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Jrue Holiday’s Improvement is Key for the New Orleans Pelicans

Jake Madison

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© Derick E. Hingle

The New Orleans Pelicans are on an 8 game winning streak behind the stellar play of MVP candidate Anthony Davis. And while Davis is leading the team with eye popping numbers, Jrue Holiday has been playing, perhaps, the best basketball of his career.

Let’s take a look at what has changed for the Pelicans lead guard.

The Pelicans made an effort this offseason to move Holiday to a more off-ball role; to take the distribution duties away from him. The goal has been to free Holiday up to be the aggressive, attacking player which made him an All-Star in Philly. And while the early returns were mixed (Holiday turned the ball over A LOT to start the year as he adjusted to spacing issues with DeMarcus Cousins and Davis and was relegated to more of a spot up shooter role) things have turned around.

Throughout the Pelicans winning streak Holiday is averaging 25.9 points, 7.5 assists, shooting 55% from the field, and only turning the ball over 2.4 times per game. Those are all eye-popping numbers, and born out of Holiday finally being comfortable in that aggressive, attacking role. He is looking for his shot and to score, instead of playing off others.

The numbers bear out what we see on the court. During the streak, Holiday is averaging 16.6 drives per game, and scoring 10.5 points on those drives. That’s up from the 12.1 drives and 7.2 points per game he’s been averaging this season.

Because of that, Holiday has increased his shot attempts in the restricted area by 33% during the winning streak. He’s taking 7.3 attempts per game down low compared to his 5.5 average on the season. Shot attempts in the paint and outside of the restricted area have risen to 4.1 per game during the streak from 2.8 on the season.

And Holiday is hitting these shots at a higher percentage than he has all season. It’s no surprise that Holiday’s three point attempts per game have been dropping.

But it takes more than just attacking the basket to be successful and put up those kinds of numbers. Holiday seems to be seeing defenses better than before. You see him driving with his head up, scanning the defense for where the help is coming from, and adjusting his body and path accordingly. Take a look at the play below:

Holiday attacks off the dribble handoff from Davis. As he’s driving he sees Josh Jackson as the help defender off to the right side. If Holiday goes for the layup right at the rim, Jackson has a chance to contest the shot. Instead, Holiday starts his gather early and jump earlier. Doing so takes Jackson out of the play, and Holiday scores easily.

With his strength and length, Holiday is also able to play in the post. Below, Holiday shields the ball away from Dennis Smith, Jr. and pushes the rookie down low.

Nothing fancy, just a few dribbles and Holiday has an easy shot attempt. It’s no surprise to see Holiday ranking 15th in the league in points in the paint—the only other guard in the top 20 is Russell Westbrook.

Holiday has missed time in the past—through injuries and personal issues—and as such has, maybe, had his chemistry stunted with Anthony Davis. But, recently, the two have developed a deadly pick and roll game.

Go back and rewatch the 4th quarter and overtime against the Miami Heat. The Pelicans ran a simple pick and roll between Holiday and Davis on the left side time after time. Nothing fancy about it; just a two-man game between the two. Holiday drives and scores, Holiday dishes to Davis for a layup or dunk, Davis pops and Holiday hits him for a high percentage two. Or this, the game winner against the Miami Heat…

Holiday had been obliterating the Heat in the game, and they are absolutely terrified of him getting to the rim. So much so that they leave Anthony Davis wide open for a mid-ranger jumper. And Holiday is so confident he doesn’t even look AD’s direction. He sees the help defender right under the basket and just pulls up to shoot the easier jumper.

It’s perfect, and highlights just how much better Holiday has been this season. And with the playoff race as tight as it is, the Pelicans will need Holiday to keep playing at this level.

Jake J. Madison is the host of the daily Locked on Pelicans podcast. Covering the Pelicans and NBA since 2010, you can catch him on various sports programs around New Orleans and nationally.

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