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The Pelicans’ Overlooked Star

Jonathan Bachman- Getty Images

Though Anthony Davis has rightly grabbed the spotlight in New Orleans, another player has been incredibly to their recent success

In the shadow of Anthony Davis’ MVP-level play this season, the New Orleans Pelicans have benefited from another player enjoying a career year: Jrue Holiday. In the absence of All-Star and starting center DeMarcus Cousins, Holiday has elevated his game to become the sidekick that Davis needs to excel in the vicious Western Conference, where the Pelicans find themselves in the fifth spot, just two games back of third. Though Davis’ play has rightfully dominated Pelicans headlines, New Orleans might be falling out of contention without Holiday’s under-the-radar contributions.  

In terms of his statistics, Holiday is averaging career highs nearly across the board: 19.2 points per game, 4.4 rebounds, with a 54.0% effective field goal percentage. Though not a career high, he is still averaging 5.8 assists per game (against just 2.5 turnovers), second on the Pelicans to Rajon Rondo, who has been incredibly effective in his playmaking for New Orleans. 

During their recent 10-game winning streak, Jrue was up to an average of 25.2 points and 8.6 assists per contest. Holiday also has the second-highest assist percentage when he is on the court at 24%, second to Rondo’s outlandish 40.6%. It is easy for NBA fans to overlook Holiday’s excellent play, as he had the burden of an exorbitant contract to live up to. While he might have been overpaid to stay in New Orleans at $126 million, he is proving key to the Pelicans’ ongoing success in 2018.

Advanced statistics back up what the traditional stats tell of Holiday: the Pelicans are a lot better when he is on the court. While leading the team in minutes, Holiday posts the third best PER (17.4) on the squad behind their superstar frontcourt, as well as third on the team in value over replacement player (2.0). Surprisingly, Holiday trails just Davis (10.7) in total win shares (5.4) on the team, perhaps because Holiday has demonstrated an ability to positively affect the game on both sides of the ball. Compared to Cousins’ defensive style that is predicated on opportunistic blocks, Holiday’s presence trickles down from the guard position to benefit the team defense as a whole. 

Another facet of Holiday’s game that has been largely overlooked this season is his ability to play off Davis as the defensive anchor. Holiday seems to feel more comfortable playing defensively, knowing he can rely on Davis to back him up in the paint. Defensively, Holiday is holding his opponents to 43.2% shooting from the field (below league average), which is impressive given his opponents in this guard-driven league. When Jrue is off the court, opponents’ offensive rating jumps 9.6 points from 107.0 to 116.6. Interestingly, Jrue is also top five in the league in defending the pick and roll, allowing .70 points per pick.

Though his capable defense is a strong indicator for his team’s success, perhaps Holiday’s greatest utility is in his ability to score from anywhere on the floor. He’s actually seen a slight dip in his 3-point percentage off his career highs, although he still is hitting on a respectable 34.2% of his shots behind the arc, and threes make up 4.6 of his 15.6 shot attempts per game. 

While his 3-ball is just serviceable, he has been quite effective off the dribble for New Orleans offense. He’s attempted 5.6 shots off drives per game this season, which is good for the 16th most in the league; and when he’s gotten to the rim, Holiday has also been incredibly effective, shooting 68.8% on shots within three feet. 

When Jrue calls an isolation play for himself (about 11.2% of his possessions) he has also been solid; he scores on iso plays 45.8% of the time. When the need arises, Holiday can carry the offense for a time, as he did in Tuesday night’s win against Charlotte in which he dropped 25 points and nine assists, and accounted for the Pels’ final 10 points in crunch time.


Also worth remarking on briefly is how durable Holiday has been for the Pelicans. As previously stated, he leads the team in minutes played this season, and has started all 66 games this season for New Orleans. Though injuries have hobbled Holiday throughout his career to this point, he has not missed a game yet this season. Thanks to his durability this season, the Pelicans have been able to depend on stability at the guard position, which is always an important factor in teams playing high-pressure games in the heat of a playoff run.  

Though Anthony Davis’ well-rounded game has justifiably thrust him into the MVP conversation, the Pelicans might not be where they are today without the underappreciated contributions of Holiday. Since Cousins was sidelined with injury just before the All-Star break, the Pelicans have gone 12-6 thanks to the tandem of Davis and Holiday.

However, due to how packed the middle of the Western Conference is, a bad stretch of games could see the Pels outside the playoff picture; with the fifth seed, they are still just 2.5 games away from the 10th spot. With the sixth-hardest schedule down the stretch, it will take the supreme effort of the entire Pelican roster to hang tough in the cutthroat Western race.     

Edited by Emily Berman.

With what pick was Jrue Holiday selected in the 2009 draft?
Created 3/14/18
  1. 5th
  2. 11th
  3. 17th
  4. 23rd

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