Pelicans PG Jrue Holiday Poised For Career-Defining Season

When fans of the NBA discuss Jrue Holiday, his heath is their primary concern. They don’t bash his jumper, or his vision, but rather his durability.

Jrue first raised eyebrows across the league in 2013 when he became the star of the 76ers and earned himself a position on the Eastern Conference All-Star team; but has since been unable to reclaim his position as a franchise point guard due to his inability to stay on the court.

34 games in 2014, 40 games in 2015. Two disappointing seasons that I don’t need to remind Pelicans fans about.

Last season Jrue bounced back. He came off the bench, his minutes increased slowly, and he ended the season having played 65 games before the team gave up at the end of the year. His health had returned, and he played the best basketball of his life.

21.4 points, 7.7 assists, and 3.8 rebounds on 43% shooting per 36 minutes. Numbers which clearly outshine the 17.0 points, 7.7 assists, and 4.0 rebounds on 43% shooting Jrue averaged in his 2013 All-Star season.

For a multitude of reasons, Jrue should be even better this season.

As great as he was last year, there were a number of factors working against him. This season he is in an ideal position to showcase himself and it is highly likely this will be his career year.

Nov 10, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) and guard Jrue Holiday (11) celebrate after a basket against the Dallas Mavericks during the first quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Starting Nod

Jrue came off the bench last season and played fewer minutes to bring his body along slowly. This season he is a guaranteed starter and will be free from the minutes restriction which put a ceiling on his production last season.

Alvin Gentry spoke with Zach Lowe during summer league and basically confirmed that AD and Jrue were solidified starters. (You can find the full interview here.)

Playing with the starters will give Jrue better players to pass to. Instead of trying to rack up assists next to Alonzo Gee, Alexis Ajinca and Toney Douglas, he will be passing to Buddy Hield, Solomon Hill and Anthony Davis.

Gentry and Demps know that Anthony Davis is better when Jrue Holiday plays next to him, and they won’t separate the two now that the Pelicans have a deeper bench.

Anthony Davis with Jrue Holiday per 36 minutes:

25.8 points, 11.0 rebounds, 52% FG%, +0.4 +/-

Anthony Davis without Jrue Holiday per 36 minutes:

23.3 points, 9.8 rebounds, 45% FG%, -7.4 +/-

Playing with Davis will increase Jrue’s stats as well. Though Jrue’s scoring decreased slightly when he shared the floor with AD, his assists went up from 6.9 per 36 minutes to 8.2 and his FG improved slightly as well.

As great as Jrue’s per 36 numbers were last season, they should be even better this year when he shares the floor with AD. Point guards get better when they have better players to pass to, which makes Jrue’s numbers last season so surprising considering how little help he got from the Pelicans 2nd unit.

Prime Career Age 

Jrue Holiday has reached the age when most NBA players hit their prime. This study shows that from the ages of 24-26 NBA players are most likely to have their greatest statistical seasons.

Jrue turned 26 just a little over a month ago, meaning this will be his first season within that time from where he will have the minutes, health, and role necessary to put it all together.

This year will likely be his peak, and a steady decline will follow. He’s at the point where his athleticism hasn’t faded but his skills have become more refined than when he was young and raw.

In the future when people discuss how good Jrue Holiday was, the ’16-’17 season will probably be the year they refer to.

No Tyreke to Share With

Jrue and Tyreke don’t make each other less efficient, but they take a bite out of each other’s numbers.

Gentry confirmed in the Lowe interview I mentioned earlier that Tyreke will be unavailable to start the season. He isn’t likely to play until December, and even after that he’s the most likely player on the team to be traded away for cents on the dollar.

Jrue put up his most impressive numbers last season (and the season before) when he didn’t have to share the ball with Tyreke. Jrue has combo guard skills, but he’s at his best when he is the primary ball-handler who is relied upon to move the offense forward.

2014-2015

Jrue Holiday with Tyreke on the floor:

15.8 points, 7.3 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 47%.

Jrue Holiday without Tyreke on the floor:

18.3 points, 8.7 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 37%.

2015-2016

Jrue Holiday with Tyreke on the floor:

18.5 points, 5.0 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 45% FG%.

Jrue Holiday without Tyreke on the floor:

21.9 points, 8.1 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 43% FG%.

Now to be fair, Jrue did shoot better from deep when he shared the ball with Tyreke (more spot ups, less pull ups). Regardless, he clearly puts up better numbers without Tyreke at his side.

Two years ago his efficiency took a sizable dip without Tyreke, but last season he showed his efficiency wasn’t reliant on anyone but himself.

Without Tyreke even touching the floor, his usage and production are likely to reach All-Star levels.

Dec 2, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday (11) shoots over Oklahoma City Thunder forward Nick Collison (4) during the first quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a Contract Year

All the reasons I have mentioned are important. Playing with the starters, being healthy, being in his prime, and not having to share with Tyreke are all significant reasons why Jrue is poised for a career year.

Regardless, all of these reasons pail in comparison to the simple fact that Jrue wants to get paid this summer.

The 2016 cap skyrocketed and the 2017 cap will skyrocket even farther. Since Jrue will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, he could be looking at a contract which easily approaches 150 million dollars in total.

Mike Conley averaged (per 36) 17.5 points and 7.0 assists last season and played 56 games.

Jrue Holiday averaged (per 36) 21.4 points and 7.7 assists last season and played 65 games.

Mike Conley managed to earn himself a 153 million dollar contract this off-season that pays over 26 million per year over half a decade.

Jrue saw the checks that got written this summer and he will be 100% committed to increasing his free agent value as much as possible this season. He will work harder, run faster, and play better than he ever has in his career due to the massive potential payout.

Conclusion:

Jrue Holiday is about to have the best year of his career. He’s healthy for the first time in years, he will be getting starters minutes next to starting level players, he won’t share the ball with anyone but himself, and he will be motivated by free agency to put up insane numbers.

Predicting the exact stat-line is impossible, but a 22+ point, 8+ assist season from Jrue would not surprise me. Considering he is already an elite defender and a fantastic career floor spacer, conversation about him as a top 5-7 point guard by the end of the year is a real possibility.