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Jrue Holiday, Mike Conley, and the Narrative of the All Star

Jon Nathan Raby

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Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Hello, it’s your friendly resident narrative peddler here to talk about the world of basketball as a story. There are plenty of ways to look at basketball: as a fun pastime, as a spectacle to be analyzed and overanalyzed, as a reason your husband only answers you monosyllabically for two and a half hours at a time. For me, a nerd who gets swept up in sprawling stories that capture the imagination, I like to look at basketball as a long, winding, never-ending story (Frank Kaminsky is Falkor) with twists and turns to enjoy.

Something that happens often in this story is comparing players. It usually happens when players are of similar type or are on similar paths, and it’s usually better when it comes up organically rather than forced down our throats (looking at every MJ vs LeBron debater). In the case of this article, I want to talk about two guards who play in the same division, who are criminally underrated, who are playing incredibly well this — oh, you see the picture and article title, you know who I’m talking about, it’s Jrue Holiday and Mike Conley.

The main narrative right now is that both Conley and Jrue are playing very well, and both will likely be considered for the All Star game this season. However, because both are guards, it’s unlikely that both get selected. So it has become a scenario where one or the other should be an All Star at the expense of the other. Conley and Holiday face off tonight when the Grizzlies visit the Smoothie King Center, and I think this game is very important to the narrative. In fact, I’m going to write a sentence, bold it, and then dive into the sections of the sentence in detail. Here’s the sentence:

Jrue Holiday is playing better than Mike Conley, but that may not matter; however, tonight could help Jrue’s case in a huge way.

Yeah, it was pretty much two sentences with a semicolon, but I’m not here for a grammar lesson. So, let’s take apart each section of that sentence and look into how the story is and how it can change.

Jrue Holiday is playing better than Mike Conley…

This part is obviously up for debate, and my perception is colored with Mardi-Gras-tinted glasses, but Jrue leads Conley in several categories, whether they be traditional or advanced. Conley scores more points, but also posts a higher usage than Jrue, who leads him (and all players but Kyle Lowry) in assists. Jrue is also shooting better in traditional and effective field goal percentage. And I’ve spent the past few sentences only talking about Jrue’s weaker side of the ball. If we want to talk defense, well…Jrue will win that battle. Not that Conley is a slouch defensively, but we’ve already seen enough of Jrue’s defensive highlights to know that he has the advantage on that end. I was actually excited to see Luka Doncic come to town this week because I believe he will be a truly special player, but Jrue ruined that by clamping down.

 

 

It isn’t an open and shut case, but Jrue Holiday’s season should be touted just as much as Conley’s, if not more. But it isn’t, which leads to the next part of the sentence.

…but that may not matter;

Here’s where the narrative kicks in. People are talking about Mike Conley’s season for two important reasons: A) he has never been an All Star despite years of exceptional play; and B) the Grizzlies are good, and in fact better than expected. Conley has long been overlooked, just like Jrue has been. And after missing last year, a lot of people forgot just how good Conley could be. So now that he’s showing out this season, it has become a talking point to focus on his lack of All Star appearances and his great play. That sort of thing catches on, and so now his candidacy for All Star berth has added weight. Give it to the guy who has never made it before. That strikes a cord with voters and with the league, so it may not matter that Jrue is playing better.

And as for the wins, that’s easy enough to explain. Whether or not it’s the right way to go about it, All Stars get a boost if their team is winning. It’s why I’ve seen some people mock Pascal Siakam, he of 14.5ppg, to the All Star team. Great stats don’t mean much on losing teams, and while the Pelicans are not a losing team, Holiday is hurt by their mediocrity. Not many people will accept the Western Conference All Star Team having two Pelicans players if they continue to play at an average rate.

…however, tonight could help Jrue’s case in a huge way.

As we established further up, Jrue Holiday loves to take a team’s best perimeter player and make their lives a nightmare. He’s likely aware of the implications of facing Conley, and even if he isn’t, he has enough pride to go all out tonight anyway. If Jrue has a good game in a win against a division opponent while making Conley look ineffective offensively, it will stick in people’s minds. They will link the two players and remember this night, when Shamit and Will and all the Pelicans writers crow about Holiday’s dominance.

The way to get noticed in a narrative-based world is to make your story so loud that people can’t ignore it. We talked about it in Jrue’s campaign for Defensive Player of the Year in a former article, and a game like tonight is another way for him to shout it to the mountaintops. Mike Conley is a great player, and the Grizzlies are playing very well. However, Jrue Holiday is an All Star caliber player, and if he can put in a great performance tonight against another All Star caliber player, that might make all the difference in February.

Jon Nathan Raby, from New Orleans, is the creator of The Footbawl Blog, a satirical and irreverent take on the NFL. His work has also been seen in The Postgame and the Yahoo Sports Contributor Network.

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