While digging into why Anthony Davis is poised to have his best season — a potential MVP campaign should things fall in line (a belief that was also recently echoed by The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks), I decided to power rank every player he’s shared the court with in New Orleans. A daunting task that lead to some memory gymnastics and deep searches, but one that was also a fun, sometimes depressing, yet clearly hopeful look into the past, present and future of this franchise and its face.
In an attempt to not have you choking on force-feed nostalgia of names like Lou Amundson, Roger Mason Jr., or short-lived fan favorite, Ish Smith (or “Q93 Curse Word” as we called him), this will be broken up into several parts. First up, how Jrue Holiday leapfrogged a perennial All-Star and 2-time All-NBA big man. Debate away.
1. Jrue Holiday
Holiday has had a lot of ups and downs in New Orleans following his All-Star season (2012-13) in Philadelphia — including a very rough welcome to the season speech on opening night in New Orleans where his mic didn’t work initially and he went all muscle memory and and thanked the fans, “on behalf of myself and the Sixers...” However, looking back on that final season in Philly, you can see what made Dell Demps go all in with two first round picks to bring Holiday to New Orleans.
A lot of what seemed like new skills and a new mentality last season — Jrue’s best in the NBA — were on display as a Sixer. His handle was slick, he was varying his speed to break down a defender, he was getting to the rim and the mid-range game was also on fine display. It’s easy to forget, but before the initial stress-fracture disclosure, Holiday was looking like what Dell was surely expecting in New Orleans — affecting all aspects of the game — 14.3pts, 7.9asts, 4.2rbs, 1.6stls with career bests in total FG% and in three-point percentages. Despite his aforementioned hiccups on the pregame speech, his opening night performance against the Indiana Pacers was full of evidence that he had the tools to be the offensive player we witnessed in New Orleans this past season.
Unfortunately, that stress fracture would cause Holiday to miss 48 games that season, and as it reared its ugly head again the following campaign, he’d miss another 42 games. He finally put the leg issues behind him in 2015-16, but as John Reid — then of Nola.com — would suggest following an orbital fracture, the injury prone tag would saddle Jrue’s reputation and value.
New Orleans Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a right orbital wall fracture after colliding into New York Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis’ elbow on Monday night with 56.1 seconds remaining in the game.
Holiday returned against the Knicks after missing the previous two games with a left toe injury. Since his arrival in New Orleans in 2013, Holiday has struggled to avoid injuries.
The following offseason would be filled with excitement as an injury-ravaged roster would seemingly be at full strength entering the regular season, fulfilling the promise that Demps’ acquisitions had flashed on paper and in previous locations, but never had any chance to gel due to trainer visits, x-rays, surgeries and missed diagnosis. However, Holiday’s pregnant wife would be diagnosed with a brain tumor that required surgery. The Pelicans gave Jrue an open-ended leave of absence and his replacement at the point — Tyreke Evans — would again fall victim to his damaged knees, leading to another terrible start for the Pelicans.
Holiday returned in late November and his role with the team would be constant only in change as injuries and a trade for DeMarcus Cousins had him and Alvin Gentry struggling to figure out where to play him and what to ask of him. After the trade Holiday’s shooting would nose-dive. He’d go from 46.9% to 42.6% from the field and a dismal 30.1% from deep while posting 39.3% prior to Boogie’s arrival. Despite the Pelicans adding a third All-Star whose offensive pedigree should have made Holiday’s life easier, his overall offensive rating dropped 6 points. The decision-making was in question after fans saw him seemingly make mistake after mistake in crunch time — including a total meltdown in what should have been an April 4th victory over the Denver Nuggets, which was thoughtfully broken down by Bird Writes editor and consistent Holiday defender, Oleh Kosel.
An incredibly mystifying year came to a head Tuesday night for Jrue Holiday. In front of thousands of screaming fans eager to see the Pelicans pull out a vibrant victory over the Nuggets in the home finale, the New Orleans guard simply mishandled his dribble, committing an unthinkable over-and-back violation with 18.2 seconds remaining in a one-possession game. Mere seconds later, Holiday had a chance to redeem himself, yet another turnover ensued when he tried to force a pass to DeMarcus Cousins.
Jrue was seemingly having focus issues — which can be expected when trying to balance a basketball future in a contract year and also worrying about a recovering wife and newborn at home. However, these lapses in concentration, the tendency to become passive on offense, and years of missed games had many in New Orleans questioning the huge payday he received with the bad taste of that Nuggets game jabbing at their taste buds.
I was questioning it at that price as well, though I did believe re-signing Jrue was a must. Despite Jrue’s prior tendencies to be passive on the offensive end, he’s always risen to the challenge defensively, and his defensive prowess and versatility was key to the positive progression the Pels were making on that end despite having Tim Frazier and DeMarcus Cousins on the floor. It was easy for Pelicans fans to forget what Jrue was doing in Philly and in the early days of his inaugural season in New Orleans because due to injury and discomfort in his role those skills and mentality were only seen in flashes until this season. The “New Jrue, who this?” season.
It’s not surprising that the above highlight reel is made up entirely of post-Boogie play. While Holiday was already in the midst of an impressive perception-changing season, he got even better on the heels of DeMarcus Cousins’ injury.
Offensively, we were seeing a more confident and aggressive Holiday. However, once Boogie went down, we were also seeing a more versatile and effective defense that you could argue Jrue Holiday anchored — despite Anthony Davis being voted 3rd in the Defensive Player of the Year race. Prior to Cousins’ injury, the Pelicans had the 21st rated defense, but Holiday — who would be voted 1st team All-Defense — and the increased versatility upfront with the Davis and Nikola Mirotic pairing had the Pelicans stiffen to the 6th best defensive rating after the injury. Some of this was scheme and personnel, but a lot of it was Jrue taking his already impressive defensive attributes and pushing it to an unfathomable next level.
At #25 of the TOP 60 SWATS from the 2017-18 season... @Jrue_Holiday11 of the @PelicansNBA! #NBABlockWeek #BESTofNBA pic.twitter.com/w0Uedv5ejz— NBA (@NBA) August 16, 2018
Watch “Lockup” bro. It’s a four part series about a guard shackling various trailblazers. Just run it by Jrue first brodie. Enjoy ✊ https://t.co/C1rLgyjvN2— Chris Conner (@Impatientbull) August 14, 2018
That level as well as that freedom and comfort on offense was spelled out in the blood of the Portland Trailblazers vaunted backcourt in round 1 of the playoffs.
That playoff series performance led me to compare Holiday to Allen Iverson and Tim 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....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.
The post-Boogie stretch for Holiday and really the entire 2017-18 season was the best sidekick stretch Anthony Davis has had to date in his New Orleans’ tenure. DeMarcus Cousins may have had more impressive offensive games prior to his injury, but Holiday being this impactful on both sides of the ball clinch him the top spot in my power rankings — and should have him playing in an All-Star game again in the near future despite being in a much tougher Western Conference guard race.
2. DeMarcus Cousins
DeMarcus Cousins was the most dominant offensive center in the NBA when he arrived in New Orleans. As he continues to rehabilitate his Achilles tendon in the Bay area, uncertainty may hover over his reign to that claim, but that uncertainty (and the above case for Jrue Holiday being the better player and fit alongside Davis) should not diminish how great Cousins was in New Orleans. Last season, the Pelicans boasted the 6th best offense in the league when Cousins was on the floor — that dropped to 16th once he was injured. As I discussed in my previous article, Boogie was very much in the early season discussions for MVP. Performances like this kept him frothing up to the surface despite the Pels hovering around .500 early on.
Cousins agility and footwork for someone his size are that of a civil disagreement on Twitter — extremely rare. It is reminiscent of the dancing hippos from Fantasia as he glides to the rim with grace and elegance — and often a twirl.
While he would sometimes over-dribble into a turnover, Boogie’s handle is exceptional for a player of his height. He can break your ankles and then dunk on your help defender’s will to live. He can spread the floor with his range, and also create for others.
His playmaking and the space he gave Anthony Davis was a constant talking point going back to media day where Davis’ gushed over what Cousins’ presence provided him. While Holiday and Rondo weren’t great fits alongside Boogie — Anthony Davis, E’Twaun Moore (57.8% from deep in December) and Darius Miller (56.1% from deep in November with a 134 Offensive Rating) thrived off of the attention Boogie drew and his ability to create once the defense focused on him.
Cousins’ departure has certainly tarnished his tenure for many in New Orleans, but we should never belittle his talent. He had flaws for sure — effort and versatility on defense, holding the ball and freelancing outside of the offensive system, but there were games Cousins won by himself. Unfortunately, the #DoItBig era was cut too short to judge its long-term success, but Cousins’ replacement offers a 2500 Lumen Feit Bulb of hope that he can actually make this Pelicans roster a better fit for Davis, Holiday and the coaching staff, so stay tuned for the next few teammate rankings coming tomorrow.