There is no single player on the New Orleans Pelicans who has been asked to do more this season than Jrue Holiday, and there are signs that his overburdened workload may finally be catching up to him.
Jrue’s typical checklist includes being one of the team’s primary ball-handlers, decision-makers and scorers, and defensively, harassing the hell out of the opponent’s biggest threat on the perimeter, whether that’s guarding a fleet of foot point guard or grinding against a larger framed small forward.
And since Elfrid Payton largely vanished from the rotation four games into the schedule, Holiday has been asked to juggle all of his balls in the air much more rapidly and often — and I think we just witnessed the effects of this taxing amount of duties this past week.
The New Orleans Pelicans, fresh of six wins in seven games, were expected to fare well on their most recent three-game trip through the northeast during the Thanksgiving weekend. They had dominated the Eastern Conference to a tune of a perfect 4-0 record, a year after handling them easily as evidenced by a shiny 21-9 mark. The Sixers, who had not lost a game at home, were always going to present a challenge, but the Knicks and Wizards were a couple of teams languishing towards the bottom of the standings.
To the shock of many, the Pelicans lost all three contests, and more significantly, gave away the last two during the final frame — something which had not happened previously at all on the schedule.
Prior to the ugly defeats in New York and Washington, New Orleans had the best fourth quarter net rating in the league at +10.0! They ranked among the best at corralling rebounds, shooting efficiency and defending. Honestly, the Pelicans had not suffered any ‘bad losses’ until Black Friday rolled around and left an ugly stain on the resume.
Many have pointed to Anthony Davis straining his right hip in the Knicks game as the reason things went terribly south, but I think the bigger culprit lies elsewhere: Holiday’s fourth quarter performances.
Whether it’s physical, mental or both, I believe Jrue Holiday is suffering from some fatigue down the stretch of games. He’s being asked to do it all the entire time he’s out on the court, and it’s super important to note that the Pelicans just played six games in a nine-day stretch. It’s impossible to imagine Holiday was as sharp as he normally is — even for a guy with his experience and conditioning.
Over the previous three games, Holiday made just four shots in 21 field goal attempts, this after posting a 45.7% field goal percentage in fourth quarters through the first 17 games. He appeared in nearly 32 of the possible 36 minutes, while immersed in a high pressure environment and with no one other wings available to shoulder a big chunk of the burden. He was averaging 84.8 touches per game, the third highest figure in the league. but during the last three games, that mark jumped up to 97.7 — all the while chasing around John Wall, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jimmy Butler in the span of three games over four nights.
E’Twaun Moore is enjoying a breakout season, but he’s not a guy the offense can run through where he can consistently get others involved. Don’t ask Darius Miller or Wesley Johnson to make a play for someone else because that skill is not remotely in their tool chest. Frank Jackson is a rookie who missed an entire season so he needs more developmental time. And most cumbersome of all, Ian Clark and Tim Frazier have been abject disasters, both shooting 30% from the field since October 27th and have been huge net negatives while on the floor.
Thus, it’s completely unfair to place the blame on the guy who was given too much responsibility once the injuries hit. Holiday needs support and that assistance isn’t currently active on the Pelicans roster. Some have advocated for another wing or even a star, but at best, that move would be lateral in nature as you would likely lose several key contributors and take away from the Pelicans identity of playing big and playing fast.
New Orleans is at their finest when they’re racing out in transition and trying to stuff it down opponent’s throats or crashing the glass hard for second chance points. Did you know the Pelicans are 8-1 when they’ve scored 12 fastbreak points or more? Did you also know that the squad is 9-4 when they’ve scored 15 second chance points or more? Head coach Alvin Gentry wants his team to play fast and have plenty of ball and player movement because it’s worked with a high degree of success in the past.
You don’t go away from what works in this league.
We’re witnessing first hand on why the front office was so interested in signing both Elfrid Payton and Rajon Rondo this past summer. Jrue Holiday cannot walk on water all the time so missing Payton for another five weeks presents a big problem, especially if the bench continues to give no relief.
Someone recently asked me if the New Orleans Pelicans can survive with the existing roster while Payton remains sidelined. A week ago, I assumed they would be fine as Gentry’s system and the playmaking prowess of Julius Randle and Anthony Davis would give Jrue Holiday enough assistance in the interim.
I think I was wrong.
Holiday is under siege, and with 10 games in the next 17 days on the slate, things may get worse before they get better.