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Spending the Holiday In the Paint

November 25, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday (11) dribbles the basketball against Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) during the third quarter at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Pelicans 110-95. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

There was a lot of concern for the first part of the season about the play of New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday. And justifiably so. Jrue got paid big money over the off-season and fans justifiably want to see quality play – 22% from three through the first 13 games just isn’t going to cut it. I mean, look at all the red on this shot chart:

Jrue Holiday Shot Chart – Pre-Rondo

There’s not too much green around the perimeter (if you look closely you might be able to see a few green circles). And there’s even less green when you look at it by zone.

I mean, he’s shooting 20% from straight away three’s and only 17% from corner three’s where the league average is 42%. Those are the types of stats that can get a guy benched, no matter the contract. But as Jason Quigley told y’all a few weeks ago, it’s not time to bury Jrue yet.

There is a whole chunk of green there right in the paint. On shots 5 feet or in, Jrue is shooting 68% on 5 shots per game. His ability to get into the paint to score is one of the things that has helped the Pels maintain some semblance of balance on the court when you have minimal outside shooting (I see you Darius Miller) and a few bigs that like to play outside the paint.

So let’s break down some of the ways Jrue has been scoring:

Using His Size

Jrue is decent sized for a guard and is able to use his body well to leverage his strength. His ability to post up creates a mismatch for the whoever is guarding him, as a guard either has to cover Jrue in the unfamiliar territory of the paint, or a big man has to help out which opens space for Boogie or Davis. Or as you can see on the following clip, Jrue can take on a big like Myles Turner and still come out with points.

The Handoff

One of the things Jrue has struggled with this year is his entry passes to Boogie or Davis when they are positioned on the block. But when they do have the ball, Jrue has been actively cutting to find a way to create space for either big or to get an easy layup for himself.

On this play from that blowout in Denver, Jrue gets a good ball into Davis’s hands down low and then immediately cuts around to the outside. Fareid has no choice but to respect Davis’s ability to shoot and needs to stay close. Mudiay has to cut around both bigs and ends up getting screened by his own player, leaving Jrue the wide open layup.

Opening the Back Door

One of the things the Pelicans offense can struggle with is movement. It’s easy when you have Boogie and Davis to let them take on their man and let them run the offense. But the offense can fall stagnant if there’s no help, and you end up in situations where the other team throws three or four guys at Boogie/Davis. Jrue is effective at moving off the ball and creating space for the bigs even when he’s not the one putting in their hands. Let’s take a look at how Jrue creates an opening against Portland earlier this season.

Boogie catches the ball down low and immediately three Blazers step towards him, along with the guy on his back. Jrue makes a cut down the baseline (where Boogie can see) and puts himself in position to receive the feed for an easy score. This not only gives an easy bucket now, but puts in the defenders mind that a Pelican will cut on the back side if they try to close too quickly on Boogie.

The last clip is something that is more in play since Rondo came into the line-up. Rondo loves to drive to the basket to open up teammates, as his gorgeous pass to Moore against OKC highlighted. And this is where Jrue’s back door cuts can really open up the offense.

Rondo cuts down the baseline, which effectively takes both Davis and Boogie out of the play and puts himself in a no man’s land where he can’t effectively shoot. Jrue’s cut right down the lane gives Rondo an effective out and the Pels a high percentage shot.

I’m confident that Jrue will re-find his three point touch – I mean this is a guy who is a career 36%+ shooter from three. Until he does, his ability to get into the paint will what makes him and the Pels a more complete offensive team.

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Alex Harari is a converted Pelicans fan, hoping this team won't let him down like the Knicks always did.

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