The New Orleans Pelicans’ season is one of the most unfortunate in recent NBA history. There have been too many injuries to count, preventing the pieces that led the team to the playoffs in 2015 from ever finding their comfort level again.
Barring a miracle, they will miss the postseason, which makes the decision to keep the core together look like a huge mistake in retrospect. A team that once looked to be up-and-coming now seems stuck.
There is one silver lining to this lost year, however, and it could single-handedly change the franchise’s outlook going forward: Jrue Holiday has been healthy and has approached the level he showed when he made the All-Star team three seasons ago.
Holiday was meant to be the second best player in New Orleans, behind Anthony Davis. That’s why general manager Dell Demps traded two first round picks for him. At the time, he was a dynamic scoring guard who excelled at defense and was starting to figure out how to distribute in the pick and roll for Philadelphia. He was supposed to help The Brow reach his potential.[newsbox style=”nb1″ display=”tag” tag=”Pelicans” title=”More New Orleans Pelicans articles” number_of_posts=”2″ show_more=”no” nb_excerpt=”0″]
Instead, injuries derailed Holiday’s career for a while. Unbeknownst to the Pelicans’ front office, he was already damaged goods at the moment he was traded, victim of stress reactions on his shin that would force him to miss over half the season in his first two years as a Pelican. He was very good when he was on the floor but he could never stay on it long enough for it to really matter.
That changed this season. After playing 34 and 40 games over the past two years, respectively, he has already suited up 60 times in 2015-16. He’s averaging under 30 minutes a game, but that’s mostly because he was on a minute restriction earlier in the year, as part of a plan to keep him healthy. Since the All-Star break, he’s averaged 32 minutes per game and has shown no signs of slowing down.
His offseason regiment has paid off, and unless something goes wrong over the final stretch, the 25-year-old point guard should be considered fully back, which is huge for New Orleans thinking about next season.
Holiday has mostly come off the bench this year but should start in 2016-17. That should make Anthony Davis’ life much easier. When both Holiday and Davis have been on the court together, The Brow has shot 53 percent. When Holiday has not been there, he has shot 46 percent. That’s a huge difference and it can be explained by the fact that Davis gets more close looks when Holiday plays next to him.
The percentage of Davis’ buckets that are assisted is pretty much the same whether Holiday is on the court or not, but the type of shot he gets off of it isn’t. Out of the 121 assists Holiday dished to Davis — by far the most out of any Pelican — over half were at the rim, thanks to their fantastic chemistry. The other playmakers on the team don’t get close to that ratio. Holiday sets up Davis in situations in which he only has to finish.
A big reason why that happens is the defense actually has to worry about containing Holiday as a scorer when he’s running the show instead of focusing all their attention in Davis. Holiday has become a pick and roll maestro, ranking 12th in the league in points per possessions scored in that setting (min. 400 possessions), according to Synergy Sports. He has a pull-up jumper, a floater, and the jets to get to the rim if the big man doesn’t commit to stopping him.
Holiday likely won’t make an All-Star team now that he’s in the West, which is loaded with talent at the guard spots, but he’s on that second tier alongside the likes of Mike Conley. He makes the Pelicans much better. When he’s been on the court, they have essentially broken even in terms of points scored and allowed per 100 possessions. That’s Mavericks, Trail Blazers and Jazz territory. When he’s on the bench, New Orleans gets outscored by almost eight points.
Not only is Holiday incredibly valuable for the Pelicans because he’s good, but he makes the other pieces of the roster fit better. They desperately need shot creation and he’s fantastic in that area. That allows Davis to focus on being an elite finisher and the three-point shooters to stay in their lane. It also takes pressure off Tyreke Evans, whose flaws get more noticeable with the more responsibility he has on offense. The team was built with Holiday in mind, so it needs him to reach its peak level.
The Pelicans are surely thinking about next season already. They will have to make decisions about Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, who could depart in free agency. The team certainly need tweaks and has the cap space to make them. A high draft pick could give them another core player. Yet what could really change their fortunes would be to have a healthy Holiday without restrictions in their starting lineup on opening night. Fortunately things have gone well enough this season to make that realistic possibility.