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Jrue Holiday still underappreciated for wide variety of contributions and remains vital to future success of these young New Orleans Pelicans

The motor that drives Jrue Holiday may be his most identifiable trait, but his offensive playmaking and finishing ability are too oft overlooked.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at New Orleans Pelicans Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

So much attention is given to the relentless tenacity Jrue Holiday exerts on every possession.

One of the NBA’s most durable and energetic players, Holiday has placed in the top five in distance travelled as well as top 15 in minutes per game in each of the past three seasons. Over the past three seasons, Holiday has covered nearly 21 marathon’s worth of ground in regular season minutes. His on/off numbers per result have been staggering ranking in the 97th (+14.3) and 96th (+12.5) percentile in the NBA the past two seasons.

Holiday’s motor may be his singular most identifiable and elite skill among his peers. It’s certainly the one that appealed to executive vice president David Griffin when he assumed control of the New Orleans Pelicans one year ago.

“(Jrue) is a killer. He’s not 18 or 19-years-old. He’s a grown man, who knows how to win and plays both sides of the ball.”

We often attribute this level of stamina and desire as the driving force behind Holiday’s defensive skill set that has earned him honors over the past two seasons. He’s ranked in the 92nd percentile or better in limiting opponents points per 100 possessions in each of the past three seasons.

However, this isn’t breaking news to his fans. We’ve long covered how his combined strength, anticipation and hands contribute to frustrating perimeter scorers, impeding transition baskets, even stonewalling bigger players in the post.

Now, Charles LaRocca and I will break down two elements of Holiday’s game that separate him from his peers while flying underneath the radar of his season averages of 19.6 points, 6.9 assists, 4.9 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 2.1 threes — specifically, his passing and elite ability to get to the rim.

Holiday’s Underrated Passing (Preston Ellis)

While Alvin Gentry will continually surmise the Pelicans aren’t at their best as an isolation team, Holiday’s stats beg to differ, having finished in the 81st percentile or higher in isolation scoring in three of the last four seasons. Before the suspension of the 2019-20 campaign, Holiday was on pace to crack that plateau again, registering in the 89th percentile and right alongside more recognized contemporaries like James Harden and DeMar DeRozan.

Holiday’s downhill attacking style, stringent footwork and contorting ability allow him to drive and finish efficiently like few others in the NBA, but the part of his game that often goes unnoticed is his vision and playmaking as a passer.

Often we identify Holiday as a principal off-ball threat after he told reporters, ”Get me off ball,” in November 2018. Over the past three seasons, Holiday has played 60 percent of his minutes at the 2 versus 40 percent at the 1.

But regardless of whether Rajon Rondo, Elfrid Payton or Lonzo Ball stands next to him, Holiday can execute the offense at an elite level. If anything, shouldering the burden of the offense on intermittent possessions only makes Holiday stronger when he does take the reins.

As a scorer, Holiday’s two best seasons in terms of points per shot attempt were in 2017-18 and 2018-19 when he served at the 2 for the majority. With the exception of his last season in Philadelphia when Holiday’s usage was the highest of his career, his passing also hasn’t skipped a beat.

Holiday has been one of the most consistent facilitators over the past five seasons with being just one of seven players to reach 375 assists or more in each campaign as well as being one of nine to total 2250 assists during that period. Among that last group, five players have scored more points, but there’s absolutely no shame in trailing Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry and James Harden.

You may be thinking Holiday’s command of the offense contributes to these numbers, but Holiday’s usage percentage trails all but Lowry significantly during this stretch, and this season 52 players have a higher usage rate than Jrue in a minimum of 500 minutes of action including Dillon Brooks and Jaylen Brown.

Let’s break down how he does it.

Holiday recognizes the trail man (Derrick Favors) and immediately initiates a give-and-go in the high screen and roll. This is one of the more common plays in the NBA, but to be properly executed, the ball handler needs the perfect blend of patience, ball-control and timing.

Holiday properly uses the seal to create separation then traps his defender by him. Once his individual defender has been removed from the action, he forces the rim-protector’s response by feigning the shot creating the space for Favors to slip in and take advantage of the mismatch. Commonplace as we discuss but this whole sequence takes veteran intellect and a high degree of chemistry to pull off in this form.

We see a different iteration of Holiday here with Favors using an on-ball screen to create a mismatch from the wing.

Favors’ seal forces Kristaps Porzingis into no man’s land where he can’t possibly hope to contain Holiday’s agility. His best hope is to use his length to affect Holiday’s shot once he approaches the rim. Seth Curry comes in to mitigate the athletic advantage Holiday has over the big, but Jrue traps the two on the far side of the basket and then wraps a bounce pass right around Porzingis for Favors’ uncontested dunk.

This type of possession needs cohesiveness from both parties as does its predecessor, but the playmaking aspect of this is just if not more critical as the roll-man’s physicality and timing.

Following Josh Okogie’s miss in transition, you can see Brandon Ingram anticipate the defensive rebound and leak out toward the offensive side of the floor. Holiday comes in and snaps the rebound with his left in order to bring both hands to his chest and launch the ball nearly 70 feet, directly into Ingram’s hands.

Hitting a player of Ingram’s stride and length with this degree of rapid response is a higher degree of difficulty than it may appear. Holiday’s was a split-second decision. He needed to feel Ingram’s stride down the sideline before possessing the ball. This is the type of pass that comes with considerable risk as well as reward.

A broken play following a jump-ball, the execution of this basket resembles more that of a backyard scrum than a professional possession.

If you examine the clock below, you’ll see the Pelicans had just five seconds before the end of the second quarter to get off the best possible shot. Holiday wastes no time, immediately drawing both defenders. As he collapses each of the three defenders impeding his path, he feigns a shot by raising the ball over his head before bringing both arms down and hitting the bounce pass to his left hand side where Zion had slipped behind the defense (their focus on Holiday).

Holiday has no time to read-and-react on this possession. This is playmaking instinct to feel Zion slip behind the defense. This play isn’t one that is rehearsed, it’s just trust, feel and execution.

This one’s just for fun but something that’s becoming more and more of regularity with Zion back in the mix.

Holiday draws three defenders who look to slow his momentum toward the basket before firing up a high-arching pass to Zion just beside the rim. Rajon Rondo and Lonzo Ball have spoiled us with this aplenty in recent years, but it’s a pass Holiday has made countless times over the course of his career too.

These are just a couple of the 4529 assists Jrue Holiday has compiled in his 11-year career, but it’s a nice glimpse into why he should be considered one of the NBA’s best facilitators — regardless of what position he occupies in the backcourt. Barring injury, he should cross the 5000+ dime threshold next season, becoming one of just 65 players all-time to do so.

Holiday’s Underrated Finishing (Charles LaRocca)

Think of the top finishers in the league. Holiday’s name is rarely brought up despite that being arguably the biggest weapon in his offensive arsenal. He’s constantly driving and putting pressure on opposing defenses while able to finish inside with either hand. That willingness and ability to attack is a key component of the Pelicans’ thriving offense.

Below are some key numbers that illustrate how frequently and effectively Jrue can drive and finish:

Drives per game

Holiday ranks 14th in the league when it comes to drives per game, ahead of players like Damian Lillard, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving. Those are household names, but don’t mistaken this to mean that Jrue is better at finishing than this group. We’re here to highlight that driving is an essential part of his game.

Percentage of shots within five feet

42.7 percent of Holiday’s shots come from inside five feet, and on those shots he is shooting 58.8 percent. Per Cleaning The Glass, he ranks in the 85th percentile in shots taken at the rim among combo guards (40 percent) while converting them in the 90th percentile during this season.

Among those elite guards posting a high volume of shots near the rim this season, Holiday barely trails James Harden and Russell Westbrook but is slightly ahead of Damian Lillard and Jayson Tatum in efficiency. That’s some mighty fine company. This not only displays that Holiday places a premium on attacking but also that he possesses the skill level to finish well around the basket.

Holiday’s 398 field goal attempts within five feet ranks as his most prevalent shot location, but note that the next highest range (201 attempts) sits from 25-29 feet out. Thus, Jrue’s focus is on layups and three-pointers, the most enviable shots in basketball.

One of the best qualities of a great scorer is the type of shots that are attempted. Jrue fits that profile to a tee. In 2018-19, a year in which the Pelicans struggled throughout, Holiday’s presence on the floor helped the team rank in the 92nd percentile of points per shot attempt while outscoring their opponents by 8.5 points ranking in the 96th percentile.

His presence on the offensive end makes life easier for his teammates and the offensive statistics can’t help but reveal it.

How He Attacks

Holiday’s effective attacking ability is based on craftiness and tight handles. Jrue’s entire offense starts with his makeup. He’s one of the strongest guards in the league whose shiftiness allows him to maneuver easily into the paint and either finish or find teammates.

A common complaint about Jrue from some of the Pelicans’ fanbase is his tendency to pound the rock, but there’s a massive difference in dribbling aimlessly and dribbling purposefully. Holiday sits most certainly in the latter of those categories.

Holiday plays at his own speed and can create space with a sudden change in direction. Similar to his finishing prowess, Jrue’s name gets left off elite handle conversations because it isn’t super flashy; however, go look at some highlights. Notice he has an excellent in-out move that he uses to freeze defenders. Out of the pick and roll, he has a very subtle hesi that he uses to freeze bigs and blow by them. If the defender is overplaying Jrue has a crossover that he uses to get back to his left.

We always talk about Jrue as an elite defensive player so I think that fact can at times overshadow what he brings to the offensive side of the ball. When you examine the makeup of Jrue Holiday, the number of weaknesses in his game is slim. He can give you a little bit of everything. There are moments he has shown trouble of putting it all together, but usually his two-way prowess shines through amazingly well and deserves far greater recognition.

Bringing Holiday Back (Preston Ellis)

Having a versatile playmaker who can both lead by example with ferocious spirit and create easy looks for younger teammates is something this New Orleans core desperately needs going forward. We can expect for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson to one day grow into much bigger roles and assume a wider range of responsibilities, but they’re not there yet.

Veterans like Holiday will always be critical to the success of good teams. To further expand on the evidence beyond his league-leading on/off numbers, Holiday and Favors form the most impactful two-man pairing on the Pelicans roster at +12.5 per 100 possessions among those that played 450 minutes or more. With Zion, Holiday was +13.4 in 424 minutes.

Holiday wears a lot of different hats, but fills important roles admirably and positively impacting winning. While his age and extension eligibility make him a rich long-term cost, it’s up to executive vice president David Griffin to make the math work and continue forging continuity with a starting lineup that was simply playing better than anyone else in the NBA.

I’ll have a similar article highlighting Derrick Favors’ impact soon, but for now, should the Pelicans lock Holiday up beyond his current contract, play him out or trade him? Please comment below with your take!