Several times now on The Bird Calls Podcast, I’ve struggled with my phrasing when trying to weave a metaphor fitting of the unexpectedly orgasmic experience that Jrue Holiday has become.
Jrue was always a viscous defender with exceptional versatility, but offensively — at least for the majority of his Pelicans tenure — Jrue was a reserved or an even shy offensive player — descriptions that are now incredibly inappropriate. His offensive mentality has become that classic Hollywood trope of reserved nerdy girl takes off her glasses with the help of the most popular girl in school and is now the new hot thing. Then she has a bunch of hoop horny dudes arguing over who noticed her first — hopefully he never lets it get to his head and then finds himself with a perfectly timed slap of humility to humble him some while teaching him a valuable life lesson as one does in such ugly duckling like teen dramedies.
Let’s skip the heart-warming humility act and go straight to the valuable life lesson: never stop attacking.
Anyway, on the pods, I continued to throw out variations of “Dress-Code-Enforced Iverson.” I couldn’t help but see very Iverson-like qualities in Jrue’s game suddenly, but there was a restrained aggression and a more calming reserved presence that he would create. However, I just kept unsuccessfully tongue-tying my way through it — but then suddenly in the chaos of Game 4 my thumbs and tongue untied — I’m fast-forwarding this highlight reel to 2:46 — the exact moment — the bucket that served as the red pill.
As soon as that ball cleared the bottom of the net, I immediately without any real thought sent out the following two tweets.
From Iverson to Duncan: a Jrue Holiday Basket Story— Kevin Barrios (@kevinbforbounce) April 21, 2018
Jrue Holiday is the Tim Duncan of Allen Iversons— Kevin Barrios (@kevinbforbounce) April 21, 2018
My phone was struggling to work inside of the Smoothie King Center so the two messages entered the Twittersphere out of order and about 40 minutes later, putting them a little out of context.
While less herky-jerky and with a smoother, almost gliding motion (which is why Jrue also reminds me of The Silver Surfer), that initial move was very reminiscent of the famous Allen Iverson crossover stepback. If you were unfortunate enough to miss the peak Iverson era of the NBA, my sincere condolences. Please immediately follow this up with a deep highlight reel dive, and check out the documentary, “Iverson” (which is on Netflix). For those who haven’t seen it, or for those that can’t ever get enough of it, here’s a highlight reel of crossover stepbacks care of The Answer.
Jrue follows up his homage to A.I. with a Tim Duncan signature top corner of the box bank shot. No matter how old you are, you’ve seen peak Tim Duncan bank shots. If you are the same kind of person that looks at a fully stocked jukebox filled with hits and quality obscurities and you feel the need to pay money to make everyone around you hear “Hotel California” or “Stairway to Heaven” again, you’ll love this compilation of Tim Duncan off the glass. Don’t get me wrong, I do find these kind of sexy too...but I mean, those crossovers though...
I thought my “Jrue Holiday is the Tim Duncan of Allen Iversons” tweet was encapsulating a single moment in time and would self destruct like an exploding letter from Chief Quimby as soon as 30 seconds had passed.
However, due to the huge drain on my cellular carrier inside The Blender, the tweet didn’t even exist until 30-40 minutes after the play that inspired it. I was actually going to delete it because it was stuck in drafts, however, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me on a deeper level. I let it continue to try to force itself into existence. Days later, it is still getting likes and retweets.
Look, I’m not trying to “good interneting me” myself on the back, but this is the most successful immediate react-thought that I’ve ever had that could be measured in some tangible manner — likes and RTs validation acquired — so I decided I should investigate it further.
The Answer in Paragraph Form: Holiday as Iverson vs Putting Fun in Big Fundamentals: Holiday as Duncan
If you took Iverson’s extremely quick and jerky coming in hot handles and drives, then ice blended them into a thick and smooth substance that decisively rolls out of the blender into a glass with no excess splatter, you have the Jrue Holiday And1 Mixtape. However, that glass could overflow if you aren’t paying attention — the smoothness of the flow disguises the quickness. With similar mechanics — just slightly different aesthetics — Holiday gets to the rim with tremendous success.
During the regular season, Jrue had 433 shot attempts inside the restricted area — 34.8% of all of his shot attempts (highest of any shot location) — finishing at a 64.4 FG% clip. In the first round of the playoffs, he’s upped that to 44.4% of his attempts for a seemingly impossible 80.6 FG% conversion rate!
For reference, Allen Iverson shot the ball 457 times inside the restricted area during his MVP 2000-01 season — 25.2% of all of his shot attempts — and finished at a rate of 64.1%. As a clearly more ball dominate player, you’d expect there to be more attempts; however, with Iverson’s reputation as a selfie-shot creator and finisher, Holiday’s superior efficiency at the rim and percentage of point blank shots taken is kind of eye-opening.
Of course, The Answer was a volume guy and clearly, “The Guy” (arguably “The Only Guy” at least offensively) on a team that lacked any other go-to-bucket-getters so the degree of difficulty should be increased when you are the defense’s sole focus. Iverson averaged 31.1 points that MVP season. Theo Ratliff was second on the team in PPG with 12.4, with a decent margin of those buckets coming from putbacks on Iverson misses. Aaron McKie was probably the next best player at creating for himself and he only scored 11.6 PPG.
So A.I. didn’t have anyone like Anthony Davis or Nikola Mirotic to help draw the defense’s attention — that doesn’t make what Holiday is doing less impressive — it just allows for some perspective. Jrue isn’t better than Iverson. He’s just extremely similar and yet somehow extremely different — like how Brooklyn style, Chicago style (if you want to say this is really lasagna quiche I won’t argue, but it is still delicious when nailed) and Neapolitan style are all pizza or how a banh mi is still a poboy.
Back in early December, Rajon Rondo credited Jrue as being one of the best one-on-one scorers in the league — a claim that seemed ridiculous at the time. Fast forward to the Pelicans’ 10-game winning streak...
...After watching that reel listen to Iverson’s peers in their broken ankle support group.
Both guys are heavy on crossovers and crossovers combined with step backs. Both can finish with both hands — often going left around the rim. Both have been dynamic in the open floor. Both have the body control to reverse in tight spaces.
Both are better midranged shooters than 3 point marksmen. Both are also tenacious defenders and complete seemingly impossible hustle plays.
I told Jrue one day at practice that I could score on him 4 out of 10 times. I didn’t even get in the paint ♂️— Brandon (@The_Homie_B) April 15, 2018
While both Iverson and Holiday were elite robbers — I often refer to Jrue as, “Mr. Steal Your Ball” — Holiday isn’t the gambler that Iverson was. Both played the lanes, but Jrue stays within the defensive scheme. Iverson was always looking to turn defense into a big score and could sometimes be Chevy Chase in Dirty Work.
This is one area where Jrue really begins to fill in the gap between Iverson and Duncan. Holiday’s size (he’s 4” taller than Iverson with greater core strength and wingspan) as well as his heady, educated guesses on defense make him one of the most versatile defenders in the league. We’ve seen him guard every team’s best perimeter threat while also spending time on guys like Kevin Durant, Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kristaps Porzingis, Joe Ingles and Marc Gasol; often flipping a perceived mismatch into an advantage for the Pelicans.
All of this versatility, fundamentals and his superior defensive IQ and instincts have been compiled into a centerfold or money shot compilation by friend of The Bird Calls pod, Kumar (@FearTheBrown) of Bourbon Street Shots — make sure your parents or significant other are out of the house, dim the lights and grab a Kleenex.
When you watch this highlight reel of Tim Duncan rejecting the best-of-the-best, pay particular attention to those blocks on Harden. The body adjustments, patience and timing are should remind you of what you’ve seen from Holiday.
However, defense isn’t the only intersection for Jrue and Timmy. A lot of Holiday’s offensive game is also reminiscent of the Big Fundamental. Jrue Holiday is excellent at sealing his defender and making himself available in the post.
Besides being able to make himself a mismatch when defending bigs in the post, Holiday’s old school big man moves when posting up also make him a viable scoring threat from that position. I’ve seen him turn over both shoulders, scoop over and under defenders and even employ a hook shot — and then there’s always a Tim Duncan-like spin and step-back bank shot off of the top corner of the box.
Early in the season, while Jrue was still trying to find himself and we were all trying to figure out ways to get him going, fellow Bird writer Chris Conner (at the time with Pelican DeBrief) penned a piece begging for more Jrue post-ups, extolling the skills he has that make this a desired option — he’s remarkably crafty with his back to the basket for his size.
“The numbers show that Holiday is 8 for 10 posting up this season. This is slightly remarkable as the Pistons’ Andre Drummond has only made 11 post field goals himself. In limited attempts, Holiday is also tied or superior to several household names in that category. That list includes John Wall, Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, and Ben Simmons.” — Chris Conner
Then there is the true measure of a star: coming up with key play in the clutch. Iverson and Duncan, while polar opposites, both have hearts that pumped ice in pressure situations. They lived for the big moment. Check this article from Adam Fromal of Bleacher Report that has Duncan and Iverson in the top 25 all-time in the clutch.
As Doug Sibor explained for Complex.com last year—surely thinking back to that performance, among many others—Iverson is one of the 20 players throughout NBA history you’d most want to take a last shot.
”Especially in his prime, the diminutive Iverson was burdened with a heavier load than anyone in the NBA, with the 76ers leaning heavily on him for offense,” Sibor pens. “AI’s ability to get to the rim and smooth shooting stroke meant that when his team needed him most, he almost always delivered.”
As March winded down Bird Writes editor, Oleh Kosel wrote an article praising the Pelicans success in clutch situations. At the time the Pelicans were a top-5 clutch time team, and much of this was due to the play of Jrue Holiday on both ends of the floor.
Not only was Jrue shooting 50% from the field and 44.4% from deep with 33 assists, but he also had 13 steals and 3 blocks in those game changing minutes (Anthony Davis with 8 steals and 12 blocks wasn’t slouching either). Jrue was once untrustworthy in the clutch — overthinking his way into turnovers — however, in his latest form he’s an aggressive decisive scorer that can seal a game defensively with a key block or steal.
I hope the lines are blurring for you with Jrue’s on the court play, but there’s more than that to this comparison. I was always hesitant to use “the Dress Code” part in my initial attempt to re-nickname Holiday. The dress code was enacted by David Stern in 2005. The Malice in the Palace was the tipping point the NBA needed to step in and curb the new era of self-expression that players like Allen Iverson brought with them.
Throughout Iverson’s career, he was jabbed by white media members like Woody Paige. The dress code was a very translucent reaction to black players — specifically Iverson — expressing themselves. Fake new-age liberal and the greatest coach of superstars, Phil Jackson (can you tell that I never liked Phil Jackson?), had been trying to suppress the players freedoms behind the scenes and even publicly using ESPN and other outlets to express his concerns.
As quoted in this Ball is Life article, Phil Jackson told ESPN, “The players have been dressing in prison garb the last five or six years. All the stuff that goes on, it’s like gangster, thuggery stuff. It’s time. It’s been time to do that.”
These statements are strikingly similar to Houston Texans owner Bob McNair’s plea to other NFL owners that they “can’t have the inmates running the prison” in response to NFL players peacefully protesting police violence against unarmed black men and institutionalized racism in general by kneeling during the national anthem.
It was the racist connotations of the dress code that had me feeling uneasy using it to describe Jrue’s game as a more subdued version of Iverson’s. However, thankfully the NBA has evolved into an extremely forward thinking sports league that not only encourages self-expression through fashion, but also of players political and social beliefs. Allen Iverson took the lumps for players like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook and James Harden — allowing James, Wade, Anthony and Paul the freedom to be very vocal about injustices while also allowing guys like Harden and Westbrook to express themselves through fashion.
Unfortunately, we all know too well how Jrue Holiday looks in a suit. Early in his New Orleans tenure, he suffered through stress fractures in his left leg that stole nearly two seasons from him — as well as a facial fracture courtesy of Kristaps Porzingis’ elbow. While his suits were not as boring as Tim Duncan’s wardrobe, they would not have been found anywhere near Iverson’s closet. However, this doesn’t mean that Jrue doesn’t have a flair for the dramatic or style. I mean, how many other players have their stats broken down by their different hairstyles in the same season?
It was the winning fro hairdo pic.twitter.com/xKsxZ2mamC— Adam Clausen (@adam_clausen7) April 5, 2018
While Jrue’s personality and demeanor are closer linked to the serious or comically corny Tim Duncan, his inner Iverson has started creeping out of late as he is being less guarded in postgame interviews and letting himself show emotion on the court — see him hyping the New Orleans crowd up as he checked out of Game 3 or checking fans in Portland.
And before we forget, Jrue already has his stepping over Tyronn Lue signature taunt photo.
I’m waiting on someone to put twister underneath him pic.twitter.com/PaWpwt10Xw— Bryan Bienemy (@BryanTNR) April 20, 2018
Who wore it best?
This poll is closed
You can also look at adversity to draw parallels. Allen Iverson came up in a much tougher environment than Jrue Holiday, but they have both been through some shit.
A.I. was wrongfully imprisioned in high school, taunted in college and often used as an example by the NBA front office and the media that once cared about maintaining or restoring a white fanbase that was losing interest after the demise of Larry Bird.
Jrue Holiday not only battled his own injuries, but he also dealt with his pregnant wife needing brain surgery to remove a tumor in addition to all of the other issues on and off of the court that came along with being a Pelican in a very unlucky time. He was also trying to find his niche as a player that was constantly asked to change roles — while his price tag (two first round picks and now a monster contract) was constantly questioned.
Both players are models of toughness.
Like Holiday — Iverson and Duncan could play either position for their body type. Tim Duncan was gifted the presence of David Robinson upon his entrance to the league and immediately blossomed alongside him. Iverson would start out on his own, but the Sixers would eventually acquire Eric Snow (check this out) — his Rondo — that would allow Iverson to be ultra-aggressive on and off the ball as a combo guard, much like Holiday is for the Pelicans now. Rondo has been the rabbi to oversee Jrue’s Ball Mitzvah and the nation is converting to Jruedaism — wave of fandom that would also come to Iverson despite much slander.
Finally and most astonishingly, if you average the career averages of Iverson and Duncan, they are Jrue Holiday’s exact stat line from the Portland series down to the percentages.
What isn’t astonishing is that is absolutely untrue — unless you are artistically bad at math — unless it is true...I didn’t actually try to figure it out (no way it’s true right?) — however, the use of stats — no matter how incorrectly — sometimes bears more weight than actual facts.
Still — Jrue Holiday is the Time Duncan of Allen Iversons and as we enter the Western Conference Semifinals let’s hope Jrue is a perfect average of this...
...when the New Orleans Pelicans match up against this era’s super team, the Golden State Warriors.