Jrue Holiday, lead guard for the New Orleans Pelicans, has been one of the best players in the league over the last calendar year despite the lack of fanfare.
Of course, you’re here for Pelicans content and we’re all a little biased toward our guys — what with Anthony Davis soaring above defenders and E’Twaun Moore making nearly every floater and 3-pointer he takes — but in at least two ways, this Pelicans team will only win as much as Jrue allows.
First, the numbers: Holiday is averaging just under 20 points per game on 46% shooting — this, despite a slow start from behind the three-point line, firing at about 25%. He’s shooting over 55% on twos, grabbing more than four rebounds per game, dishing more than nine assists per game and making 1.5 steals per game.
Hey, good, but not eye-popping like a classic LeBron season, magical Steph Curry year or Russell Westbrook triple-double campaign. Then again, no other player in the league is currently averaging 19/4/9/1.5.
But, anyways, let’s talk IMPACT.
In the “era of analytics,” NBA analysis relies upon large data sets from, generally, weeks, months or even years of play.
We know now, in his 7th year, that Anthony Davis is a great scorer and defender because we have the data to prove it. We know other players have certain skills, like Kyle Korver from the three-point line or Rudy Gobert defending the paint. But what’s left out is in-game, right here, right now production: can you produce a play NOW because your team NEEDS you in order to win the game, or will your failure in-game get pushed behind more aggregated stats?
This is essentially what the argument AGAINST LeBron James was in his first eight seasons or so. He passed to Donyell Marshall, he “disappointed” against the Celtics in 2010 and he legitimately fell apart in the 2011 Finals.
(Understatement: LeBron’s career is not defined by these failures and he may be the greatest NBA player of all time because of so many other huge seasons, playoff series and individual performances.)
But back to Jrue: he does have the skills to produce, over time, certain numbers that show you he’s a good player, but he also has “the switch,” which we just saw in a terrific come-from-behind win at home against a young Knicks team.
And grading performance in-game takes some context.
Trailing the entire game, with starter Elfrid Payton injured again, Anthony Davis, Julius Randle and Holiday got the Pels back in the game with six or so minutes remaining after trailing by as many as 19. But getting over the hump would necessitate another gear of defensive intuition and execution, and offensive focus.
That’s when Jrue did what only Jrue can do.
Jrue is one of, if not the only, player who can seemingly decide to get a steal from an opposing ball-handler. You could feel it through the TV screen and certainly inside The Blender. His feet get quick, his balance, body position and timing click together, and suddenly, it’s as if the ball-handler is on the defensive. Jrue Holiday becomes defensively aggressive, like an NFL blitz, but done by only one man. It’s an isolation play but in reverse. He has turned a one-game basketball universe inside out:
Meeting Jrue Holiday at mid-court is now a disadvantage for the guy with the ball.
And offense, too
Again, this Knicks game last Friday was 48 minutes of fighting uphill. Sure, Jrue made his steal and got a dunk for Randle. AD was making shots from all over and his defenders couldn’t stop his magnetization to the rim. But even with all that, the Pels still needed a bucket when they were up just 3 with under a minute to play in order to seal the victory.
And that’s when Jrue again locked in.
There might be no better isolation scorer in tense situations than Jrue in these situations; if you’re feeling antsy or worried, how do you feel when Jrue goes to his left and shoots a mid-ranger off the glass? I feel the ball going through the rim before the shot has even left his hands.
You’ve seen it a lot over the last year or so and I’ll guess you’ll see plenty more. Against the Knicks, it was a dagger 3-pointer that basically secured the win.
The numbers aren’t here to back up this argument...not yet anyway. The Pelicans “clutch” situations stats from NBA.com don’t show much in favor of Jrue, or anyone really, other than him being a guy willing to take those shots. But last season, he was damn good so you’ll just have to trust me — Jrue is a “clutch” offensive player.
Hey, if the lame-stream media can perpetuate a “Kobe Bryant is the most clutch” storyline over the course of a decade, we can give Jrue some love, too.
Boiling it down
- These two plays are why Jrue was not going to be involved in any Jimmy Butler trade talks.
- These two plays are why the team invested $150 million in him despite missing a lot of time previously.
- These two plays are how Jrue single-handedly demolished the Trail Blazers backcourt in the 2017 playoffs.
- These two plays are what may allow this team to win another playoff series (or two... or three...) this year.
But above all else, these two plays are what makes Jrue one of a kind and guarantees fans a front row seat to one of the league’s best shows alongside Anthony Davis inside the Smoothie King Center. Expect these two plays to help push Jrue into the All-Star Game, make him another NBA First Team All-Defense member, and maybe even get him onto one of the three All-NBA teams.
These two plays are what can bring Nola its best NBA team ever.