Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo just don’t fit together, and that’s an issue for the New Orleans Pelicans.
Alright, take a deep breath everyone. Unless you’re a close personal friend of JaMychal Green, the rest of this offseason will probably be a breeze. Witnessing one of the most dramatic summers in recent memory has left fans and writers struggling to grasp what the hell just happened.
How will James Harden and Chris Paul fare together? Who will make the playoffs in the West? How good are the Minnesota Timberwolves? Who even plays for the Boston Celtics now?
These are just a few of the mysteries the basketball world is eager to resolve. Every franchise has questions, though. Some of them could define a team’s season; others could decide a team’s future. Over the next month, I’ll dive into five of these pivotal under-the-radar questions. Let’s start in the Big Easy.
The New Orleans Pelicans enter this season with perhaps the NBA’s most bizarrely constructed roster. The questions surrounding DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis have been well-documented, as has the concern about the Pelicans having zero healthy small forwards under contract. But signing Rajon Rondo to play alongside $126 million man Jrue Holiday is equally curious. In a league dominated by versatile wings, the Pelicans are trotting out two point guards and two centers. Whacky.
Head coach Alvin Gentry has already confirmed Rondo will start, with Holiday moving more toward an off-ball role. Gentry told the Duncan and Holder Podcast, ”I like Jrue off the ball to start the game as a scorer. I like Rondo being on the floor as a leader.”
Unfortunately for Gentry, the fit is easier to sell to fans than it is to implement on the court. Yes, Holiday has experience away from the ball – he’s played the 2 for 32 percent of his Pelicans career. And at 6’4” with plus athleticism, he can capably defend either guard position. And yes, Rondo has a history of getting bigs, especially bigs who can shoot, easy buckets. Despite his reputation as a showman, Rondo’s bread- and-butter has always been the side pick-and-pop. It’s a play that extended Kevin Garnett’s prime and briefly transformed Robin Lopez into Steph Curry:
But New Orleans fans shouldn’t talk themselves into a Rondo-Holiday partnership so easily. Rondo monopolizes the ball both by choice and by necessity. He’s actually canned 35.7 percent of his threes over the last three seasons, but he barely ever shoots and teams still don’t guard him on the perimeter.
The problem? Holiday isn’t a terrific off-ball threat either. Last season, the former Sixer scored just 0.92 points per possession on spot-ups, placing him in the league’s 42nd percentile. In four seasons with New Orleans, Holiday has shot 35.6 percent from three on 3.7 attempts per game – basically league average. His reputation as a combo guard stems more from his defensive versatility and lack of glaring weaknesses than from his ability to actually play shooting guard.
But even if Holiday did profile as more of an off-ball threat, that still wouldn’t be where he should play. Holiday is miles ahead of Rondo as a point guard. He’ll put up a routine and efficient-enough 15 points and 7 assists each game, all while guarding the Western Conference’s cache of elite ball handlers. You don’t pay a pass-first playmaker like Jrue Holiday $126 million to play a 3-and-D role. You pay him to run your offense. And at this point in their respective careers, Holiday can run a more efficient and dynamic offense than Rondo can.
Of course, Holiday will still see a lot of the rock, potentially as a pick-and-roll ball handler after Rondo gets the Pelicans into their initial set. If anything, that configuration is even less promising than stashing Holiday in the corner. Once Rondo gives up the ball, he’ll suffocate the Pelicans’ offense. The spacing isn’t great on these two possessions, but it’s good enough to afford Davis some room inside. Plant Rondo on the weak side instead of a legitimate wing and that spacing will dry up:
Unfortunately, New Orleans has no choice but to play multi-guard line-ups. Solomon Hill’s hamstring tear leaves the Pelicans with no proven small forwards, meaning virtually every New Orleans guard will have to log time as a makeshift wing. Signing Rondo could make sense if the rest of your roster is intact. But if you’re leaning on him to soak up big minutes and plug your gaping holes in your roster, you’ll come away disappointed.
Gentry can’t afford any further disappointment. Anthony Davis has been a top-10 player for years now, and yet, the Pelicans have made the playoffs just once in his career. (To be fair, Gentry has only been with the team for two years.) This coming season is especially pivotal because if Cousins seeks greener pastures in free agency next summer, New Orleans is right back to square one. At this point, it’s common knowledge that Gentry is fighting for his job.
Demps must be trying to get Gentry fired once and for all. https://t.co/6yk5mC0MPr— Zach Harper (@talkhoops) July 13, 2017
If Gentry sees the Rondo-Holiday partnership as a lost cause, he won’t hesitate to yank Rondo and insert a traditional 2 guard like Ian Clark or E’Twaun Moore. Davis may be under contract until 2021, but losing can put a sour taste in a player’s mouth, and any unhappiness on that front would be a death knell for the Pelicans’ team-building plans.
To me, that scenario seems like a distinct possibility. Rondo will have his moments; he retains all the basketball genius that once made him one of the league’s most exciting players. There’s only one ball to go around, though, and when push comes to shove, the Pelicans want that ball in Davis and Cousins’ hands. With his smooth playmaking and willingness to defer to others, Holiday can help the ball get there. Holiday and Rondo? That’s just overkill – and unless Gentry finds some imaginary solution, it could cost him his job.
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