gentry after New Orleans victory over the Suns. “If you think about the fact that he was 4-for-11 and one of them was the fifty-foot three-point shot and the other ones he had problems getting them off on Jrue. I thought Jrue did as good of a job as you are ever going to do guarding that kid.”

Jrue Holiday has picked up right where he left off after a fantastic showing in the 2018 playoffs, smothering assignment after assignment. In fact, he’s consistently been so great since the start of this season that it begs the question: Should Holiday’s defense be placed on a higher pedestal than that of teammate Anthony Davis?

It’s incredibly tough to say no, and if this trend continues for the rest of the 2018-19 campaign, lets hope voters remember to give credit to whom credit is due.