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What a Difference a Year Makes: Jrue Holiday poised for bigger and better things in the 2018-19 season

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As he reaps the fruits of his labor with new endorsements from Morris Bart and Mid City Smiles, Holiday is diligently preparing for the upcoming campaign.

New Orleans Pelicans v Portland Trail Blazers - Game Two Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Nearly 18 months ago, Jrue Holiday was finishing a contract year in disappointing fashion.

After New Orleans acquired DeMarcus Cousins, Holiday struggled to the tune of 25 turnovers in his first five games alongside his new teammate. The error prone basketball forced Alvin Gentry to move third year point guard, Tim Frazier, into the starting lineup not long thereafter, prompting Jrue’s move off the ball.

No one saw this coming, but it was worrisome.

Holiday had found his stride since the new calendar year, averaging 18 points, 7.9 assists, 4.4 rebounds, 3.8 turnovers and 50.2 percent shooting over 22 games heading into the All-Star break. Since then, Holiday is averaging 10 points, 6 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 5.3 turnovers and 28.9 percent shooting. - Justin Verrier, ESPN

Holiday’s struggles would become even more glaring in final minute mistakes against the San Antonio Spurs and then later against the Denver Nuggets, a loss that eliminated the Pelicans from playoff contention.

“We’re not mad about it,” said DeMarcus Cousins. “He made some mistakes, but nobody in here feels like he lost this game. Reality is, it’s not his fault.”

Heading into a critical offseason where the Pelicans needed to make decisions as to the future of General Manager Dell Demps and Head Coach Alvin Gentry, the biggest decision of all rested with Jrue Holiday. Would he fit long term off the ball and how much should the Pelicans be willing to pay him?

The Pelicans handed Holiday $131.8 million dollars over five seasons, which many across the league described as a horrific overpay: Ben Golliver, of SI, Dan Favale, Bleacher Report and Basketball Society.

Jrue Holiday would begin the 2017/18 campaign healthy for the first time, but continued to underwhelm in October and November, shooting just 45% and 33% and then 46% and 25% from three. Fans and ‘blog boys’ alike were frustrated, and for good reason with the $26 million dollar man.

But in December, Jrue Holiday went to work on his most impressive season to date. In 15 games that month, he poured in 22 points, five assists, and four rebounds on 53% and 43% from three to go along with 80% free throw shooting. Jrue would give the Pelicans a mighty +7.2 plus/minus.

Holiday’s final line of 19 points, six assists, five rebounds, and 1.5 steals would easily be good enough for his best single season performance since his All-Star campaign with the 76ers in 2013. Holiday finished with career highs in points (19), field goal percentage (49.4%), two point percentage (56%), effective field goal percentage (54%), rebounds (4.5), blocks (0.8), and defensive win shares (.053).

We remember the offensive highlights:

And the defensive magic:

We remember Jrue’s first playoff triple-double, his 41-point playoff game, his defense on both Damian Lilliard and C.J. McCollum, and his well earned spot on the First Team NBA All-Defensive Team — a far cry from the turbulent times endured by the Holiday family during much of the 2016/17 season.

But just one year later, Jrue’s confidence is at an all-time high, and it isn’t difficult to find his inspiration.

Jrue’s Popularity Growth

The Pelicans round 1 series win against the Portland Trail Blazers brought Jrue Holiday to the forefront of the national conversation. Anthony Davis was glorious, as always, but we’ve come to expect this out of finalist for the game’s two most valuable awards. Instead, the lockdown defense and offensive explosion by Holiday while in the spotlight was the biggest story during the shocking sweep of the third-seeded Blazers. Holiday’s play turned heads, earning television interviews and focused articles by media outlets such as ESPN’s The Get Up, Business Insider, SB Nation, and The Ringer.

After the infamous ‘point’ at Jusuf Nurkic went viral, we should have known Holiday would remain in demand. Well, a few days ago his recent successes translated into several opportunities away from the basketball court.

What’s next for Jrue?

Just one year ago, Jrue Holiday looked lost, his aggressiveness varied from game to game, he was prone to critical turnovers, and had seemingly lost the edge that prompted the Pelicans’ to sell two first round picks to acquire him. Fast forward one year later, and Jrue Holiday is not only one of the top defensive players in the league, he looks untradeable.

“I think the secret’s out on him now...It was interesting when you listen to other players around the league talk about him, they say, ‘Hey, we already knew this. It’s just that, you know, he just had not been on that big stage yet for people to see him.” - General Manager Dell Demps

Off the minutes restriction from two years ago, with a healthy baby girl and family, and two brothers making their own mark in the NBA, the time has never been better for Jrue Holiday to take another step forward in his game.

“He’s gone through some tough times. Two years ago, the injury and being on minute restriction for most of the season. And then last year, obviously everybody is familiar with what he went through from a family standpoint with Lauren, And this was the Jrue that we always anticipated having anyway. It’s not a surprise to us.” – Head Coach Alvin Gentry

So, what can Jrue Holiday accomplish this year?

Could a second career trip to the All-Star game be in store and perhaps at the expense of another shooting guard? For instance, Klay Thompson averaged 20 points, three assists and four rebounds on 49% and 44% from three in 73 games — that was Jrue Holiday’s ballpark despite the slow start to last season.

With Rajon Rondo out of the picture, Holiday will be expected to take a bigger leadership role, both on and off the court. The coaching staff will rely on his confidence to guide the young acquisitions in Elfrid Payton and Julius Randle and the whole team will look to him often to close out hotly contested games — an area he excelled in last season as evidenced by the clutch statistics on NBA.com.

As for his level of fitness, expect Holiday to shine once again because his work ethic has never been in question. He’s likely to pick up right where he left off last spring as he’s been putting in the work this summer. In workout videos with his brother, Justin Holiday, and Pelicans’ second year man, Frank Jackson, Jrue looks as explosive, fresh and strong as ever.

Jrue Holiday has solidified himself as one of the league’s best two-way players, but his play could advance another level. Should his success roll over from last season and he starts strongly out of the gates next fall, Holiday’s latest local endorsement deals will be just the beginning of further proof of his ascension to among the league’s best.