Alvin Gentry teams are all pace and offense, no defense. That’s the conventional wisdom, but Jrue Holiday would like to politely disagree with conventional wisdom.
— Ryan Jrue Holiday DPOY Jatho (@RyanJatho) November 13, 2018
That’s Jrue Holiday (along with expert assistance from Ian Clark and Anthony Davis) shutting down one of the best players in the league. There is so much in this play — footwork, balance, patience, tenacity — and it’s something that Jrue brings out every night against the best competition. Jrue is averaging nearly 20 points a game and is second in the league in assists, but it’s on the defensive side of the ball where he’s making himself famous, and with great reason. Check out Bourbon Street Shots’ Shamit Dua’s stat-compiling here:
The last 4 games Jrue has given the business to the following players he was matched up on:
Devin Booker: 3-9
Zach Lavine: 4-12
Paul George: 1-8
Justin Holiday: 1-6
Kawhi Leonard: 1-5
Russell Westbrook: 1-3
Kyle Lowry: 0-2
There is no player more versatile and more effective.
— Shamit Dua (@FearTheBrown) November 13, 2018
There are some prime scorers there, some players considered near the top of the league. Combined, these superstars are shooting less than 25% when Jrue covers him. Kyle Lowry was only able to get one bucket to fall in the Raptors’ 126-110 loss to the Pelicans, and Jrue was nowhere near the play. When Jrue Holiday wants to lock you down, he will lock you down.
With every passing game, with every highlight defensive play, with every new star he puts in Jruvenile Detention (credit to Kev on twitter), Jrue is creating a campaign. He is out to prove that he is the best defensive player in the league, and people are paying attention. The local sites are taking notice, and it seems the national media is starting to as well. Deadspin released an article on Jrue, though only talking about his offensive game. And herein lies the issue: if Jrue Holiday is going to win the Defensive Player of the Year, it takes more than just amazing defensive play. It takes a narrative, and it takes exposure.
I’ve written about this previously on this site: awards depend on stories more than stats. Players need to play well, but they also need to be noticed and talked about by the national media. Anthony Davis played incredibly well to end last season, but by that point the media had already circulated the James Harden narrative to the point where it was unchallengeable. That’s not to say Harden didn’t deserve the award; obviously he played incredibly well for the team with the best regular season record. However, it just means that even if Davis played better than Harden to end the year, the story couldn’t be changed.
So how do you dictate the story? Tweets like the ones Shamit and Ryan did certainly help, but Pelicans twitter is a small corner of the internet, and that’s the second biggest challenge Jrue faces if he actually wants to contend for the award (biggest challenge coming later): the Pelicans are a small market team. Most small market teams only have enough room for one narrative at a time, and the narrative for the past few years in New Orleans has been “Anthony Davis is amazing but he needs help.” I won’t insult your intelligence by breaking down why this is wrong and short-sighted, but it comes down to one thing: national viewership. People don’t watch the Pelicans, and the Pelicans haven’t been playoff mainstays, so they only know what the boxscore has been telling them.
Jrue helped change the narrative in the playoffs, however. He showed up big in the Pelicans’ sweep of Portland, putting the clamps on Lillard and McCollum. And that got him entry into the national conversation. So now he has a foot in the door, and he has local media creating a narrative. What else does he need?
He needs his team to campaign for him. The Pelicans need to post defensive highlights. They need to tweet about him every game. They need to get the #Jrue4DPOY hashtag trending. And when the national spotlight does shine on the Pelicans, they need to take advantage.
And we need to do our part too. Talk about Jrue on twitter, on Facebook, to your friends, on reddit. Share the articles that the local guys write, and if you’re the type of person who responds to national guys on twitter (not my bag, but chase your bliss), pump his stats as much as possible to them. I want Jrue’s middle name to be Defensive Player of the Year. The more people who talk about it, the more people who notice. And that’s how a narrative builds. Once it is in place, Jrue needs to keep doing his job. And as he does, you’ll see it snowball into the national stratosphere.
There is still one more problem that Jrue will have to overcome: the award is typically reserved for big men and wings. But if the narrative is strong, it won’t matter. Russell Westbrook broke the “MVP has to be a 3 seed or higher” convention with his triple double narrative. And if there are enough videos, enough lockdowns, enough star players getting goose eggs at Jrue’s hands, he will be impossible to ignore. Jrue Holiday can win the Defensive Player of the Year Award. But he needs our help.